The human voice is a fascinating thing. When properly maintained and expertly wielded, it can be an incredibly versatile instrument capable of evoking just about every emotion imaginable. Prose and poetry are all well and good, but they are not essential components in a talented vocalist’s repertoire; a truly gifted singer can take listeners on an emotional roller coaster and paint a strikingly vivid picture without having to say a single word, so long as they have a mastery of tone and melody. When used effectively, the melody is the story, a wordless language which speaks volumes unto itself.
Nio Systrar, the debut album from Swedish songbird Linnea Hjertén, is a prime example of this train of thought. It may be minimalistic in nature, but that doesn’t stop it from transporting you somewhere else the moment you press play. Hjertén’s vocal arrangements swell and dance around a simple, mostly percussive backdrop, behaving more like a string ensemble than anything else, which creates a hypnotic effect perfect for losing yourself in meditation, or maybe as background music for a brisk walk through the woods. You could easily throw on a good pair of headphones or ear buds then leave this whole album on loop, and whatever you are doing will become exponentially more enjoyable.
Close your eyes while listening, and you cannot help but feel like you’re in a scene from a movie or video game where the hero treks solemnly across some distant wintery landscape on an epic journey to nowhere in particular. Or perhaps you might find yourself standing knee-deep in the surf on some faraway empty beach, gulls cawing in the wind and the cold spray of the sea lightly misting your face. Perhaps you are soaring like a bird over a snow-capped mountain range beneath the aurora borealis, or simply dancing in a field of wildflowers on a warm summer’s day. The images conjured by the mind’s eye are subjective to the listener, of course, but the point is that the music paints a picture all the same, and a lovely one at that.
With song titles like “Vägen In” (The Path Inward), “Skuggan” (The Shadow), “Återfödelse” (Rebirth), “Vägen Ut” (The Path Outward), and “Det Som Växer Ur Lera” (That Which Grows Out of Clay), Nio Systra was clearly intended to be a reflection of sorts on the cycles of death and rebirth, and those images can certainly be evoked, but I personally feel that if we were not explicitly told that, it wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the music. This is not meant as a critique, but simply an observation that the beauty of this album lies in its amorphous nature. Or at least, that’s what I got from it. Art is subjective, after all.
I’ll be the first to admit, an album like this is not something that would typically be in my wheelhouse. I’m a metalhead at heart; my comfort zone is speed, aggression, and obnoxiousness, and this album is the polar opposite of that. It took me some time to try to figure out what to say about this album, but I knew it was good and that it was worth taking the time to speak about, so I stuck with it, and ultimately I’m glad that I did.
Pardon the cliché, but it is a new year after all, so why shouldn’t we leave ourselves open to new experiences? At the end of the day, we’re all lovers of music, and one day, we will all die. Nio Systrar is an excellent encapsulation of that ideal, one which celebrates and ruminates upon our collective mortality in a way that is not bleak or frightening, but rather contemplative, fearless, and, dare I say, even hopeful. See for yourself when the album comes out on Friday, January 12 via Nordvis Produktion.