To those who don’t know their music, a description of Wardruna might sound exceedingly esoteric. Formed in 2003 by Einar Selvik, former drummer for black metal legends Gorgoroth, Wardruna explores the cultural and musical traditions of their native Norway through traditional Nordic instruments and poetic forms. The result is a dark folk music that evokes the cold northern countryside, and a world that has been long lost to modernity. Despite this rather particular sound, they’ve found a significant audience. It is likely that many in the band’s US fan base learned of them through appearances on the soundtrack to the History Channel’s ongoing Vikings drama series, in which Selvik has also appeared as an actor. Whatever the reason, the band has long fielded requests to come here, and this month they finally embarked on their first North American tour, which sold out on most of its dates far in advance. The first of these took place here in the DC area at the Fillmore in Silver Spring.
The show started with a Selvik and touring member Eilif Gundersen on a nearly dark stage playing two lur – large metal horns which date back to the Bronze Age – backed by martial, war-like drumming. From there, the lights came up and the band played a long, sixteen-song set made up of songs from their Runaljod trilogy of albums, based on the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark, the oldest writing system in the Scandinavian and Germanic countries. Selvik traded off vocals with singer Lindy Fay Hella and switched between playing a kraviklyra (a type of lyre used by the Vikings) and various percussion. Other band members played an assortment of instruments including drums, mouth harp, a Hardanger fiddle (an instrument similar to a violin, but with more strings), and even a goat horn.
The band has to have wondered what sort of reception they would find with US audiences, and when Selvik stopped between songs to speak toward the end of the show (earlier in the set, the band primarily went directly from one song to the next with barely a pause), it was clear that he was blown away by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Here he let down his somewhat menacing stage persona, noting with a laugh and a nod to current events that “it’s very difficult coming here, some paperwork and stuff… but apparently us Norwegians are very welcome.” With a promise to return soon, he closed out the set with a solo rendition of his latest release, “Snake Pit Poetry.”