Wardruna live review - Union Chapel, London

Norwegian ensemble enchant their London audience

Pagan poetry: Wardruna get spiritual at the Union Chapel.
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

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Those uninitiated into the power of traditional Norwegian ensemble Wardruna might be surprised by just how quickly they have become a cult phenomenon in the music world, drawing in everyone from metalheads to folkies. Witness them live, however, and any sense of surprise will dissolve.

Before Wardruna charm the Union Chapel tonight for their first of two performances in London on this tour, the elusive Darkher, otherwise known as Jayn H Wissenberg, takes to the stage for an acoustic set. Like Wardruna, Darkher’s dark folk, in all its spellbinding, eerie splendour, transcends genres and fanbases: her most recent London show prior to this was supporting a heavy doom metal band, but the atmospheric grandeur of her music has also captured the hearts of many a progger. Her stripped- back showcase is a pleasing prelude, but you get the feeling that she’s somewhat overwhelmed by the magnitude of tonight’s event. She needn’t be, for her talent is unmistakeable.

Wardruna was originally conceived as a musical project by former black metal musician Einar Selvik with the purpose of resurrecting ideas of Norwegian history and spirituality. The band have since released three albums, each one based around a set of Norwegian runes. They craft their own traditional instruments, use sounds of nature in their songs and have even recorded their music in the wilderness – there’s an unquestionable authenticity to all aspects of their delivery.

Wardruna may be a pagan band playing in a Christian place of worship tonight, but visually the Union Chapel is the perfect venue to host their ritual. Flickering candles and an enchanting light show cast ghostly shadows across the pews and ornate architecture, showcasing the multiple figures across the stage, who are wrapped in traditional robes and look like extras from Vikings (unsurprisingly, Einar Selvik has contributed music to the show’s soundtrack).

Wardruna weave a lavish tapestry of sounds: they’re undeniably primal, with their pounding drums, multilayered chants and echoes of the natural world, but their music is also beautifully melodic: FeHu is an enthralling example, while closing track Helvegen is powerful, mesmerising and, dare we say it, catchy. Much of the music’s beauty comes from – the only lady on the stage – Lindy-Fay Hella’s vocals, that are bewitching with a primitive surge, sounding like they’re roused from a place of deep, genuine emotion: perfectly capturing the essence of Wardruna.

The most remarkable thing about Wardruna is just how many people they resonate with, far and beyond their native soil. We can safely bet that most of tonight’s audience aren’t Norwegian history buffs or rune aficionados. But this doesn’t matter – the music still has an unquestionable power that has cast a spell over them all.

Hannah May Kilroy

Hannah May Kilroy has been writing about music professionally for over a decade, covering everything from extreme metal to country. She was deputy editor at Prog magazine for over five years, and previously worked on the editorial teams at Terrorizer and Kerrang!. She currently works as the production editor for The Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Guardian, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer.