Album Review: Olga Vocal Ensemble – Vikings!
Vikings! is the second album from the quintette Olga Vocal Ensemble. The quintette consists of five members who all met in the HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht. The members of Olga are Bjarni Guðmundsson (tenor), Jonathan Ploeg (second-tenor), Gulian van Nerop (baritone), Pétur Oddbergur Heimisson (bass-baritone) and Philip Barkhudarov (bass). The album is self-released by the group but Diddi fiðla (e. Diddi violin) managed the recordings proceeded in a little place called Hall in Netherlands.
As the album title indicates there is a viking theme on the album and most of the songs are from Scandinavia. The first five songs on the album are taken from Album for Mandssang, Op. 30 (e. Album for Male Chorus, Op. 30) by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. The songs „Jeg Lagde Mig Så Sildig“ and „Han Ole“ are on the serious notes but the other three „Halling“, „Kvålings Halling“ and „Springdans“ are on the lighter as they are about young men looking for women.
In fact you can say that this is the story of the album and also the group as they offer both serious songs and happy songs.
The first Icelandic song on the album is track 7, „Grafskrift“, an Icelandic folksong about Sæmundur Klemensson who was known for his heroic attitude. The song is so folky that the Icelandic prog-rock group Þursaflokkurinn decided to include it on their first album. Olga delivers the song in a viking manner and if we didn’t notice before we sure know it’s a viking album now.
Olga reaches the top in Jón Nordals song „Smávinir fagrir“ with a poem from the legendary Jónas Hallgrímsson. The song is often used in funerals in Iceland and no one can deny it’s beauty. But the song requires certain interpretation and treatment and Olga delivers just that. Amazing performance by the boys and the first song I put on and listen to two till three times in a row. Bravo lads!
Close to the best song on the album are two thunder stealers which are very different from the other tracks on the album. I’m talking about „Starálfur“ by Sigur Rós and „It’s Oh So Quiet“ by Hans Lang that Björk did unforgettable cover version of in 1995. Not the easiest songs to cover in a capella style but the boys do it just great. In my opinion the boys are clever to include these songs on the album although they do not really fit to the viking theme. But the songs can maybe get to broader audiences and lure new fans to the Olga music who aren’t necessarily much for quintetts. For example they did an interview on the national radio station in Iceland and were asked to take one song from the album and performed „It’s Oh So Quiet“ and that’s no coincidence I believe.
Along with the thunder stealers there are three very good songs in between them, „Dúlamán“, „Meeste laul“ and „Pseudo-Yolk“. In „Meeste laul“ the members stamp their feet on the ground and seeing them do that live on the church floor in Aðventkirkjan in Reykjavík was pretty cool. Jonathan Ploeg does a very good job leading the „Dúlamán“ song which is the only song beside „Meeste laul“ and „It’s Oh So Quiet“ that aren’t from Scandinavia.
The short version: Olga Vocal Ensemble have a very strong release in their second album that counts 17 tracks and almost an hour in playing time. The album starts and ends well but some of the tracks in the middle aren’t as good beside the best track „Smávinir fagrir“ and the very powerful „Grafskrift“. The songs in the middle just don’t cut it like the better songs but we cannot blame the boys voices for that, it’s just that the other songs are better. Although the songs translate really well on a cd, I cannot ignore the fact that they are much more joyful to watch performing live, thanks to their great character and stage presence. If you have a chance to catch them live don’t dare to miss them or you might be in danger of getting a gigantic cucumber in your face!
Key tracks: „Grafskrif“, „It’s Oh So Quiet“, „Kvålins Halling“, „Smávinir fagrir“.