Myth and Music: The Scandinavian fairy-tale music of Norway’s Bel Canto

 

Just the other day, I found some rare tracks from the Norwegian ethereal-wave band Bel Canto. Listening to them confirmed for me that Anneli Drecker has a simply amazing voice and it’s a shame that she is not as well known as she should be. She effortlessly melds the complex vocal gymnastics of Elizabeth Fraser with the pan-ethnic warbling of Lisa Gerrard— with a dash of Bjorkian whimsy.

Bel Canto started out as kind of Gothic synthpop band; imagine Depeche Mode crossed with Siouxsie and the Banshees. By the second release, Birds of Passage, they moved more into the atmospherics of Cocteau Twins or Kate Bush. Drecker expanded the range of her voice so that she could reach soprano highs that were positively operatic, and there was a definite Medieval sound to the stately synths. Lyrically, the songs borrowed from mythology, with songs about mermaids, minotaurs, and Baron Munchausen. But it is their third album, Shimmering, Warm & Bright, is a classic of mythic pop music.

Drecker’s voice is stately and beautiful. The music weaves folk instruments into the elaborate synthesized orchestrations. The lyrics, some of them in French and German, are full of images from Scandinavian myths: giants (“Shimmering, Warm and Bright”), fallen warriors (“Sleep in Deep”), and witchcraft (“Spiderdust”). The album’s centerpiece is an epic musical homage to a Hans Christian Andersen tale, “The Story of a Mother,” sung in German.

Subsequent Bel Canto albums visited mythic themes sporadically, opting instead for a sleek pop-oriented sound.

Shimmering, Warm and Bright