The music of Gösta Berlings Saga is an incredibly dynamic Nordic instrumental adventure, tilting from melodic, starkly beautiful lines shimmering like an aurora borealis over the desolate Arctic tundra, to powerful and aggressive riffs reminiscent of glacier calves crashing into rugged Scandinavian fjords.
Gösta Berlings Saga was formed in 2000 in the Stockholm suburb of Vällingby by David Lundberg and Alexander Skepp, joined by a common love of the late 60s organ/drums duo Hansson/Karlsson. The new band took its name from one of the most famous works in Swedish literature, the debut novel of Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, which was published in 1891. The band’s lineup and musical palette was expanded in 2004 with the addition of Gabriel Tapper (then surnamed Hermansson) and guitarist Mathias Danielsson.
The quartet soon began jamming and writing music, honing its initial set of songs and finally making its live debut in 2005. They recorded their first album in their private studio, and released their debut album Tid Är Ljud (translated Time is Sound) on the Swedish label Transubstans Records in 2006. With its clear, audiophile production standards, memorable themes, and non-derivative style, Gösta Berlings Saga’s debut made a definite imprint among the world-wide progressive and post-rock fan bases. A review on the Norwegian website Musiq.no states about Tid Är Ljud, “The seven songs give you almost everything, beautiful melodies, dreamy atmospheres, intense rock and thick synthesizer parts. It is melancholic, melodic, varied and fascinating… Highly recommended!” The songs are anchored by David’s chiming Fender Rhodes piano intertwining with angular but melodic guitar lines from Mathias, undergirded by a very musical and intricate rhythm section including a heaping dose of tuned metallic percussion.
Soon after the completion of the recording of Tid Är Ljud, Mathias left the band, replaced by Einar Baldursson. The strong Internet word of mouth regarding the debut album resulted in numerous invitations to play throughout Scandinavia and continental Europe throughout 2006 and into Spring 2007. Gösta Berlings Saga took a brief break from live gigging from Summer 2007 into Winter 2008 in order to work up material for a second album. Einar brought a darker and more complex ethos into the compositional process, yet the band maintained its very dynamic musical approach.
Gösta Berlings Saga’s second album Detta Har Hänt (translated This Has Happened) was recorded during Fall 2008 at the band’s home studio Pelikaan, with overdubs recorded at Roth Händle Studios owned by Mattias Olsson of Änglagård fame. It was released in June 2009 (also on Transubstans records) and was nominated for the P3 Gold award (Swedish National Radio’spremier music prize). Noted progressive rock reviewer and author Jerry Lucky writes, “The music is a powerful rolling machine trading off gorgeous melodies played up against startlingly dissonant passages, with each track building in intensity withguitars or keyboards filling in a lead vibe. When the Mellotrons kick in lending full majesty I was hooked! This is music that draws you in unawares and then puts a powerful hypnotic spell over you! It is majestic and haunting at the same time.” The post-rock focused blog Deaf Sparrow posted this review of Detta Har Hänt: “This is hypnotic, robotic, thankfully long and yet somehow, so soulful.”
The positive response and good sales of Detta Har Hant led to more gigs in Sweden and even more in Europe, with the band gaining a reputation as a live force to be reckoned with. During the summer of 2010 thoughts of a third album started to take shape within the band. They entered the writing process as an even more musically confident and well-oiled quartet, tested and sharpened through numerous live gigs.
For Gösta Berlings Saga’s third album, to be entitled Glue Works, Mattias Olsson was brought in to record, produce and mix the entire album. The band signed a contract with USA-based Cuneiform Records to be able to spread their music even further and take distribution to the next level. The new album has more of a give and take approach to recording than their earlier works. Instrumentally it is very captivating, with all kinds of unforgettable sounds such as French horn, bass harmonica, vibraphone, Moog Taurus bass pedals, cello, Minimoog and, yes, a musical saw.
Coming in under 47 minutes, along the lines of a full 1970s era LP, the musical conciseness of Glue Works enhances the overall impact. Raffaella Berry of the Prog Mistress website recognizes not only economy of time, but economical use of music and space: “Rather than hitting the listeners over the head with mind-boggling time signature changes and flashy solo spots, they balance the sheer emotional intensity of their compositions with a remarkably disciplined texture, where each instrument contributes to the whole instead of striving for the spotlight. Indeed, it successfully marries the no-holds-barred intensity of King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Univers Zéro with the entrancing, layered textures of post-rock, achieving a nearly perfect mix of melody, atmospherics and aggression.” Glue Works features a more menacing and aggressive bass guitar posture from Gabriel in places, giving the music a Zeuhlish Magma-inflected martial propulsion. The more aggressive pieces are offset by gossamer acoustic piano lines and angular acoustic guitar lines.
The two longer pieces on Glue Works are “Island” (actually not the English word but the Swedish word for the country of Iceland) and “Sorterargatan 1”, named for a street in the band’s hometown. These tracks reveal an unmistakable minimalist approach in construction. The listener is brought into a mesmerized state by the repetitive Fender Rhodes melodies, now more aware andattuned to the melding timbres and subtle but spectacular rhythmic shifts that come to the fore as a result. The epic album closer is a slow burn tour de force of mood and emotion, with startling dynamics and faint echoes of a “Starless” King Crimson vibe. The album is perfect for a blustery snowy afternoon or a late night, played loud for full emotional impact. In the vein of the best progressive music, Glue Works might be a tough nut to crack at first, but rewards repeated listens in spades.
- Rob LaDuca, NEARfest co-founder, June 2012