Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik at various venues, Bergen - live review
Venue: Various Venues, Bergen
Pagan pioneers embark on a new journey
Fly into Bergen on one of its rare clear days, and from above its surrounding coast looks bewildering and beautiful, a shattered obstacle course of islands and straits. For the area’s early settlers arriving by boat, it must have been particularly perplexing, but this is the experience Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik have decided to explore with the follow-up to their celebrated Skuggsjá project. Performed across various islands as well as Bergen’s vaulting classical music hall, Grieghallen, Hugsjá’s themes of identity, migration and the realisation of potential are already deeply embedded in both artists’ respective bands, Enslaved and Wardruna. But this suite of songs sound less like a combination of the two, more a refinement of shared sensibilities – not least because they’ve slimmed down to a five-piece, joined by drummer Iver Sandøy, new Enslaved keyboard player Håkon Vinje and on hardanger fiddle, Silje Solberg.
For a work so sensitive to its environment, it’s not surprising that the different venues bring out different aspects. The slatted wooden barn in Bekkjarvik filtering the last of the day’s glorious sunlight provides an earthy setting that brings the proggier, Pink Floyd-esque aspects into sharper focus. The industry of tracks like Ni Mødre av Sol are reflected in the ropes and pulleys above as Einar’s far-sighted vocals chart a course with no end in sight. Where Skuggsjá’s dynamics reached towards the tempestuous, these songs sound like they’re navigating the aftermath, always in motion amongst rolling drums and gently cyclic rhythms, at once cast adrift and intuiting their destiny. Oska layers on textures to its rotating groove, from rivulets of fiddle to lush keyboard and harmonised chants, as though the whole were being moulded on some sonic pottery wheel.
The shows in Os’s airy, glass-encased culture centre and at Grieghallen prove more atmospheric experiences, aided in parts by a local choir and allowing the spaciousness of the songs to mould themselves to the acoustics of the halls. The stark yet striking stage set and radiant lights at Grieghallen draw a mesmerised audience in and let the music work its evocative spell. Einar spends less time describing the origins of the songs, but lets the likes of WulthuR – Den Skinnande Guden’s shuffling groove and wafting goat horn and Ni Døtre av Hav’s pulsing groove and mantric chants expand until everyone’s transported into vast yet deeply resonant new realms.