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Wardruna @ Eventpalast, Leipzig (Germany)

in Saturday, 12 November 2016 at Eventpalast
by Erika Kuenstler

Formed by Einar Kvitrafn Selvik over a dozen years ago, it did not take long for WARDRUNA to capture the hearts and imaginations of fans around the globe. Using ancient Norse spirituality and instruments to create musical interpretations of various runes, WARDRUNA can only be described as unique and incomparable to even the few contemporaries they do have. Indeed, one of their crowning achievements was working on the music score for the popular TV series “Vikings”. Setting out on a small European tour with a few exclusive shows, I recently had the opportunity of catching one of their rare live performances in Leipzig, Germany. With live performances being such a sparse treat, it was unsurprising that the event had sold out soon after it had been announced.

Leipzig already has a reputation of being one of the more culturally oriented cities within Germany, and features spectacular locations. One such venue is the Eventpalast, a gilded domed building with an elegant charm. However, as a venue for live performances, this location can be a bit precarious: the domed roof can provide either an excellent sound, or a mish-mash of echos which completely muddies all nuances the music might hold. So it was with mild trepidation that I went in. Already an hour before the doors were scheduled to open, a slew of people already were waiting outside the venue, despite the bitter cold. What immediately struck me the complete disparity between the people queuing there: everyone from bearded hipsters, to young men dressed like characters such as Floki from the “Vikings” series, to elderly couples, to young women dressed as shieldmaidens had gathered and were waiting amid the hub-bub of excited chatter. Eventually the doors opened, only to close again a mere few minutes later. The crowd, which had by this time grown to a considerable throng, pressed forward, partly to try secure good spots inside, but partly also just to get out of the cold. However, here the security were relentless, only letting in a handful of people at a time, and strictly controlling them and their belongings before letting them into the concert hall. Nevertheless, the reward for having arrived so early was unbeatable spots right in the front row. Once inside, I set off to explore: two well stocked bars, ensuring that drink queues would be kept down to a minimum; a long table laden with band merch, ranging from the usual hoodies and tshirts all the way through to WARDRUNA flags. A quick glance at my watch: it was almost half past eight, with only minutes left until the band was scheduled to begin. And so I made my way forward towards the stage, surprised at how few people were there. The venue was only packed to about half capacity, and WARDRUNA should be taking to the stage at any minute. It was then that I realised that almost half of the crowd must still be waiting in the freezing cold outside. And that turned out to be exactly what was happening. Desperate fans were still standing outside in the cold, thinking that they would be missing part of WARDRUNA’s set just because the security team were not able to deal with such a mass of people fast enough. However, much to the relief of those still waiting to get in, the start of the concert was delayed by over half an hour, giving everyone the chance to get inside an find a spot. Fortunately, Eventpalast also features a shallow tiered arrangement, so that even late-comers had a moderate chance of finding a spot from which they could still see the stage.

And finally it was the moment all had been so patiently waiting for. WARDRUNA walked onto the stage amid a smattering of applause, and without much ado, began their set. Within the first couple of notes, all disappointment at having to wait outside faded away, and the crowd were swept under by WARDRUNA’s powerful performance. Thankfully, that night was one of the nights were the sound technicians managed to keep the dome from distorting the acoustics, and the music was for the most part clear throughout the venue. This really allowed the myriad layers which bring WARDRUNA’s music to life to really shine through, making it all the more spell-binding.

A simplistic textured white sheet made up the large part of WARDRUNA’s stage backdrop. Illuminated by minimalistic lighting, this backdrop was lit up with different colours for different songs, adding to the overall atmosphere. Thus, using a blue light to bathe the stage, images of snow-laden tundra could be conjured, whilst a green light brought up memories of dappled sunlight in the forests during the summer. This fitted in perfectly with WARDRUNA’s music, which oft can be described as equally minimalistic and understated. Using samples often recorded from various natural sources, such as forests, streams, or rainstorms, WARDRUNA use these samples to create lush soundscapes that allow the imagination to roam unfettered. Added to this is ofttimes a ritualistic-like drumming on traditional deer-hide frame drums that pulls you deep into a trance-like state. Also captivating was watching the various traditional instruments being played live. Everything from a mouth-harp to a goat horn are used to add that authentic and ancient feel to the music. One of the most singular things about their music is how WARDRUNA are able to create such intense and haunting music with such stripped-down elements. With a single long-winded hum, or with a quiet yet poignant whisper, WARDRUNA often manage to create denser atmospheres than many bands accomplish with an entire orchestra at their disposal. And I clearly wasn’t the only one to have such sentiments: down to a person, the audience was completely entranced, whether it be watching the band with rapt attention, or standing with closed eyes, swaying to the melodies.

As captivating as the music must have been for the audience, it seemed that WARDRUNA themselves were under a similar thrall. With eyes closed for the most part, the band seemed more like passive conduits for the cascading notes, rather than active creators of the swirling melodies. This impression was further enhanced by the lack of superfluous babbling between songs. Whilst using opener bands and engaging with the crowd by shouting banal comments like “How you guys doing? Do you want more?” certainly is one one of getting an audience energised and into the music, WARDRUNA choose to go another path, letting their music spin a riveting and gripping web. Indeed, it was only one and a half hours into the show that vocalist Einar finally spoke, briefly telling everyone how great it was to finally be back in Leipzig, pausing briefly in between songs to say “We’re not Rock ‘n Roll stars, so you know there won’t be an encore. Thank you for coming, and here is our last song for the night”. Fittingly, the final song was about death and letting go, providing an apposite end to the night. The most recent opus revealed by WARDRUNA was their third full-length album “Runaljod - Ragnarok”, which was released at the end of October this year. This album marks the third and final part of the triology, which was started off by WARDRUNA’s debut “Runaljod - Gap var Ginnunga” back in 2009. Despite this, their setlist contained a balanced mixture of songs from all three albums, much to the delight of the audience.

Fans even had the opportunity to meet with WARDRUNA after the show and get autographs from the entire band. I thought this was a fantastic idea: too many bands these days expect fans to pay extra for the “honour” of meeting them. Granted, some might argue that this should be a given, seeing as 40 euros was a fairly steep price to pay for watching a single band play for one and a half hours. But one must keep in mind that WARDRUNA are not your average run-of-the-mill band who tours Europe at least once a year. As frustrating as it may be to wait years to see them live, part of the magic lies in the very fact that their performances are so scarce. But that is only a small part of the pleasure of seeing them live. Possibly the greatest part is that WARDRUNA are a band that you don’t just watch: they are a band you experience, be it on a visual, auditory, emotional, or metaphysical level. Time and again, WARDRUNA have proven themselves to be a one-of-a-kind band, and I can only recommend catching them live for an unforgettable and magical journey to a land of fjords, and to a time almost forgotten.

1. Tyr
2. Hagall
3. Bjarkan
4. Løyndomsriss
5. Heimta Thurs
6. Runaljod
7. Raido
8. Isa
9. Laukr
10. Jara
11. Algir
12. Fehu
13. NaudiR
14. Odal
15. Helvegen

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Edited 30 January 2023

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