There is a timelessness to the music of Årabrot; just as you think you have pinpointed an influence or reference point, it will escape your grasp, twisting and turning in unexpected directions, shaping a sound that is truly unique. The last two decades have seen Årabrot shapeshift through multiple iterations; they’ve tried on different shapes and sizes, encom- passed different moods and explored the outer reaches of various genres and yet never sounded less than entirely themselves. 2023 heralds the arrival of their tenth album, Of Darkness and Light – a cause for celebration.
Kjetil Nernes has been the core and the constant of Årabrot, and for some time now another heart has beat alongside his in perfect unison. A partner in life, love and music, Karin Park has contributed to Årabrot to varying degrees for ten years, and on Of Darkness and Light her presence is both solidified and amplified. The pair live together in a church in the Swedish village where Karin grew up, designing their own domain within which they nurture their children, their craft and their creative visions.
Of Darkness and Light took a long time to take shape and become a whole. Kjetil’s prolific songwriting ability meant that some songs had been tucked away for years, waiting for the perfect time and environment to bloom. Others were written with more urgency in the months leading up to the album’s recording.
Having survived throat cancer almost a decade ago, Kjetil speaks of the high that follows the realisation of a second chance at life. But eventually the inevitability of normality creeps back into daily life; the lull in live band activity in 2020 provided an opportunity to reset and take stock.. “There were certain things that I had to address concerning myself,” he states, “I’m dealing with human things, anger, frustration, bitterness, regret… not without hope though.” The album’s title references Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra – a philosophical text centred on self-overcoming, of transcending our own limitations. Or as Kjetil puts “You’re down in the dirt, but you have to climb out of it and find a way to make it all better.”
With the album fully written Kjetil hesitated when it came to recording, believing that the right producer, the right studio would reveal itself to him. Serendipity took the lead when Alain Johannes’s name came up in conversation between mutual friends. A few texts and a phone call later, Alain was on board: he would spend a month with the pair in Sweden.
Alain’s curriculum vitae reads like a who’s who of rock music; an accomplished musician himself (performing with the likes of PJ Harvey, Queens of the Stone Age, and Them Crooked Vultures, he also had his own band, Eleven, and currently performs under his own name), he has also has years of experience as a producer under his belt. It was his work on Mark Lanegan’s 2020 album, Straight Songs of Sorrow, that brought him to the forefront of Kjetil’s mind before kismet intervened to bring them together.
With Alain declaring “my gut feeling is always right” he decamped to Djura Missionshus
AKA the Church of Årabrot, in August 2022 to commence work. There was a brief interlude during which Kjetil accompanied Alain to London where he was performing at Wembley alongside The Foo Fighters. Rather than being a distraction, the weekend of rubbing shoulders with his formative heroes provided an injection of inspiration and positive vibes, and meant that he was able to bring a sprinkle of rock’n’roll magic back to Sweden with him.
The trio spent several weeks together, weaving their work around family life, putting together the puzzle pieces that would make up Of Darkness and Light – their first album recorded entirely in the church. The result is a bona fide rock album – under the electrifying veneer of shimmering synths and sophisticated sparkle, beats a heavy rock heart. The 2022 Heart EP lay something of a breadcrumb trail should one wish to trace some of the inspirations that can be detected, traced in the air around these ten songs. Words barely do justice to the visceral, concupiscent desire that lies behind their rallying cries on We Want Blood – a foot stomping, anthemic thrust that lies in the middle of the album. Elsewhere sinister murder ballads sit alongside celebratory ‘fuck yeah’ moments of joy; their pared-back approach to instrumentation does not diminish the richness of their sound.
Årabrot comes gloriously into their own in a live setting – with Kjetil holding court with liturgical flamboyance, whilst Karin gives herself over to a hypnotic rhythm of their own making. The pair are most electrifying to witness when performing; their symbiotic devotion is palpable as they perform in the clothes they were married in. And the songs on Of Darkness and Light sound as though made just to be experienced in a live setting – no light show, no pyrotechnics are a match for their apocalyptic revelry.
Rest assured, as long as there is breath in their bodies, this pair will be found preaching rock and roll under the neon-lit Årabrot cross.
biography by Becky Laverty