Divination and Terror with Daniel Olsén and Year Walk

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It is Tomasmässonatten, and the time is right for revelation. Will you learn the mysteries of the future and save your love from her engagement, or will you succumb to the nightmare creatures lurking in the winter night? Begin the Year Walk, blow through the keyhole, and tempt your fate.

Back in 2013, a creepy adventure game based on Swedish folklore was released on iOS platforms. Two years and a bevy of positive reviews later, Year Walk has become quite the phenomenon among horror/folk tale enthusiasts. As far as I can tell, the game follows the adventures of a young man embarking on an ancient pagan tradition known as Årsgång, one which, if performed correctly, grants the user foresight and eldritch wisdom. Yet, the ritual is not without its dangers. After blowing through the keyhole of a church, the user temporarily loses his salvation, exposing himself to the dangerous, amoral entities of the pre-religious world. According to T. Kuusela,

A complex form of divination in Swedish folk tradition… The tradition of year walking is predominantly recorded from Southern Sweden, and was usually practised at Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Different regions of Sweden give contrasting explanations for how this was accomplished. From Småland and Blekinge, the year walker was supposed to lock himself up in a dark room, without speaking to anyone nor taste food or drink. At midnight, he (or she) walked to the parish church – or a cluster of different churches – and circled it three times (or more), then he (or she) blew into the church’s key hole. With this the year walker temporarily lost his (or her) Christianity. When this happened, supernatural beings appeared and challenged the year walker. If the walker managed these tests, glimpses of the future could appear; either in vision or by sounds. These could be interpreted as glimpses of what would happen the following year. The phenomena could vary greatly regionally or even in the same district.

I have yet to play the game myself, but the stark, grim artwork and mysterious music have captured my interest. Already intrigued by rumors of the game perfectly encapsulating that frightening siren song of the unknown, it was with great delight that I discovered that two additional pieces of media have been released to fill out the Year Walk mythology.

First, I discovered that Swedish composer Daniel Olsén has written, produced, and released an accompanying soundtrack for the game that can be streamed via Bandcamp. The music is a perfect companion to the art, a dire exploration of Swedish folk tales and ancient musical traditions written on electronic organs and bowed crotales.

Having not played the game, I can only impart the feeling evoked by Olsén’s compositions, but I can assure you, they are characteristically fitting. The Year Walk soundtrack plays like a journey deeper and deeper into the frozen heart of an ancient, forgotten grove of trees. Danger looms around every corner, embodied in the slinking, skittering, and creeping of individual tracks like “Ugglornas Hemlighet” and “Änglamakerskan”. Beauty abounds too, the sort of rugged but also fragile beauty so often found among the dying trees haloed by falling snow on a cold winter night, as found in songs like “Stina” and “Glittermåne”. Each track of this composition takes you from trial to trial, terror to terror, but hope is ever dangled before you like a fleeting glimpse of light through the crooked branches. Equally unsettling and uplifting, Olsén’s work here rivals many major horror film scores I’ve heard, always bleak but often hopeful.

The second piece of accompanying art is actually a short storybook that details the ghastly folklore creatures featured in this game. The short books can be accessed and downloaded for free here and, like the older understanding of fairy tales, contains harrowing cautionary stories for children to be on their best behavior lest some malicious bogeyman from the arcane wilds punish their willful disobedience. Although the stories themselves lack the maturity and depth that will appeal to adult readers, the art is fanciful and engaging. The stories themselves remind me of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and are worth at least the short reading time for those seeking that nostalgic thrill of youth.

Year Walk is out now on iOS, Steam, and the Wii U eShop.

(Images VIA and VIA)
(h/t Patrick Klepek)

  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    Killer artwork at the bottom of this thing.

  • For some reason this reminded me of the Polish movie “Ida” from last year. Some of this soundtrack sounds like it would go well with the movie. Very desolate.

    http://compostimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Ida_72.jpg

    • Vote for Jeb

      That looks pretty sweet. I can’t speak for the game at all, but I really enjoyed the soundtrack.

      • The song Locksång is really making me cold.

        • Vote for Jeb

          Yusss. There’s something powerful about minimalist soundtracks like this for creating a spooky atmosphere.

          • It’s all it takes. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a good example.

          • Vote for Jeb

            The Descent was the same way, if I remember correctly. Just some drums every now and then.

          • I think so, Its been a long time since I’ve watched that though. I’m sure it will be watched some time this month.

      • Oh and yes, check the movie out. I really enjoyed it. The cinematography is pretty outstanding. Just very bleak.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXhCaVqB0x0

  • looks awesome, looks scary, contains great tunes!

    • Vote for Jeb

      Probably not as spoopy as Soma.

      • or Spooper Mario Creator

        • Vote for Jeb

          I made a stage based on the Legend of Zelda. I’m pretty proud of it, haha.

      • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

        I keep saying, it really is a poor drug

        • Vote for Jeb

          You’re awfully pneumatic, Blackbeard.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Like a piston?

          • Vote for Jeb

            I was referring to Brave New World, which is what I thought you were alluding to.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            And here i thought you were being obtuse

          • Vote for Jeb

            No, I’m usually acute.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Ill say 😉

  • Waynecro

    That’s some interesting stuff. Thanks for the protip, W.

    • Vote for Jeb

      The book caught my attention because my friends and I used to creep each other out with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when we were kids.

      • Waynecro

        One of those books scared the hell out of me when I was a really little kid. I was on a long drive with a friend and his family, and his older sister told me to read one of those books during the drive. It didn’t bother me at first, but l was a wreck later that night. It was the first scary thing I’d ever read. I still have vague memories of the story “Oh, Susannah!”

  • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

    Dis pretty cool, w

  • Spear

    The game is quite good, due in no small part to the soundtrack. Very short, but very replayable and inexpensive (only $6 at full price on Steam).

  • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS
  • I need this in my life. Seems interesting, the artwork is great, the atmosphere… Terrific!

  • Missed this article yesteday because I was taking my pup to the vet, but I’ve been wanting to play this. My gf played it on the iPad but I’m thinking the Wii U might be the best platform for it. Thanks for the write-up, Dubs!

    • Vote for Jeb

      You’re welcome. I’ll probably pull the trigger sometime soon!

  • Thank you for your sharing. Thanks to this article I can learn more things. Expand your knowledge and abilities. Actually the article is very practical. Thank you!
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