For our fourth record, we draw inspiration from various resources: from the silver records and tape-recordings of Iðunn, the Icelandic Rímur Society; to Reverend Bjarni Þorsteinsson’s collection of folk songs; Vésteinn Ólason’s book on folk ballads; tape-records from both the National Museum of Iceland and the Árni Magnússon Institute; as well as private collections.
The nature of folk songs is such that they are passed around from one person to another, and it is safe to assume that they have changed during this process of handling among different performers before taking on a more material form in various written and recorded sources. In light of this, we approach this subject as a dynamic repository and fashion it in our own way.
We wanted to highlight the status as well as the experiences of women, though there is generally a shortage of sources about them in this regard. In our quest, we came across the valkyrie Sigurdrífa’s ancient counsel on how to wield magical runes to – among other things – aid women experiencing the pangs of birth or to win the love of another, and we composed new music that includes selected chapters from the Ballad of the Victory-Bringer.
The poetry on the record comes from various periods, the oldest being from the 13th century, and the youngest from the 19th century. The themes are rather distinct from one another; but all the poets shed light on experiences that reflect the Icelandic climate, the rural areas, the tremendous forces of nature, or the impacts of trauma that are inherited through generations.
Many of the younger poems on our record illuminate these profound experiences, mostly of women, as well as the hardships in Icelandic nature and culture. However, an utter hopelessness does not cast a shadow over these depictions of experiences. Rather, many of the poems also embrace a sense of unfaltering perseverance, tenacity, drive, dauntlessness, and liberation. These are Runes of Salvation.
Icelandic ensemble Umbra was formed in 2014 by four female professional musicians bound together by a passion for early and new music: Alexandra Kjeld (double bass and vocals), Arngerður María Árndóttir (celtic harp, organ and vocals), Guðbjörg Hlín Guðmundsdóttir (violin and vocals) and Lilja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir (lead singer, percussion and flutes). From the beginning their vision has been to craft their own musical world with a distinct sound and unique delivery in performing early, traditional and new music. The ensemble’s repertoire features sacred and secular medieval tunes from Iceland and continental Europe, as well as traditional songs, performed to the ensemble’s original arrangements. In addition to that they have been performing Icelandic contemporary music by some of the country´s most prominent composers.
Umbra has performed numerous concerts and participated in festivals all over Iceland and in Scandinavia.
Their first album, Out of darkness was released early 2018 by independent music label Dimma and followed later the same year by their second album, Solstitium, which won Record of the Year at the 2018 Icelandic Music Awards. The group’s third album, Llibre vermell, was released in the autumn 2019 and was also nominated for the IMA. An EP of 3 chrismas songs called Yuletide was released digitally in Novemer 2021.
Umbra has been critically acclaimed as “one of the most interesting ensembles” in Iceland, particularly for their musical ambition and “outstanding arrangements” in the field of early and traditional music.
“On the album Solstitium, Umbra takes the audience on a transcendental musical journey through dark winter days. The songs, some well known but others less, are formidably arranged and performed by this great ensemble of female musicians. An album of an extraordinarily high quality.” (The Icelandic Music Awards 2018, review of the jury)
Year of Release: 2022