When I was trying to find something that my good friend, a Breton girl of 22 who loves nu-metal music, would like, I pulled out Den Fule. Her assessment: “That’s really fun, kinda like Irish music, but it rocks.” This accomplishes in 10 words what will take me at least 300 to re-iterate.
Den Fule is an octet of Swedish musicians that takes the traditional songs and tunes of (mostly southern) Sweden and turns them into rock, funk, and jazz tracks. I must confess, the first time I listened to Den Fule, I thought, “I don’t like this chain-saw guitar, growled-vocals stuff in English, why should I listen to it in Swedish?” Well, since that time, I have learned a thing or two about Swedish traditional music (and about chain-saw guitar), and I have grown to appreciate what Den Fule accomplishes. In short, Den Fule stays remarkably true to the ancient traditions of Swedish instrumental music and balladry, but updates it so that it appeals to 22-year-old nu-metal fans.
Once you become accustomed to the idea of the saxophone and transverse flute being “traditional” Swedish instruments, their harmony and counterpoint applied to traditional tunes and songs led by one or more fiddles becomes most agreeable. The electric guitar, bass, drum-kit rhythm section may seem out-of-place at first, but dang, they are good! The vocal snarling still seems a bit overdone at times, but upon reading the translations from Swedish, that’s some pretty snarly stuff.
In truth, Den Fule seems to have two basic modes — one a nu-metal approach, and the other a somewhat jazzy, Jethro Tull kind of vibe. While I can embrace the former under some circumstances (usually involving beer and a dance floor), the jazzy feel works well as either background or total-attention music. Den Fule is not midnight mellow music, but just when you think it’s time to either dance or turn them off, they slip in a hypnotic instrumental, such as “Don Bla Statten/Ormsla,” which was wisely included in a Northside sampler CD. Quake is, in fact, compiled from several Swedish releases from the mid-1990’s and clocks in at a generous 70+ minutes.
Perhaps what most impresses me about Quake is the ease with which this group handles unusual time signatures. From a technical standpoint this is remarkable, but explainable by the ubiquitous nature of odd time signatures in traditional Scandinavian music. With the rock rhythm section pounding away, there is a firm commitment to the odd beat that is not always apparent in the solo fiddle music upon which many of these arrangements are based. In the end, it was the challenge of keeping time with the crooked tunes — second nature to these musicians — that kept my attention long enough for me to become a Den Fule fan. Uh-oh, now I kinda like some nu-metal too.