London Union Chapel
This is a stunning concert.
The first of two sold out nights sees the Norwegian band perform key moments from their three album series, with latest album, ‘Runaljod Ragnarok’ being the final entry in the band’s ‘Runaljod’ trilogy based on the 24 runes in the oldest known runic alphabet.
The voices of Wardruna key members, vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella and former Gorgoroth member Einar Kvitrafn Selvik, coil around each other with a spectral beauty as they create a melancholic and strangely unsettling pagan folk beauty over the unusual array of instruments.
Formerly corpse painted drummer on the legendary Norwegian black metal scene, Einar now plays whispers or sings with a powerful strident voice that hooks around Wardruna’s emotional and melodic power with a Viking heart that defines the band sound whilst Lindy’s soaring, swooping, soprano flights are almost operatic and glacially beautiful like a bird of prey swooping in some semi frozen fjord – she sings so high and so effectively that it lifts the heart to hear her voice soar through the songs.
Wardruna’s music is built around the ancient drones that are at the core of so much great folk musics – the eternal drone that pulls you in and caresses and hypnotizes you. The pounding pulse is created by the rumbling tom toms which are tribally and ritualistically powerful and when added to the variety of extra texture instruments like primitive deer-hide frame drums, Kraviklyra, tagelharpe, mouth harp, goat horn, lur and a violin or weird percussion and longship horns builds and builds to beautiful vistas of sound that hook into the power and bewildering beauty and darkness at the heart of nature and Norse lore.
And that’s just on the first song
The power and magic of nature and the ancient mystery of the runes and sagas set the scene for tonight’s remarkable concert. The band have moved a long way away from their roots on Norway’s fabled black metal scene and into a very idiosyncratic business of their own with this spiritual, proud and exquisite beautiful performance that taps into an ancient Nordic culture with its roots deep into a pre Christian time as it reignites a yearning for a semi lost culture. Einar’s vision is a reclaiming of the past and replacing a Christian narrative that has tainted this past that casts the true Norse culture as a primitive past.
Just what is Wardruna?
This is a band whose songs soar and swoop and hypnotize with a spellbinding perfection and tap into that older Nordic culture. The venue is full of melancholic splendour and melodic yearning beauty. This music is built around powerfully moving melodies that are surprisingly complex and self made instruments that create unique textures that build up layers of emotive sound hooked around that eternal drone.
Ostensibly a folk music they have somehow taken this past and made it sound contemporary and the emotional power and stark beauty of their music is mesmerising. Wardruna have hit pay dirt with their music being used in the Vikings TV series which Einar also appears in, which is great, but have very much their own art and their own profound narrative and there is an affecting spiritual power to their music that is gripping as it swirls around the atmospheric Union chapel like a sonic sea mist.
The Union chapel is, oddly, the perfect platform for the band whose disdain for christianity is part of their own deeper conviction – whereas some people at the beginning of the black metal scene would have been tempted to burn the place down, Wardruna fill it full of beauty and music presenting a far more compelling argument for a pre Christian culture that still lies at the heart of Scandinavia and soundtracks an interest and fascination in the music and culture at the heart of Norway itself.
With their music they reflect the soul of a county and attempt to rediscover its pagan heritage lost in the hammer of Christianity and present a new take on an ancient spiritual heritage that soundtracks deeper into the past. With their bizarre array of instruments they create a unique sound which is a re-imagining of the past and yet utterly 21st century as it peels away the layers of history to create a different future.
Their set is built around their three albums and is perfectly staged with the performance swathed in glacial lighting and a hypnotic music that makes this one of the concerts of the the year as the melancholic beauty of Wardruna’s music fills the room with a glacial and ultimately atmospheric heart warming glow.