Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik: SKUGGSJÁ

Pagan soul-searchers commit their vision to wax

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First composed as a commissioned piece that was performed at the Eidsivablot festival in Norway in 2014, Skuggsjá has already passed into underground metal legend.

A meeting of minds between Enslaved’s mercurial creative dynamo Ivar Bjornson and Wardruna mastermind Einar Selvik, its intuitive intertwining of ancient instrumentation and the grim textures of artful extreme metal have already been widely hailed as a unique and startling milestone in the realm of nefarious artistry, and while the full recorded version of this remarkable work can never hope to be as effective or immersive as its living, breathing live incarnation, the committing of these sublime and subversive ideas to record gives everyone an opportunity to hear what the fuss was all about.

On a superficial level, Skuggsjá does occasionally sound exactly as you’d imagine: a hybrid of Wardruna’s plundering of the esoteric past and Enslaved’s fearless warping of the metallic template. But there is much more going on here, both beneath the surface and in the shimmering, spectral foreground. By drawing a clear black line between the pagan past of Norse culture and a very contemporary sense of frustration with the vapid, emotionally disconnected self-absorption of modern-day society, songs like the 10-minute Makta Og Vanaera (I All Tid) shovel nourishing substance into the yawning cerebral chasms of mortal disquiet: part hypnotic ritual, part celebratory defiance, these are much more than just cool exercises in cross-pollination and wistful nostalgia for a less plastic existence.

Instead, where most modern heavy music seeks only to deliver thrilling moments, Skuggsjá draws the listener into its exhilarating depths and half-hidden truths with an almost gravitational pull. Whether you dive into the accompanying literature and artwork to join the conceptual dots, or merely crank the thing up to top volume and revel in its organic squall, there is so much heart and soul on display throughout these 61 minutes, that Skuggsjá appears more like a work of profoundly challenging modern art than simply an earnest attempt to make great music.

Yes, the best way to experience this remains via the pulsating, joyous but understandably rare live version, but as an enticing entry point into these brilliant men’s wildly evocative vision, this is undeniably compelling.

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.