Anne Valeur

The Apocalyptic Visions of Susanna’s Triangle

The Norwegian musician’s new album might be witchcraft

“Black is where my soul lives,” Susanna Wallumrød sings. The song is called "Hole," and it's about being pulled back to a plunging tomb no matter how hard she tries to escape. But the voice she uses for these creepy words is one of pure sweetness, and the minimalist electronic beat behind her is downright bubbly. She might be singing about a hellhole, but she doesn't seem the least bit afraid. It's a highlight of Triangle, the Norwegian musician's fourth solo set and a fantastically unsettling concept album about humanity in the face of impending doom.

Across 11 albums – sometimes solo, sometimes with her band the Magical Orchestra — Wallumrød, who records as Susanna, has built her career on chilly chamber-pop that calls to mind musicians like Antony and the Johnsons and Julia Holter. And while she may still be known more for her gloomy covers of modern standards like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Jolene,” with each new record Susanna has continued to expand her sound and songwriting, collaborating with artists like Jenny Hval and Bonnie Prince Billy along the way. Triangle, with its brooding, original songwriting and spooky folktronica, is her strongest record yet.

This is a deeply spiritual record, with sparse piano and New Age synth arrangements that put Susanna’s voice at center stage. On songs like “For My Sins” and “Before the Altar,” she’s seemingly rolling in prayer, repeating brief phrases over and over to deal with her transgressions as piano chords play somberly in the background. Elsewhere, Susanna plays Joan of Arc on songs like “Sacred Revolution” and “The Fire” — arms outspread, promising a new community and warning of coming disasters. On the album’s freaky centerpiece, “In the Need of a Shepherd,” Susanna’s voice is layered over a harpsichord like a Greek chorus as she cries out for a sign, a fire, a guiding force. But there's a sinister edge to her pleas, and it often feels like she's not looking for a path away from corruption but guiding us directly into it. “Nothing is holy, nothing is sacred,” she tells us in Triangle’s opening mantra. “I come around to scare you all, no matter if it’s day or night,” she sings spookily on “Fear and Terror” over a simple piano composition that gradually falls apart and flails out of key as an electric guitar reverbs in the distance, Susanna repeating “day or night” in creaky echoes.

At a whopping 22 songs long, Triangle risks feeling excessive. Susanna has a penchant for lyrical repetition, and references to black waters and flowing blood abound. But her obsessive recitation of these phrases feels performative, not lazy — it evokes a kind of spell-casting, spiritual awakening that's less about the words than the way they are sung. The repetitive choruses of songs like the baroque-pop standout “Ebb and Flow,” on which Susanna sings of how the moon controls her, and the skittish jazz track “Born Again” sound like contemporary incantations. Her voice moans, whispers, and warps itself into a tapestry of witchy voices, complicating her simple lyricism.

Triangle shines most when Susanna corrupts the comfortable, singer-songwriter skeleton of much of her music. “Burning Sea” begins with an ominous noise track that sounds like it could be a 1980s horror movie score before cutting away to Susanna wailing over frayed electric guitars like a full-blown rock star. Songs like “In the Need of a Shepherd” and ”Hole," with their danceable, Björk-evoking synthpop, spin Susanna’s pessimism into something grand. In this desolate apocalypse, Triangle is most interesting when it welcomes darkness with open arms, with Susanna atop a flame-licked stake embracing her place among the wicked.