Wardruna (Cirque Royal, Brussels) 24/02/2023

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Three years we had to wait for this concert, three f*cking long endless years! Just as with any postponed gratification – you know what I am talking about – the expectations only raise higher, and sometimes they raise too high. Was this the case with Wardruna you may wonder? Absolutely not! That concert was literally and figuratively divine.

Many come to Wardruna because of their contribution to popular media such as HBO’s Vikings or Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, while others come because they are doubtlessly one of the best neopagan folk bands around today – not to speak of the fact that they in many ways defined the genre. For a select few, the music of Wardruna runs deeper, it touches them on a religious or spiritual level. It honours the gods and soothes the soul. For me, the latter experience is most definitely my link to Wardruna. This evening, however, I had the impression that everyone got drawn into that esoteric vibe and that they had a little taste of what neopagan spirituality is all about. The ambience in the room was simply that good and serene. If you can inspire, touch, and elevate people in such a way, you deserve a maximum score!

However, there is so much more that made this concert the unique experience it was. But first a short introduction of Wardruna for those few unfamiliar with their work. Wardruna dates back to 2003 where it was shaped by Einar Selvik, Gaahl (both also Gorgoroth members at the time) and Linda Fay-Hella. The distinct purpose was to revive the Norse poetic tradition on the tones that so much characterized the music of their ancestors. To that end, the music of the band centers on traditional instrumentation such as the tagelharpe, kravik-lyre or bokkehorn, which are accompanied by the amazing voices of Einar and Linda, both truly unique in their kind. These compositions are then backtracked by an ambient sound often including natural elements that inspired the themes and mythology of the songs.

The result is a circadian rhythm that gradually takes you up in the mystery of the story told and even without knowing a word of Norse, it fully, body and soul, encapsulates you in the magic of the narrative.

Listening to their tracks on their albums, preferably when walking through a forest, fen, or wide mountainous landscape, already elevates you. However, this performance really outdid the production. And I am not even taking the “live experience” of a concert into consideration. It was just that well played and sung, absolutely flawless. But even more than that – and to check I even compared my recordings of the performance with the album tracks – they outperformed their studio productions in many ways and that is really hard to achieve, as a studio allows you endless trials and editing.

For example, listen to the Rotlaust recording (see below). It simply sounds stronger and more powerful. Particularly the invocation part, where the strong cadenced voices compel you into chanting along the mythological names. Einar then falls in with the chorus again, but there is so much more feel and lyricism in how he delivers this. A deep emotion that wells up in him and that through his voice cuts deep into our hearts as well.

Another example is the snake pit poetry with which Einar Selvik ended the concert. A skaldic interpretation of a song from the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok that he composed for the Viking Series, the emotional scene where Ragnar dies in the snake pit of Aella, king of Northumbria, to be specific. A risky choice as it came after the band’s most popular song Helvegen – a song of deep value for me and which I completely sang along to – and which most expected to end the show. Nonetheless, the fragility with which the words of this song were uttered and with which Selvik‘s fingers touched the snares of his lyre, simply turned it into a more than worthy epilogue to an amazing concert.

And this praise is not only due to Einar Selvik, but also to his musical companions. First to his co-founder and amazing vocalist Linda Fay-Hella, whose fairylike voice immediately indicated what type of concert it was going to be when she beautifully hit those high notes in Kvitravn. Her voice is truly the wind that playfully entwines the tree that is the voice of Selvik. Together they produce such a breathtaking harmony of masculine and feminine sounds smelting together in songs such as Solringen or Gra.

The same level of performance came from the other musicians as well. Absolutely outstanding was the performance of Gundersen on the lur, a big straight or curled horn, during songs as Tyr, UruR and Helvegen. These amazing – and fairly unknown and forgotten instruments until recently – instruments give an absolute unique sound to Wardruna. However, playing these massive horns is far from easy, particularly the finesse and subtlety to control the phase where the tone transitions requires mastery, which was so well displayed this evening by Gundersen. And all this musical richness, and dare I even say perfection, was blended together in a minimalistic but efficient lightening for which they could not have picked a better room than the Cirque Royal in Brussels.

However, it was clear that all this excellence in musical performance only grew to such a perfection because of the deep love all these musicians carried for their tradition. A tradition that was particularly felt by both band and audience, resulting in Einar taking quite a bit longer to talk about tradition compared to for instance Hellfest, but genuinely feeling that something special was going on in the room. On a personal note, sure I am a huge Wardruna fan, but this Wardruna performance really touched me deeply and … I kind of needed it at the time.


Heimta Thurs
Voluspá (Skaldic Version)
Rotlaust tre fell


Snake Pit Poetry

We had to wait three years, but the wait was more than worth its due. Whether or not they will be able to match this amazing performance is an open question. But for those now regretting having missed Wardruna – for shame – or those now intrigued by this band and their life performance, you have a second chance to see them again at Rock Werchter 2023.

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