Wardruna originally formed in 2003 and between 2009 and 2016 released the ‘Runaljod’ trilogy to ever increasing critical acclaim, using traditional Nordic instruments and poetic metres to support whispering voices, chants and choral pieces creating rich musical landscapes.
It goes without saying that Wardruna concerts are truly special events – Not only are they infrequent (this was the first ever show in Northern England) but they are fully immersive experiences which are about far more than the music and it was therefore no surprise that this three date UK tour sold out leaving many wishing they had secured tickets sooner.
This date was to be my fourth live encounter with the Norwegian troupe and having never been disappointed, I battled the M62 traffic with high expectations.
The queue outside the venue was absolutely huge but eventually I made my way inside the converted Grade II listed Wesleyan chapel and noted that this was to be a standing event in contrast to the seated date two nights earlier in Edinburgh …. and it was rammed! There was no support act for this tour with Wardruna scheduled to play for 90 minutes followed by a signing session.
I therefore grabbed a pint and took up a spot to soak in the atmosphere as the anticipation grew within the crowd. The lights dimmed and Wardruna filed onto the stage backed with a hessian-scrim type material and flanked by stained glass windows before opening with the magnificent ‘Tyr’ which saw Einar Selvik and Eilif Gundersen highlighted in spotlights with the rest of the stage in darkness as they each played a Lur. ‘Wunjo’ and ‘Bjarkan’ passed with the band in silhouette with the focus on hypnotic rhythms and entrancing vocals.
As the tracks passed by, Einar Selvik’s vocals came to prominence such as on ‘Raido’, and as the set progressed Lindy Fay Hella took on a more leading role with some exquisite vocals and extremely tight close harmonies.
‘Völuspá’, the only representative from the (at that point) unreleased ‘Skald’ album, was aired mid-way through the set and was simply stunning. With its evocative melody and soul-stirring vocals it was hard not to be transfixed with overwhelming emotion, and this was a definite highlight of the evening.
As the next few tracks passed, the atmosphere unfortunately began to feel a little more like a usual gig with lots of the crowd chatting over the music seemingly regarding the band as background music, in stark contrast to the respectful silence (at least during the songs) and adulation of the Scottish crowd.
‘Rotlaust tre fell’ and ‘Fehu’ increased the energy a little before rousing versions of ‘NaudiR’ and ‘Odal’ mesmerised the faithful with Einar and Lindy Fay Hella in spotlights before dropping back into silhouettes for the close of the tracks.
A huge cheer erupted as Einar took a moment to humbly say thank you to the crowd, and he looked genuinely overwhelmed by the reception he and his band were being given. He went on to muse that song has traditionally been a huge part of most cultures but lamented that this seems to be fading out, further reflecting that Warduna was not about re-living the past or about trying to be Vikings, rather that it was about taking something from the past and making something new.
As way of introduction for the final track of the main set, Einar explained that it was a song about death, dying and remembering those who have passed, about crossing over and about letting go before announcing the mighty ‘Helvegen’ to a huge roar of approval and the inevitable wall of camera phones going into the air.
As that track closed, the band left the stage, only for Einar to return shortly after, Once again he thanked the crowd before talking about the TV show Vikings and specifically Ragnar Lothbrok with which he and Warduna of course have strong links. He went on to explain that the final track ‘Snake Pit Poetry’, was from the series when Ragnar was being put to death, ironically reflecting that when being thrown into a pit of snakes, writing poetry is what you do! This final track was performed by Einar in isolation with a Tagelharpe (I think!) and was breathtaking, full of emotion and passion leaving the crowd in no doubt that they witnessed something special.
Review and Photos Andy Pountney