If you’ve been wishing for some heavy metal arrangements of Nordic folk tunes, St. Nicholas has heard you and answered with this fresh new recording. Tre Danser is the first release from the Norwegian folk-rockers Gangar, a brief three-song EP that has quite an impact for such a short record. They’ve been playing as a band for a couple of years with popular live shows, combining Norwegian folk songs and tunes with heavy metal inspired by the likes of Meshuggah, Hoven Droven, AC/DC, and Gåte.
This is indeed heavy music, but it’s also truly inspired by folk music and dance. Gangar is led by Mattias Thedens, who plays Hardanger fiddle and violin, with Richard Max on electric guitar, Jonas Thrana Jensen on electric bass guitar, Henrik Dullum on drums, and (secret weapon) Oskar Lindberget on saxophone. The fiddle ensures that the folk element remains in the forefront, and Lindberget’s sax introduces elements of jazz. It’s all quite entertaining, as you can hear on the first single, the opening track “Fjellets melodi (The melody of the mountains).”
The tune was found in the Norwegian national library’s folk music collection. Thedens transcribed it andsent it to guitarist Richard Max, whose first thought on seeing its title was, “That has to be metal!” He gave it a bombastic metal arrangement, and it’s become a big hit at their live shows. It’s not hard to see why with its fiddle driven melody, the big distorted guitar riffs and fat bass, and Lindberget’s soulful sax. And the extra interest provided when without warning (or much reason, really) the band breaks into another folk song, the Bånsull or goodnight song called “He du vondt I magen” (“Does your stomach hurt?”), which is followed by some mean shredding by Max.
The EP’s title Tre Danser or “three dances” is quite literal; these three tunes are all based on folk dance tunes. It’s apparently also an allusion to Gangar’s signature dance, “The Tree Dance,” in which you lock your legs, lift your arms, and sway like a tree with the wind (unless the publicist is pulling my leg.) I’m pretty sure, though, that the dance originally done to the third track, “Reinlender fra Åseral,” was more elaborate and energetic than that. The’ve really rocked up this manic fiddle tune, with some impressive unison playing of fiddle and sax, and absolute head-banging drumming from Dullum. This tune came from one Gunnar Austegard of Åseral, who lived 1884-1973.
In between them is a sweet waltz, “Gammel vals fra Rindalen (Old waltz from Rindalen).” Well, I’m sure it was originally a sweet waltz. It’s still in 3/4 time and has a lovely tune. The rhythm section brings the rock, Max brings the heavy riffage, and Lindberget livens up the track with some killer baritone sax funk and skronk.
Interspersed among the tracks are the calls of Nordic shore birds – golden plovers, I believe – which were also used on one of my favorite albums of 2022, Benedicte Maurseth’s Hárr. It’s just a little bonus that adds to this EP’s high entertainment value. I’ll keep a lookout for more music from this quintet.