Runhild Gammelsaeter is a fascinating figure in underground music. Recordings are rare, performances rarer still. She emerges every few years, says what she wants to say, and disappears back to her extramusical life. She made her debut as a teenager, fronting doom band Thorr’s Hammer (formed by Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson) on 1996’s Dommedagsnatt EP, then went un-heard-from for nearly a decade before appearing on 2003’s White1, by O’Malley and Anderson’s new project, Sunn O))). Three more years passed, and she formed Khlyst with James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida of Khanate, making one album—2006’s Chaos is My Name—and a deliberately hard-to-find live DVD, Chaos Live. In 2008, she made her solo debut with Amplicon.
That record, released on the Utech label, was a jarring and alienating listening experience. Featuring layers of vocals, some cleanly sung and some growled in a post-death metal fashion, it also blended raw acoustic guitar and radical digital mixing effects. At times, it recalled both Jarboe and Nico in its (spiritual and sonic) coldness and its purist representation of a female strength unconcerned with male approval, but the way it jumped from one sound to another with an impenetrable and individual logic made it entirely Gammelsaeter’s. She produced the whole thing herself, only enlisting the help of Tore Ylvisaker of Ulver for mixing.
Quantum Entanglement, also on Utech, is a very different beast. It’s another collaboration, this time with noise musician Lasse Marhaug. And where Amplicon featured 11 tracks, none reaching the five-minute mark, the new album (it’s only available digitally or on vinyl) offers two side-long pieces, the 16:25 “Ungilded” and the 17:07 “Simony.” Marhaug is clearly interested in a slow build, a cumulative result, rather than juxtaposing one thing against another in an assaultive collage. Gammelsaeter, for her part, is reciting her lyrics rather than singing them—it’s like a spoken word or poetry album, with synthesizers oozing and rumbling behind her, and what sounds like cymbals being softly tapped and rattled. Atop this cohesive and mood-based musical backdrop, there are multiple layers of vocals, some subject to radical electronic manipulation (to the point that they sound like giant dogs growling in hell) and others clear and comprehensible. At times, Gammelsaeter seems to be arguing with herself, or offering cryptic commentary on her own thoughts. Language becomes an instrument, recalling the diced-up phrases of Antje Greie-Fuchs (aka AGF) on albums like Head Slash Bauch and Words are Missing. Quantum Entanglement is a dark, absorbing release that sucks the listener in for its full 35-minute running time, taking fans on a journey deep into Runhild Gammelsaeter‘s mind and reminding them just how fascinating a place that can be.
Stream/buy Quantum Entanglement on Bandcamp: