Album Reviews

Fever Ray – Radical Romantics

(Rabid) UK release date: 10 March 2023

Love examined anew, ritualised, set with intention and released into the world. Draw the circle, light the incense, and manifest

Fever Ray - Radical Romantics Queer love is magic. This is a universal constant. Throw off the shackles of societal expectation, love with all your heart, in all capacities, in all directions – love your friends, love your cat, love your partner with no constraints and a special kind of elation emerges, a fearless take on life – Radical, pure. Whilst Fever Ray albums are no stranger to the concept of love, it is this ethos that sits behind Radical Romantics, the third offering from Karin Dreijer in their alien entity. Get out your sage and open those windows, it’s time for a musical love ritual.

Fever Ray has always been anything but formulaic. Throughout their entire musical career from The Knife onwards, Dreijer has always presented us with claustrophobic narratives, ones that gather us up in their arms and squeeze a little too tight. However, with Radical Romantics we see a distinct shift away from the idea of linear songs, and rapidly towards a 360 soundscape – all encompassing, visceral and beautifully overwhelming. And as we move further from a traditional song structure something magical emerges, the energetic expansion of an idea, a feeling, an emotion that for 90% of the time feels ritualistic, transcendent and wholly magical.

Opening with the evocative line “First I’d like to say that I’m sorry,” we kick off with What They Call Us, spring bubbling synths declare intention, with racing drums mimicking the heart flutter of N-R-E. Shiver boundaries with sapphic yearning (“Some girls make you blush, some girls will make you shiver”), and Creatures’ drumming-esque energetic synths undercut by howls and screams of emotion all etched in an electronic landscape.

The thing about love is, of course, it’s not all NRE and sapphic yearning. Sometimes love is furious, chaotic, visceral and burns everything it touches. Sometimes it’s dangerous, sometimes you second-guess every fleeting moment and boundary transgression thinking you, out of everyone, must be the mad one. This dichotomy is present in Radical Romantics. New Utensils declares “Lips/Fists/A mouthful of words” and describes building metaphorical fire from ways to fuck. A sensual moan run through a synth haunts the narrative, slightly out of time, slightly jarring – because sex isn’t always perfect, you know?

Extra nods go to Kandy, the nearest to a traditional ‘pop’ song you’ll find on the album, as Dreijer joins forces with their brother Olof Dreijer for this cozy piece that would work dreamily over the montage of a sci-fi film. But the comfort doesn’t last too long. Even It Out screams vengeance – a threat against bullies of queer kids is next up, and its ominous howls and chorus of “cut cut cut cut cut” will be your earworm long after the album ends. Carbon Dioxide addresses the fear of jumping into something new: “Holding my heart, I’m falling”, “Hyyyyperr-focus”.

We exit with Bottom Of The Ocean, a slowly lilting, careful seven minute outro that serves as a meditation on the message of Radical Romantics. We swim in ‘oh’ sounds and waves of electronica – are these the waves of love, of passion, or of sadness? We do not know (maybe all of them?), but one thing is for sure, we remain careful and brave in our emotions, transparent till the end, exiting with nothing but an ‘oh’ and a drone.

All in all, something special emerges when you break society’s dumb rules. To have to define your own identity, to live as a non binary human means you’ll inevitably have to redefine how you love, identify and choose to interact with in the world – and in Radical Romantics we see love examined anew, ritualised, set with intention and released into the world. Draw the circle, light the incense and manifest the love, Karin. So mote it fucking be.

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Fever Ray: “It is interesting what we find scary and what we find is beautiful. It’s very close, sometimes” – Interview