Following on from 2019’s Hieronymous Bosch influenced ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ Norwegian vocalist, pianist and composer Susanna (Wallumrød) channels another concept album that further combines literate prose with a persuasive pose.

Joining the ranks of artists that veer from Claude Debussy to The Doors, Bob Dylan and Scott Walker, Susanna delves into the oeuvre of French anti-establishmentarian poet, Charles Baudelaire to create this sparse, minimalist and eerie tribute. By adapting ten texts from his scandalous masterwork The Flowers of Evil which address the role of evil in human existence, the possibility of nefarious external forces out to disrupt and corrupt and the seamy sides to life she proffers a treatise for times of tumult.

Baudelaire’s persistent diseased physical state (in)advertently infused and imbued his work with an abject and decadent perception, his hazed state prone to producing fevered horrorscapes populated by a roll call of malcontents and spectral netherworld entities. Opener ‘The Dancing Snake’ does nothing to rectify the slippery serpent’s (‘with the shimmering skin’) bad reputation, as far back as the biblical paradise of Eden its role as harbinger of downfall was cast. ‘The Vampire’ is a quasi-upbeat ode (think a scolding Kate Bush) to the weak, the ignoble, the parasitic, the addict, as Susanna notes: ‘as the drunkard is to his bottle, as the gambler is to his game’. An autobiographical admission on Baudelaire’s part in his own misfortunes?

Susanna captures, bottles and surreptitiously throttles this veritable horrorshow augmented solely and purely by the bleakly sleek piano. The absence of presence of other sounds only enhances the brevity and gravity of the subject matter, these songs breathe outwards and gasp inwards. At times she evokes a glacial Joni Mitchell, a barely suppressed agile-fragility is latent and lurking throughout.

Addressing the dictated dichotomies of life that surround, ground and confound (life amongst the ruins of death; virtue versus vice), that contain, maintain and restrain within structures and strictures, it’s a fine line between balance and lost footings.

Susanna’s work constantly posits the conundrum ‘how do we survive and thrive in a world of disarray and continued assaults on human nature’? By applying Baudelaire’s tortured postulations and uneased ululations one solution may be to step outside to jump back in. Afresh, anew, again.