Prog rock from Scandinavia is not unusual. Sweden alone has produced numerous top-notch acts, and Denmark, Finland and Norway have produced a few as well. But how many prog bands have you ever heard from Iceland? How many bands have you heard from Iceland at all? Well, here’s your chance to expand your musical knowledge of Iceland beyond Björk and Sigur Rós. Allow us to present to you a relatively unknown band called Hinn Íslenzki Ţursaflokkur. The name translates to something along the lines of “The Icelandic Hobgoblins,” and it is pronounced something like “HIN ish-LON-skee thur-sa-FLOCK-oor.” There is some confusion with this name for a couple of reasons. First, the letter thorn, which is unique to the Icelandic language, is not a P, but it looks similar, so you will often see this band's name spelled with a P. The second reason for the confusion is that this band shortened their name to Ţursaflokkurinn after their first album.
What makes this 1978 album special is not the band’s name nor the way it is supposed to be spelled. This music is very unique and very good in its own right. This album is mostly a collection of Icelandic folk songs, some of which are several hundred years old. Hinn Íslenzki Ţursaflokkur took these old melodies and stories and gave them their own unique twist. These songs appear to retain a strong connection to their folk roots, but rock and classical motifs are also added liberally to the mix. The result is deliciously progressive, but it seems that “prog rock” was not necessarily what the band was aiming for. Not all the songs fit into the common conception of progressive rock, but by the same token, all of the music sounds quite original.
Probably the closest comparison this writer can make to a better-known progressive rock band is to Von Zamla, the last revision of the original Samla Mamas Manna name. This is largely due to the presence of bassoon in both bands, but a general vibe of Nordic folk weirdness is also a common thread. Unlike Von Zamla, however, Hinn Islenzki Thursaflokkur’s music is less experimental, more traditional and incorporates a full-time vocalist. At times the vocals can be quite upbeat and even a little goofy, but vocalist Egill Ólafsson is quite talented and very pleasant to listen to. All songs are sung in Icelandic, but lyrics are printed in the CD booklet in English and Icelandic, as are the stories behind the songs — providing an educational read while listening to the music. Piano, electric guitar, bass guitar and drums round out the rest of the instrumentation.
Probably the best track is the mostly instrumental “Búnađarbálkur.” This is the most progressive track and features quite a range of moods and melodies. The track begins with a slightly melancholy melody for piano, bassoon and mellow electric guitar. The spirit of Camel is evoked here, but this theme ends abruptly, as a very short transitional theme replaces it. This second theme is highly reminiscent of classic Genesis, calling to mind “The Battle of Epping Forest.” The rest of the song is sort of a pseudo-sinister motif that may remind some of Von Zamla or even Univers Zero, but any dark elements are kept in check by some cartoonish vocals. It’s a track with some surprises and it’s a fun listen. Another great piece is “Grafskrift,” a really evocative musical epitaph of a man named Saemundur Klemensson. Here Ólafsson puts his voice to really good use. Instrumentation is sparse, but a harmonium, or maybe a hurdy gurdy, grinds out some somber chords as the sound of a cold North Atlantic wind blowing across the Icelandic landscape can be heard.
This album is not extremely avant-garde or even very similar to more common forms of progressive rock. One could probably play this for one’s parents or girlfriend without too many complaints. Unless you’re from Iceland, however, Hinn Islenzki Thrusaflokkur is far from all the well-worn paths of pop, rock, folk, so-called world music and even progressive rock you may have ever traveled. This remarkable album is strongly recommended to anyone wanting to expand their musical horizons far beyond the norm.
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