Ivar Bjørnson and einar Selvik team up with eivør along the Nordic coast, plus oranssi Pazuzu, Suffocation, Hooded Menace, Belphegor and more!
ENSLAVED AND WARDRUNA EMISSARIES EMBARK ON A SPELLBINDING ADVENTURE
THE SCENE COULDN’T be more idyllic.
Stare out from the manicured grounds of the Solstrand hotel across the vast stretch of water known as the Bjørnefjorden and the row of three rocky islands in the middle distance are all that could stop you from zoning out in awe at the mountain ranges beyond, brought into sharper focus by a generous, early summer sun. The surrounding municipality of Os, hugging the bewilderingly fractured west coast of Norway, now belongs to one of the most prosperous coastlines in the world, but the area’s roots in Norwegian culture go right back to the country’s origins; these straits form the route that the country’s first settlers undertook over 3,000 years ago, referred to as the Nordvegen (‘The north road’) that gave the land its name.
Nordvegen is also the name of a series of concerts that Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna’s Einar Selvik are undertaking for a second year running as part of the annual Bergen International music festival, taking place over two weekends around the coast near their hometown of Bergen – Os and Bekkjarvik this weekend, Ullensvang and the amphitheatre of Moster the next. Where last year’s shows were focused solely on the Hugsjá album, this time around they’ve decided to mix things up a bit, both expanding their repertoire to include new versions of songs from their respective bands, and bringing in Faroese singer extraordinaire Eivør as a guest artist. A project whose aim is to uncover a continuity between those first settlers’ experiences through the Viking age to the present day, Nordvegen is as much about illumination as enchantment, with discussions held on the role of women in Viking culture, the history of Bekkjarvik and more during the day, as well as Viking batte re-enactments and walks around the various sites. The walk along Os’s bay leads a mixed but excited group of metalheads and music lovers of all ages up to a cliff face and a set of steps that leads to the small entrance of a WWII bunker, giving the first night’s concert an air of something clandestine, hidden from the waking world.
When Einar, Ivar and the three other musicians – new Enslaved members drummer Iver Sandøy and keyboard player Håkon Vinje, and hardingfiddle player Silje Solberg – enter the arched chamber, there’s a level of anticipation in the room that already feels otherworldly. It’s stoked further by opening with the open-ended invocation of Hugsjá itself. The spidery, medieval chords, oar-driving beat and Einar’s gaze-beyond-the-horizon chant feel, aptly, like a departure point for destinations unknown. Wardruna’s Fehu, played on ancient lyre and Enslaved’s heavily reworked Return To Yggdrasill, this time sung in Nordic tongue, are stripped down to basics, abandoning the epic lustre of the original versions but becoming all the more elemental for it, Fehu’s parables of wealth and its dangers illustrated in stark yet still entrancing fashion.
Eivør might not be well known in wider metal circles, no doubt because most of her music falls with Scandic pop noir territory.
But for anyone connected to the pagan and folk-orientated outposts of the scene, she’s become a figurehead, her song Trøllabundin, played a cappella with just ancient deerskin drum and a voice that sounds like it’s forging the key to Migdard for company, now enshrined as a shamanic anthem. There’s another ripple of excitement as she and her band appear, combining forces for the plaintive, hardingfiddledriven reverie of Ni Mødre Av Sol as she and
Einar weave the most intimate of spells, before taking over after a gracious, temporary exit from their hosts. Considering the migratory, seafaring themes of the Nordvegen shows, her own songs tonight are a perfect fit. Salt is an ode to her native coastline, whose electronic pulse sound like it’s designed to keep Eivør’s vocals slipping the axis of the earth, Silvitni a nocturnal ballad mapping love onto oceanic dynamics and Boxes is a song about moving house, but, like Kate Bush, she can make something mystical from the most domestic of themes. To witness her sing live is to feel that your brain is being retuned to the most sublime and elemental of frequencies, suggestive of arctic expanse, as if sculptured to impossibly fine levels of detail by the air itself, and when she picks up the drum to sing Trøllabundin – described as being a song about giving yourself to the moment – the whoops from the audience fall to stunned silence in an instance as she ekes her voice to ever more rarefied realms and breaks into caustic chants that would turn the head of the most seasoned death metal fan. It takes a rare singer who would even dream to join her onstage, but Einar’s return adds yet another level to a song that takes you, if not out of time then into its deepest strata.
Hugsjá’s closing Um Heilage Fjell manages to sound both mournful and on the cusp of some brave new world, Eivør’s electronics-laced Í Tokuni brings the pagan and the modern into perfect union, and a closing, Eivør-enhanced Helvegen, a funeral song to sing you to the other side, takes everyone’s heart even closer to bursting point.
It’s a transformative experience that’s almost fully replicated the next day on the island of Bekkjarvik. Set this time in a community hall with sunlight streaming through the roof and ancient burial mounds looking down from the mountains above, a combination of travellers and locals sit in rapt wonder, if not quite the same magical sense of remove as the previous evening. Nordvegen, however, has proved to be a journey of discovery, and one that feels like it’s never going to end.
This is a departure point for destinations unknown
Einar Selvik gets into meditative mode in Os
Ivar Bjørnson gives a barnstorming performance The island of Bekkjarvik is takenon a journey of discovery