Kingdom Two Crowns is in some ways quite a surprising sophomore album from Norwegian “pop” band Kalandra – and in others not surprising at all. I said of the opening track to their debut, The Line, that Borders was “an absolutely breathtaking and beautiful beginning, which sounds more like Nordic folk than any kind of pop”. If any one song on the debut points towards the direction taken on Kingdom Two Crowns, it is Borders. However, while I pointed towards the importance of Katrine Stenbekk in my enjoyment of The Line, “as her vocals float over and above everything else, high in the mix – powerful, evocative and emotive”, they very much take a back seat on Kingdom Two Crowns. Though I did initially miss Katrine’s voice in full flight, the magic and majesty of Jogeir Daae Mæland and Florian Bernhard Döderlein Winter’s instrumentation and Oskar Johnsen Rydh’s drumming and percussion, soon won me over. Katrine’s presence is more subtle, but she is definitely still there.
Kingdom Two Crowns, as the remainder of its title suggests, comes from the soundtrack to Norse Lands. But what exactly is Norse Lands? It would be easy to assume it is a television series, like Vikings (for which Einar Selvic and Wardruna provided the soundtrack), but Norse Lands is actually a new world for the video game Kingdom Two Crowns. That may sound surprising for some older listeners, based on the music (often more accurately muzak) of the games they once played, but just as video games have evolved tremendously as technology has allowed, so have their soundtracks. The soundtracks for video games routinely show greater thought and more careful curation or composition than those for film soundtracks. I admit it took me a while to take the idea of a video game track seriously, but I now completely regret my reticence, as some of my favourite albums from the past few years have been either soundtracks to video games, or inspired by them.
Moreover, whether you choose to compare or contrast it to The Line, Kingdom Two Crowns is still unmistakably Kalandra. For sure, it has the atmosphere and ambience of the soundtrack to a film (sorry, video game), but I did describe one of the songs from The Line as being a “slow-building, minimalist, ambient and atmospheric delight”. Ultimately, the greatest difference between The Line and Kingdom Two Crowns is that the former has a greater variation in sound and mood than the latter. Kingdom Two Crowns still has a degree of variation in sound and mood, but the distance between the peaks and valleys is closer, giving a greater consistency of sound. Kalandra, however, have the balance just right, as where a lot of soundtracks can fall flat is when that consistency veers into monotony. Kingdom Two Crowns maintains interest throughout, and there are some surprisingly heavy (relatively speaking) moments that provide impact and drama. This is definitely an album that is enjoyable from beginning to end, even if it is a quieter Kalandra than I might have been expecting,
Then again, Kalandra had already proved they don’t need amplification to express their heavier side, with the release of an unplugged version of Ensom in mid-2021 (a song which in its original incarnation on The Line I described as “powerful and almost pummelling”). A lot of this is down to how much emotion Oskar is able to put into his drumming, regardless of whether the setting is amplified or unplugged. I’m pleased to see that Oskar is now recognised as a fourth member of Kalandra (now a Douglas Adams style trio of four), but mention also has to be made of guest musicians John Stenersen and Kenneth Lien, who add traditional instruments to the mix, and really enrich and augment music that is already quite wonderful. The addition of these folk instruments really helps to give a sense of place, but – and I really love this – that sense of place is blurry at best. This is a soundtrack to Norse lands, but they are Norse lands of a video game, and not of any reality. The way the traditional folk instruments are added to the mix is not at all necessarily how they would sound in an “authentic” folk matter. It’s a very subtle, but very clever trick, evoking an atmosphere that seems steeped partly in history, partly in mythology, and partly in fantasy.
The album begins with the ethereal Eikthymir, which is one of the few tracks where Katrine’s vocals are more prominent, progressing through a series of short pieces that are actually extended mixes of passages of music composed for the video game. As these are extended mixes designed to be listened to without needing to play the game, Kalandra have filled the spaces in their instrumentation left for game effects and play, to put full focus on their music. While their soundtrack might provide ambience and background accompaniment within the game, their extended soundtrack is a full listening experience in itself. I say might because, just as with my review for Riverwood, having never played the game from which the music is inspired, I can’t say how accurately it represents the world in which the game takes place, but I can say that it transports me to an easily imaginable and immersive world, and on an epic journey through expansive Nordic landscapes. The game apparently emphasises free play, so it seems appropriate that the soundtrack gives free rein to the imagination, and potentially takes every listener on their own journey. It’s not the second album I was expecting from Kalandra, but it’s a bloody marvellous one. I can’t wait to hear what they come up for their next release!
01. Eykthyrnir (3:16)
02. Ferden (4:32)
03. Drømmefanger (3:03)
04. Veiviseren (2:30)
05. Skogtroll (2:13)
06. Mørke Skoger (2:29)
07. Synnavind (2:42)
08. Helheim (4:37)
09. Nordlys (1:52)
10. Greed (3:02)
11. Hrimfaxi (3:29)
12. Valkyrja (3:37)
Total Time – 37:22
Katrine Stenbekk – Vocals
Jogeir Daae Mæland – Bukkehorn (Goathorn), Piano, Synthesisers, Guitar, Vocals
Florian Bernhard Döderlein Winter – Synthesisers, Bowed Guitar, Vocals
Oskar Johnsen Rydh – Drums & Percussion
John Stenersen – Moraharpe, Dreieltyre (Hurdy-Gurdy), Nøkkelharpe
Kenneth Lien – Hardingfele (Fiddle), Tagelharpe, Dvoyanka
Inge Bremnes – Art, Vocals
Record Label: ByNorse
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 8th April 2022