“There’s a lot of mixed emotions tonight, because of course it shouldn’t be me up here doing this.”
Tonight, in the cosy confines of the Underworld’s backstage area, Vegard is preparing to go on stage to pay tribute to the songs of Windir, providing vocals in place of his fallen brother Terje. Better known to the world as Valfar, Terje is a figure familiar to most fans of black and folk metal (and of course black folk metal, the sub-genre the band helped pioneer), his death in 2004 (caught in a snow storm and cut down in his prime by the very forces of nature that so inspired him) was a tragic episode in metal history. Having already given the world four albums – Valfar creating two alone before inviting the members of a local black band called Ulcus to join his ranks –the group was immediately disbanded by the remaining members, with most joining celebrated black thrashers Vreid.
Tonight is therefore a rather special event indeed; dubbed Sognametal (after Sogndal in Norway where the members all hail from) it sees the members of Vreid and Ulcus performing a greatest hits set, incorporating Windir, Vreid and even Ulcus material in the setlist. Given that neither Windir or Ulcus ever played in the UK (and hardly anywhere else for that matter) it’s unsurprising that the mood in the crowd tonight is an excited, almost reverential one. Wisely opening their set with four tracks of Windir, the first full-length song Arntor, Ein Windir ably sums up what it was that made the band so unique; catchy and unusually-upbeat melodies contrasting with the visceral aggression within the fast percussion and more grinding passages.
It’s an enrapturing experience, made all the more moving by the presence of the aforementioned Vegard; an ex-bodybuilding champion, he is a huge and commanding figure with a fierce voice to match but it’s fair to say that the context of his presence means as much (to those on and off stage) as the performance itself. Though the Vreid and Ulcus material was never likely to get quite the same reaction (save perhaps for traditional Vreid show-closer Pitch Black Brigade) the band maintain the high energy throughout, the sound being as impressively large as one might expect from an ensemble featuring four guitars, synth, drums and two vocalists. Moreover, this show feels like a real event. It’s normal of course for live performances to elicit a powerful emotional response – that’s the whole raison d’être of a band after all – but it’s not often that a show comes along that proves as poignant as it does uplifting.