Show Review: Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik’s Hugjsá Channels Norwegian Heritage at Roadburn Festival
Now that I’m back from the whirlwind of Roadburn, I’d like to take a moment to shine a spotlight on one of my favorite moments of the festival: Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna) performing their stunning collaborative album Hugsjá.
I received the album knowing basically nothing of it but immediately I was relaxed and intrigued by the foreign yet comforting sounds. The dedication to preserving heritage through music is a noble and necessary one, and Ivar and Einar are doing a bang-up job of carrying that torch. I grew up playing music in a bagpipe band, so I know the level of fervency reserved for the most invested musicians who feel a certain duty to introduce the music of yore to new audiences in order to keep it alive. Recognizing that labor of love in Hugjsá felt almost like a homecoming; it’s a breath of fresh air to hear something so genuine in a heavily saturated modern metal market so often rife with arrogant posturing and generic riffs. The instrumentation is breathtakingly beautiful, although I can’t even pretend to know the names of half the objects being played.
The performance, commissioned as part of the Nordvegen (“the northern road”) series, made its stage debut at the 2017 Bergen International Festival. Having recorded the piece in the wake of its grand reception, Roadburn acted as the official release show and international debut. This was my first Roadburn, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as the venue set-ups and production value. To put it lightly, I was blown the fuck away: the staging for Hugsjá included an enormous set of mountain-esque triangular wooden structures and exquisite mood lighting that changes with the music, which vocalist Einar Selvik broke down in a professorial way for the audience throughout. From what my weary mind could interpret (it was day three after all, and those days aren’t short), Hugsjá is an interpretation of the history of Norway beginning with an origin story of the country’s population. The sweeping sounds were a welcome mid-fest respite amplified by the main stage area’s bleachers. I would love to see this performance in a proper concert hall, as sitting down is one of my lazy ass’s favorite things to do and also made for a relaxed atmosphere in which you could really digest the performance.
While I admit I kind of faded in and out on the second part (the music is relaxing and hypnotic, if not wildly engaging amidst the chaos of a Very Metal festival), Selvik caught my attention with “If you know me, you know I like to end the show with death.” I too love morbidity, so my focus shifted back to the learning aspect of the show. “Oska” translates literally to “the ashes” and references Norse fire burials where the deceased are placed upon a small ship or raft with earthly goods to match their social status and it’s all set ablaze. The final track, “Um Heilage Fjell” (meaning “holy mountains”) is an ode to the burial mounds where Norse families were buried. As Selvik said, “Every wind coming from that mountain bears a memory of the ones you’ve lost and miss.” Enormous swells and perfected harmonizing came together for a perfect close to the performance, and I left feeling both refreshed and exhausted.