As noted elsewhere, the stark blue tones of Avalanche’s cover, depicting the Viking warlord Ímar (from whom the band take their name) trudging alone and seemingly despairing along a cold mountain pass, contrast sharply with the warmth and energy of the music found in the recordings themselves.
Formed in 2016 Ímar (the band, the warlord having departed the brutal but productive maelstrom of his life in 873 AD) have already won a 2018 BBC Radio2 Folk Award for Best Emerging Act. This, their second album, confirms they have now fully ’emerged’ as one of the world’s foremost groups of Celtic musicians.
At Ímar’s heart is the trance-concertina of Mohsen Amini (a musician rightly described by BBC Scotland as ‘a force of nature’), who also plays in the mesmerising trio Talisk. He is joined by Tomas Callister (fiddle), Adam Rhodes (bouzouki), Ryan Murphy (uilleann pipes, flute & whistle) and Adam Brown (bhodran).
The collective assembled in Glasgow from around the Irish Sea, aiming to celebrate and revel in the overlapping heritages of Scottish, Irish, Breton and Manx music – the latter brought to the studio by Callister and Rhodes (both can also be found playing together in Barrule). Although the band met as teenagers through Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann only Murphy is Irish born, with Adam Brown (Rura) originally coming from Suffolk, but now deeply steeped in Scottish traditional music.
The diverse roots of the band members mean they bring a huge range of influence and experience to their work together. Although this variety is a key element of Ímar’s raison d’être, it is not what strikes you on repeated listens of Avalanche’s compositions.
With many awards between them you would also expect instrumental finesse as a cornerstone of the recordings, and that is undoubtedly there – yet it is the sheer exuberant vitality in the playing that is the music’s crucial characteristic (just as is the case with VRï’s recent debut, Tŷ Ein Tadau). This spark is immediately evident in the very first notes of the frantic opening set Deep Blue, and still present as the momentum of Trip to Novi Sad closes the album.
You cannot avoid being caught up and transported as soon as Ímar take flight.
The tempo may shift, most notably for the graceful lilt of Afar and the sense of longing captured in the slow, melodic Be Thou, but there is always compelling dynamism and movement in the music – even if it is just reflected as a gentle stirring of your soul. Mostly self-penned, the recorded tunes found here present a set of musicians able to effortlessly create irresistible moments of flow using traditional forms – Avalanche is an exhilarating achievement.