The title of the new album says it all: Opus, the
new release of Danish music project Afenginn, has indeed become
a major work, consisting of four movements - just like a classical
symphony. Within those pieces, an unusual world of sounds unfolds,
largely unspoilt by traditional patterns and structures. Influenced
by folk, world music and classical music, Afenginn have created
their own individual style, acoustic, innovative, dynamic and doleful,
which has brought them a wealth of awards and grants in their home
country as well as worldwide appreciation and success.
Afenginn was founded in 2002 in Copenhagen by musicology
student Kim Rafael Nyberg from Finland and Rune Kofoed from Denmark.
They quickly assembled a crew of fellow musicians also willing to
stray from the beaten track and explore new sounds. Using mandolin,
violin, clarinet, bass and drums, Afenginn combined the mystic melancholy
of Scandinavian folk with the rhythmic energy of Balkan music, a
mix that worked particularly well at gigs, where Afenginn proved
that their name - an Old Norse expression for intoxication and strength
- had not been chosen idly.
Afenginn always went their own way: They were offered
their first record contract after playing a gig on the Faroe Islands
in a sunken fishing boat that had been turned into a miniature venue.
They played with symphonic orchestras and accompanied ballet productions,
created an album with brass and choir, and when there were any vocals
on their records at all - Retrograd, their debut album, was entirely
instrumental - then they had their lyrics created by Timo Haapaniemi,
an old friend of Nyberg, who blended elements from different languages
like Latin, Finnish, Spanish or German into associative, surreal
lines. Nyberg, responsible for all Afenginn compositions, explains:
"I didn't want English lyrics, because you're put in a box
Their second album Akrobakkus (2006) gained a lot
of attention in Denmark, and Afenginn were showered with awards;
two years later, they received a remarkably ample grant by the Danish
Arts Council. In 2008, well-known session guitar player Aske Jacoby
joined the band. Apart from his musical talents, he also brought
a lot of business acumen to the project which opened new perspectives
- soon afterwards, Afenginn signed with the German label Westpark,
and in 2010, they played at the world-famous Roskilde Rock Festival.
With their fifth Album Lux (2013), Afenginn began
to turn away from what they themselves had called "bastard
etno" sound. "We did it the way a classical group would
work," Nyberg said at the time. "I think the result is
somewhere between cinematic chamber music and Sigur Rós."
Opus is now taking them further down this road: Nyberg constructed
the album like a classical symphony, consisting of four movements,
each of them about 20 minutes long and interconnected by recurring
motifs and rhythms.
"Opus is the result of a series of unforeseen
circumstances, as well as the synergy and effort of many people,"
says Nyberg. "In a small way this mirrors how life often evolves:
uncontrollable, unforeseeable, yet still somehow navigable. As a
composer in the midst of this unfolding play, I am reminded that
different qualities usually lead to a whole which is greater than
the sum of its individual parts. These are part of the sentiments
I wish to express with Opus."
And indeed, the unforeseeable played a decisive role
in the creative process: While on tour in Australia, Nyberg had
an accident and was left with a huge haematoma on his leg which
made flying impossible, leaving him stranded in Tasmania for 40
days. But the involuntary rest far away from home lead to an unexpected
outburst of creativity, making him rediscover the fascination of
Scandinavian folk traditions. When Nyberg finally returned to Copenhagen,
most of the new album had been written.
The new tracks were recorded with a slightly different
line-up - Rune Kofoed left the band in mutual agreement, and with
Ulrik Brohuus and Knud Finsrud, two new drummers took his place,
enforcing the rhythmic structures with their joint playing. Still
on board are - apart from Kim Nyberg on mandolin - clarinet player
Rasmus Krøyer, violinist Niels Skovmand and Erik Olevik on
cello and bass. But just like on every Afenginn album, a number
of guest musicians lent a hand, such as singer Ólavur Jákupsson
(best known from his work with Yann Tiersen) and Ale Carr from Dreamers
Circus on cittern. "Denmark and Copenhagen are not that big,"
says Nyberg. "You know who's there."
This way, a great work has come from a small country.
Opus has turned out ambitious and moving - touching in its quieter
passages, electrifying in its wild, exuberant and epic moments.
It is not a record made up of easily accessible pop singles, but
it offers a wealth intense and profound experiences for anyone willing
to embrace it. "This is one statement I wanted to make with
this record," Nyberg concludes. "It doesn't always have
to be instant gratification. It's not all Facebook videos and small
articles. It's okay to make something bigger. More like a long-term
relationship than a one-night stand."