Hailing from the “wheat-and-rust landscape” of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, neofolk duo Osi and the Jupiter have accomplished a lot since starting in 2015. Comprised of mastermind Sean Kratz (Witchhelm, Burial Oath) and cellist Kakophonix, the group looks to the “worship of the old gods as a reflection of nature” for inspiration. Their first two LPs—2016’s Halls of the Wolf and 2017’s Uthuling Hyl—were highly immersive, tasteful, and profound sequences that earned comparisons to SUNN O))), Agalloch, Vàli, Warduna, and Ulver. Naturally, Nordlige Rúnaskog stays true to that aesthetic and solidifies how ambitious and capable the pair continues to be. That said, its overarching monotony and sameness sometimes deplete its power as a gorgeous, eloquent, and moving experience.
Right away, the sublimely spectral easiness of Nordlige Rúnaskog reveals itself. Opener “Fjörgyn” glides in with the haunting sounds of nature aside ethereal tones and mournful cello chants. Deeper tones, scant drumming, and acoustic guitar arpeggios cascade beneath it as the cumulative earthly despair grows patiently, allowing the listener to feel fully immersed in its rustic regret. Halfway in, its pace picks up before dying back down; while it’s a relatively slow and simple composition, its strengths lie in its unfaltering focus on achieving a specific sensation by the end. The same can be said for later tracks of the same ilk, such as the more atmospheric and idyllic “Dødelig Fartoy," the scaled-down acoustic and string lamentations of “Much Wisdom is Such Grief”, and the majorly classical “Nordlige Eik Tre.”
Elsewhere, there’s more density and liveliness to be found. For instance, “Lœra∂r” is the sort of robust celebration you’d expect to accompany a ceremonial dance around a Maypole, with the occasional guttural verses adding a bit of ominous context about sacrifices and offerings. There are even more ritualistically demonic vocals on “Ettr Storman,” whose organic campfire essence is further permeated by booming cello and talharpa, not to mention cyclical percussion holding it all together. In contrast, “Grå Hest”—which came out earlier this year as a 7” with a beautiful B-side called “Autumn”—is more rhythmically engrossing, with multilayered singing and ghostly howls yielding arguably the most accessible and tightly constructed piece of them all. As Nordlige Rúnaskog wraps up, the penultimate “GaldrFöder” literally provides a prolonged rain dance prior to the lengthy finale, “The White Elk,” basically fusing the aforementioned elements into an all-encompassing hodgepodge. It’s a bit too uneventful for its duration, but there’s enough here to entrance you.
On that note—and perhaps by default—many of the compositions outstay their welcome before they’re done. That’s not to say that any of them are bad (far from it), but rather that their spirits are often fully realized early on, so you’re essentially left knowing all that they have to offer by the midway point. In other words, there’s rarely enough happening to justify how long it takes to finish each journey, and as you could guess, it’s even hard to tell the tracks apart sometimes (despite repeated attempts). A few have their own identities, but others are too indistinguishable (to the point that it’s been difficult to pick them apart in this review).
Even so, Osi and the Jupiter have something special at their core, and Nordlige Rúnaskog is likely the best example yet of that. Those looking for deep dives into Paganistic folk with flourishes of orchestral splendor will no doubt find it here; it’s just that those same listeners will also grow weary of almost every sonic ritual before it’s completed. Hopefully, the duo will be able to build off of what they have here and incorporate more textual and structural change-ups next time around so that each entry on that fourth LP will be sufficiently engaging, striving, and personal.