Karelia Visa
NorthSide-US (www.noside.com)
Silence-Sweden (www.cabal.se/silence/)

One of the ground-breaking groups of the Scandinavian folk-revival movement, Hedningarna noisily channeled the spirit of ancient music through modern electronics. Whether they sung of maidens, drunkards or mythical beasts, the group conjured up a slightly spooky, gothic place that seemed far removed from our gleaming modern world of technology. Hedningarna's mix of traditional and modern instruments showed the limitlessness of folk traditions.

Now, with Karelia Visa, the group heads in a new direction. They have created a musical Baedeker of the often-forgotten region of Karelia, which was once Finnish, but now lies within Russia. Gone are most of the group's samplers and synthesizers. The album reflects the bleak primitive beauty of the isolated region, though calling attention to Karelia probably has more resonance for Scandinavian audiences than, say, solipsistic U.S. listeners.

Musically, the album has some wonderful moments, particularly the close harmonies of singers Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Anita Lehtola. The lyrics from these folk songs are rooted in the natural world, and for the most part do not tackle intellectual topics; they are simple and poetic in their own rustic way. While the individual songs are creatively arranged and meticulously played, the album overall feels a bit monochromatic. The autumnal somberness of the album cries out for some old Hedningarna head-banging tunes, but they didn't seem to make it across the border with the group. Hedningarna fans might be disappointed at the absence of jaw-clenching moments, but the album is a well-done work of heart. - Marty Lipp

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