On February 3rd the Corona Theatre was graced with a performance by Norway’s Wardruna. It was their first of two dates at the venue scheduled for the week; their second show being on 7th. As people poured into the venue, it was clear that everyone was about to witness a spectacle like they had never seen before. The stage was set with instruments such as deer-hide frame drums, a lyre, two lurs, mouth harps, and goat horns. A giant piece of camouflage-like netting hung behind the stage, and rows of seats lined the floor in front of it. It was as if we had accidentally stumbled into the Place des Arts. Luckily, the show was just as awe-inspiring as anything you could hope to capture there.
With no opening act, Wardruna took the stage to an excited and warm applause from the crowd. As the house lights dimmed, the stage lights projected the shadow of members Eilif Gundersen and Jørgen Nyrønning each holding a lur (big curved horns) onto the netting behind the stage. The band opened with “Tyr” which is off of their third and most recent album; Runaljod– Ragnarok. Harrowing drone vocals filled the air as melodies floated over them in a chant-like rhythm. The drums beat as deeply as a heartbeat. With all lyrics sang in their native tongue, the vocal melodies did not grab you with words, but instead, they seemed to serve as meditative guides to the whole experience, keeping everyone mesmerized and locked into the mantra.
Wardruna was formed in 2003 by Einar Selvik, Gaahl, and Lindy Fay Hella. Selvik and Gaahl had previous collaborated in Gorgoroth on the Twilight of the Idols album as well as the live DVD for the controversial 2004 concert in Poland titled Black Mass Krakow. Since their birth, Wardruna has released a trilogy of albums: Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga, Runaljod – Yggdrasil, and Runaljod – Ragnarok. They performed songs off of all three albums that night.
The powerful performance felt organic and spiritual, but was also visually stimulating with shadows cleverly projected onto the netting screen behind the stage. This created a heavy and dense atmosphere that made it seem like we were witnessing an ancient ritual being performed. Selvik and Hella were joined on stage by Arne Sandvoll, HC Dalgaard, Gundersen, and Nyrønning. The group had the audience in the palm of their hand. Everybody was riding the same wave, fully tuned in. Complete silence hung in the darkness in between songs; the crowd almost afraid of breaking the trance…or possibly incapable.
Songs like “Bjarkan” did a good job of showcasing the spirit of Wardruna. A deep connection to the natural world was expressed through historical instruments like the mouth harp, as well as with the newest technologies like prerecorded sound bites. The song also showcased the incredible and beautiful vocal capabilities of Lindy Fay Hella. Her melodies were the spirits that danced around the soundscape of the music, in a similar way that The Cranberries’ late-great Dolores O’Riordan was best known for.
Hella’s voice was mesmerizing and powerful. It added a nice layer to the otherwise slowly paced rhythms and hypnotic back-up melodies.
When the show flowed to its eventual end, Selvik and company were met with a standing ovation; a crazy, standing ovation. Shivers shot down my spine in that moment as they must have grabbed the band members as well. It was the band’s first time in Canada and you could tell that people were extremely excited and pleased to have finally connected with them. They proceeded to play an encore song before receiving yet another standing ovation. Before playing their last song, Selvik took a moment to speak to the crowd for the first time in the show. He seemed genuinely happy and overwhelmed by the energy that filled the room. He went on to explain that Wardruna was more than just making “viking music” or capturing the sounds of the Bronze Age. Wardruna was about making new and relevant music through the channels of old of tradition, in the hopes of not losing the language that is music.
They went on to close with a song about death called “Helvegen.” In Nordic tradition, the dead would be sung across to the other side by those they left behind. Instead of always depending upon songs of the past, Wardruna is about creating new songs to sing to keep the wheel turning. Keep it turning they did; with another night booked in Montreal Wardruna will continue spreading their music and message. Although their live experience cannot be fully captured through the music alone, their music is infused with emotion and soul and is a unique trip in its own right.
Written by Ben Cornel
*edited by Danielle Kenedy