Hrada – Mirrorland


Every now and again I find that true one-in-a-thousand album that simultaneously challenges and elates me to the point that I just can’t leave it alone. Hrada’s “Mirrorland” is exactly one of those. I like a healthy blend of progressive intellect and artistic vision, but I do prefer the music to be heavy. Hrada checks many of the boxes, but has a lighter touch than I typically reach for. Why did I even check it out?

Hrada is an old Norwegian word meaning “to create” and perfectly describes the joint project of Extol frontman Peter Espevoll and filmmaker and musician Åsmund Janøy. Peter and the legacy of Extol doesn’t need to be rehashed, while Åsmund might be more of a mystery. Looking through his credits, one of the projects that caught my eye was “Extol: Of Light and Shade,” a documentary about Extol at the time of the recording of their self-titled release. That probably explains the connection between the two. Around 2020, word came out that Peter and Åsmund were working on a joint progressive musical project. As the project developed, Hrada would be the first act signed to Mythic Panda Records, an indie label imprint of US-based Rottweiler Records. The first single was released in 2021, but it took about two years for the album to be completed for release, demonstrating the care taken creating this album.

“Mirrorland” is the perfect melding of art rock and film score with a healthy life blood of progressive musical elements. The textures throughout the album are deep and rich with wide ranging dynamics arranged around very strong songwriting make the entire release feel effortless. The dual voices of Peter and Åsmund lead the listener through a dreamlike story in Mirrorland. Their voices remind me of how folk duo Simon and Garfunkel work together in harmony while not overstating their musical presence; the human voice presented as an instrument.

Each song melts from one to the next with such ease that it is captivating. The production is beautiful with a wide range of instruments, dynamics, and musical inspirations to keep it interesting. The singing makes use of vocal harmonies, falsetto at times, and lends well to story-telling. The musical accompaniment is both complex and simple with many instruments weaving in and out of the texture while not overtly virtuostic. The music is arranged beautifully. The drums are one of my favorite instruments on this release with its jazzier feel but riles up when the mood needs it. Large swings in dynamics make the music theatrical, telling a story without the need of words.

As to the story, the track names allude to a journey in Mirrorland, but it is hard to really feel out a plot. Rather, the lyrics may be standalone songs that were woven together to sound like a coherent story. Religious imagery, hypocrisy, and reliance on the grace of God seem to be prevailing themes throughout. I learned that a sanbenito is a garment used in the Spanish inquisition and worn by convicted heretics. This context helps in understanding the lyrics that speak of wearing it with pride as if standing on truth against an unjust conviction. To balance lyrics of conflict, we have the Extol cover “Pearl” which is a comforting oasis.

A couple of songs really stand out for me. “Gospel Oak” starts off the album with a lonely air raid siren creating a very unsettling feel. Drums, bass and piano like a jazz combo come in support of this ominous sound as the first creative musical idea of the album. The chord changes are subtly moving the song along towards a climax. Strings and other instruments including heavy guitars come in adding to the complexity of the musical texture. This type of musical interplay is throughout the album. “Sanbenito” is another cool track that makes use of plucked strings giving a sense of delicate sneaking at night, alluding to the lyrics. The drums beautifully accent the level of tension in the song. “Daydrinker” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. There is a musical play between loneliness of being trapped in a nowhere town and a brandished hope to change the world where the piano plays prominently both lyrically and musically. “Pearl” is an Extol cover which uses strings and pervasive syncopated jazz rhythms instead of the heavy guitars and drums to accompany the soothing vocals.

When I played the CD, I got a surprise when I got to track 13 recognizing it as an instrumental of “Gospel Oak.” Then track 14 which was an instrumental track of “Our Only Hope” and so on until track 21. The CD not only has the original album, but also the instrumental versions, two albums in one!

Words truly fail to describe the beauty of this release. I tried my best, but you really need to listen to understand. Every time I listen, I find something intriguing in the mix while being transported away to that dreamlike Mirrorland. Although not all is peaceful in this land, there is definitely something beautifully human. I cannot recommend this album enough, especially those that enjoy progressive, cinematic or artful music.

Rating: 10/10

Written by Sean Bailey

1 – Gospel Oak
2 – Our Only Hope
3 – Mirrorland
4 – Sanbenito
5 – Jig Is Up
6 – Girl and the Raconteur
7 – Daydrinker
8 – Winter Skies of Mirrorland
9 – Tainted Mirror
10 – Pearl
11 – Leaving Mirrorland
12 – Something Human

Hrada is:
Peter Espevoll – vocals and arrangements
Åsmund Janøy – vocals, arrangements and guitar

Additional Musicians:
Richard Curran – strings and arrangements
Johannes Groth – piano, organ and guitars
Andreas Skorpe Sjøen – drums and percussion
Magnus Westgaard – bass guitars
Dag Tofteng – guitars on “Gospel Oak” and “Daydrinker”
Jon Reichardt – beats and sounds on “Pearl”
Jørund Fluge Samuelsen – a wide variety of splendid instruments on “Something Human”
Vin Landolfi – guitars on “Sanbenito”
Lyder Janey – backing vocals on “Pearl” and arrangement on “Jig Is Up”
Children voices on “Pearl” by April Janøy, Stella Janøy and Anne Loe

Release Date: May 16, 2023

Record Label: Mythic Panda

Social Media: Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube | Instagram | Spotify

Video for ‘The Girl and the Raconteur’

Video (audio) for ‘Something Human’

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