The title of this track, Hliods Bid Ek Allar, is old Norse and translates to “Prophecy of the Seeress.” It’s the story told in the first book of the Edda, a 13th century collection of pagan stories compiled by scholar Snorri Sturluson (best name ever?) and the main source of our contemporary knowledge of Norse mythology.
In this track the listener is treated to a story of the world’s origins in great emptiness, the birth of the Ymir (the great ancestor) and the jötunn, or ancient giants, who lifted the earth out of the sea and birthed the Æsir pantheon of Gods – Odin, Loki, etc, who are invoked in the jaunty midsection of this otherwise languid track. (There’s a great line in the Wikipedia article that I used to confirm all this, btw, which ends the summary of this section thusly: “At this point ten of the poem’s stanzas are over and six stanzas ensue which all contain the names of dwarves.”)
Norse mythology has always been curious to me in its extreme fatalism. Built into the Nordic creation myth is an irresolvable rift between two sets of gods that predicts the world’s inevitable collapse. As one who’s prone to bouts of melancholy, I’ve always found that cycle of creation followed by inescapable destruction to make a certain kind of sense. No wonder my ancestors passed down such stoicism, everywhere they looked was vast barrenness and a belief system that everything around them was destined to implode.
The group that recorded this album specializes in reconstructions of medieval music from Iceland’s pre-Christian society. No one really knows what it’s supposed to sound like, none of it was ever written down. I like this recording not only for the virtuosic beauty of its unison between the two female singers who make up most of the recording (it’s notoriously hard to match tone with just one other person) but because of the way it invokes the sadness of all that empty space.