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Wardruna, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review - Norwegian neo-pagans stage a triumphant return to the live arena | reviews, news & interviews

Wardruna, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review - Norwegian neo-pagans stage a triumphant return to the live arena

Wardruna, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review - Norwegian neo-pagans stage a triumphant return to the live arena

Einar Selvik’s Norseman and women have the audience lapping up their dramatic drone sounds

Wardruna: drone music, pounding drums, Norse choral singing and goats' hornsKim Ohrling

It’s been 14 months since the release of Wardruna’s most recent album – Kvitravn. However, repeated waves of Covid have since prevented them from going a-viking and bringing their new show to live audiences around the UK.

Nevertheless, both the band and their fans’ patience was finally rewarded this week, as Einar Selvik’s seven-piece band of Norsemen and women came to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall for the first time. However, anyone who might be thinking that a 2,000 plus seater might be a bit of a stretch for a relatively niche group of artists whose sound falls somewhere between ambient folk music and choral psychedelia were to be pleasantly surprised. Once the lights went down, it was apparent that the hall was packed with an eclectic bunch of metalheads (several of whom proudly sported t-shirts from those more rocking Vikings – Amon Amarth), prog fans and even cosplaying characters from Western Europe’s Dark Ages, assumingly dressed up to celebrate the Norwegian band’s soundtrack contributions to the Vikings television series and Assassin’s Creed computer games.

Unassumingly slipping on to Symphony Hall’s stage, in front of a huge backdrop with a projection of Kvitravn’s runic cover, Wardruna ploughed straight into the cinematic, yet considered deep drone of the album’s title track. Kravik-lyres, drums and voices built the sound upwards and upwards in a dramatic fashion. From there, they moved onto the slow and considered drone of “Skugge” and the pipes of “Solringen”, which was also accompanied by a suitably impressive image of a solar eclipse appearing at the back of the stage.

Initially, Selvik didn’t appear to be one for stage banter and the spaces between songs was taken up by recorded birdsong and other sounds of the wilderness. This made recognising the songs, which were all sung in old Norse, less than easy but certainly added to the atmosphere – and were a pleasant alternative to the repeated cries of “Are you alright?” or, depending on who’s on the stage, “Let’s fuck shit up!” that are more usual fare in the rock’n’roll world.

As the performance progressed, ever-more unusual instruments appeared, such as a Jew’s harp for “Bjarken” and a pair of enormous battle horns for the heavy ambient drone of “Tyr”. “Grá” even incorporated samples of wolves’ howls within its percussive pounding and for “Odal”, goats’ horns were added to the mix.

As Wardruna approached the final part of the show, Einar Selvik became considerably more conversational, acknowledging the audience with a “Holy shit! That’s been two years coming” and talking about the frustration of having to abandon touring during the pandemic, before launching into a plea for togetherness in these difficult times. He even suggested that what was needed was a return to the song tradition to help us through, with a plea to “Go home and sing!”.

The main set ended with a suitably impressive rendition of “Helvegen”, a song about death and letting go from the Runaljod – Yggdrasil album, as well as the Vikings soundtrack. It was a mediative but ultimately uplifting end to a show that had all-comers out of their seats and applauding with gusto.

Kravik-lyres, drums and voices built the sound upwards and upwards in a dramatic fashion

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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I was one of those clapping with Gusto. Possibly the best concert I have attended. Bordering ok a religious experience:). And what a lovely frontman . Also Jo Quail who opened for wardruna was exquisite.

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