Wardruna : Manchester : live review ‘ stunning melodies and deeply resonant pagan songs’
Manchester Albert Hall
It’s one of those magical nights.
When the band return to the stage to play Helvegen for an encore, they deliver a dark and powerful song of brooding melody sung in perfect harmony over resonant drones and powerful tribal drumming about passing over to the other side it’s something quite special.
The audience are, again, stunned into silence by the majesty of the performance by the Norwegian band who taker their Viking and pagan culture and create something uniquely modern from it. Embracing the deep and powerful forces of nature, modern paganism, animism and the old knowledge in a spiritual and musical sense they have created a unique and powerful music that is suddenly being embraced.
This is one of those unique evenings when a sold out venue stands in an awed silence between each song because something really special is being played out in front of them. After years of being a best-kept secret, Wardruna, are now a band that can sell out 2000 plus venues like the stunning Albert Hall in Manchester.
Without playing any commercial cards they have done the most purest and noblest of things – made a deeply resonant music on their own terms and seen it embraced by a mainstream. The big break was getting their music onto the highly successful Vikings series who presented their genius to a huge audience who pour in tonight and are stunned into a respectful silence by the pagan genius that unfolds in front of them.
Even Einar Selvik, the driving force of Wardruna, looks stunned. When he finally speaks as at the end of the set he is choked with emotion at the rapt attention from the audience. This is standing ovation stuff and in this out of control world of all surface and no depth Wardruna’s stunning, emotive and highly original music has struck a powerful nerve with people seeking more from their culture.
For over an hour, ancient folk melodies are being sung in perfect harmony by the Norwegian group who have hooked into their own deep forest souls and discovered a resonating and eternal culture. The music combines 2/3/4 part harmonies over compelling shamanic tribal drums and eternal drones played on recreated old and historical instruments such as primitive deer-hide frame drums, Kraviklyra, tagelharpe, mouth harp, goat horn, lur and more. Non-traditional instruments and other sources of sound like trees, rocks, water and torches are also used in sound collages entwined with the instrumental drones.
The highly original set up combines to create a pagan neo-folk but it’s far deeper and more ritualistic than that suggests. The themes and the tunes resonate far, far deeper with the highest form of music being the harmony between human voices.
Built around the singular vision of Einar, Wardruna are something special. They first came onto our radar when we reviewed them in Oslo in 2011 and we have seen them play and interviewed Einer a couple of times like here where he explained this deep and thoughtful concept and its backdrop of deep spirituality and the forces of nature.
Live he is a charismatic presence reflecting his role of acting as well in the Viking series. His own singing voice is quite stunning and he often plays some of the tribal drums or the lyre type instrument as he emotes these deep melodies. To his side is long-term member Lindy-Fay Hella, who is also from Bergen in Norway. Her soaring blissful voice sends shivers up your spine and is the perfect counterpoint as it reaches beyond the forest and into the sky, behind them are four players who play traditional instruments like the ten foot long weird looking horn thing, drums and various string instruments creating drones and atmospheres whilst also adding to the layers of voice in the climactic songs.
The opening Tyr is a dynamic piece that would match Rammstein for power put without the high decibel rock voltage and uses its own dynamics to make it work. New single Voluspa with its stark and sparse beauty is delivered perfectly and with songs culled from their three albums entwined together the set dynamic builds and broods perfectly.
The lamenting melodies and the deep forest rain anthems really do make you feel something deep and powerful, Wardruna are singing stark and compelling songs that hook deep into their, and by extension, our own past. They somehow have tapped into this ancient soul and made it feel 21st century as it swirls around the special looking venue.
Emerging from Norway’s second city, Bergen in 2010 out of the key black metal scene they were another example of that musical scenes ability to move on quickly and create groundbreaking music. There is a very good line of argument that black metal is/was one the great musical fault lines where creativity is actually emerging from like one of those volcanic fissures at the bottom of the Pacific ocean.
When its key players got bored of the more metal strands in the music, they somehow kept the darker atmospheres and moved them into hybrid styles of music to create something unique. Ulver are another prime example as they journey into a dark trance music but no-one could have come as far as Wardruna and this stunning trip that they are on.
Einer was initially in black metal bands like Gorgoroth who he drummed for between 2000 and 2004 and where he met and bonded with the charismatic Gahl who he called, ‘the most pagan person I had ever met’. Gahl’s deeply resonant vocals were part of the early Wardruna before he typically struck out on his own path.
Einar’s corpse-painted face is one of the iconic images from the black metal scene appearing in many of the books documenting the curious period. Digging deeper into Norway’s culture and DNA he moved away from metal to examine the folk musics that are at the very heartbeat of a culture and also part of the fabric of black metal that utilised high decibel rock to dip deeper into the pagan soul of Norway.
Finding solace in the deep and dark romantic souls of the Vikings and paganism he found a powerful resonance and immersed himself in their melodies and atmospheres and even their instruments to make a music that is resonant in the 21st century with three albums – the ongoing ‘Runaljod’ trilogy that is a musical rendition of the 24 runes in what is often referred to as the elder futhark. Some of the recordings are done outdoors in places or under circumstances of significance to each rune or on the magical force of a rune and explore the emotional resonance that embraces life and death and even the journey to the other side.
In lesser hands, this would be a mess. These are complex and deep issues but Wardruna are dealing a mighty force and this gig was an embrace of their stunning emotional force and it draws you deep into their songs with haunting melodic vistas, mind-blowing songwriting and the talent to create mystical beauty.
This is no heritage act though and what makes Wardruna so special is their engagement with the now. This is potent, eternal music. Something to hold onto into the madness of the modern times and a reaffirmation of those hypnotic themes that affect us all from the forces of natures, the power of the sea, our pagan nature past that is our true soul, the symmetry of the forest, life and death and our own cultural and emotional DNA all threaded through stunning melodies and deeply resonant songs.
Wardruna are like nothing else.