A definite contender for the most impressive venue in London, Union Chapel is overwhelming in its grandeur and yet unusually intimate, its design somehow helping to melt that dividing line between audience and performer. The latter effect is immediately apparent with the almost painfully minimal DARKHER , the (tonight, at least) two-piece quietly taking the stage for what proves to be a truly haunting and all-too-brief set. The striking white dress of vocalist Jayn H Wissenberg is an apt visual echo of the music’s stark and wintry nature, a quality the acoustics here ably amplify. Melancholic and vaguely unsettling, the combination of mesmerising vocals, mournful clean guitars and swelling atmospherics prove utterly compelling.
WARDRUNA , by their very nature, are a more bombastic proposition. While Darkher are notable for their small numbers, the Norwegians overwhelm the stage just as they do the emotions of their ever-increasing army of devotees. That a band primarily inspired by pre-Christian spirituality are playing in a church could be considered a little curious, yet it ultimately proves an effective setting; after all, while you can view the power of Wardruna’s music through either a spiritual or psychological lens, at the heart of these deeply moving compositions is that primal sense of reverence for the greater mysteries that have always surrounded us in all our various cultural settings and epochs.
Central in these hypnotic songs are the mesmerising rhythms and voices, drawing the listener deep into the band’s vision, with strings and horns (and a bit of backing track, it must be said) building upon these and elevating the sense of internal and external drama. Thanks in part to a well thought-out use of lights, the show tonight is more theatrical than we’ve come to expect from Wardruna, at times even managing to border on the frightening. It would, one feels, be impossible to behold this performance and be in any way noncommittal about the overall experience – for experience really is the best word for it – and the great diversity of the clearly affected crowd makes the phenomenon of particular interest. One can only speculate as to how far this unique group will be able to reach in the coming years.