Tänk På Döden put on a great bill last weekend in Stockholm, with Nordic folk masters Wardruna playing a show on both Saturday and Sunday, with their mastermind Einar Selvik performing an acoustic solo set on the Friday. Support on the first night came from two ritual ambient projects: Forndom coming off the back of a lot of hype for this year’s debut album Dauðra Dura, and Draugurinn, this being only the third show that they’ve played since the project’s inception. With Einar’s input into the soundtrack of popular TV show Vikings, and also his associations with black metal, having previously played drums for Gorgoroth a varied crowd were in the audience across the two nights, and the great lineup tempted me to come over from the UK to see the first two nights.
Forndom’s debut album this year was a great piece of calm and meditative ritual ambient and one of the highlights of 2016 so far. A solo studio project but a three piece live, they used a lot of traditional percussive instruments over the brooding dark ambient found on the album. The major difference between the recordings and the live set is L.Swards vocals. On the album they sound like soft meditative chants, blending in with the music, but live they’re the loudest element, soaring above everything else and demanding full attention. His voice is loud, but still soft and beautiful and still fits well with the music in a great hypnotising set from one of my favourite discoveries of the year.
Forndom may have been one of my favourite finds of the year, but Draugurinn blew me away even further still when finding out about the solo project of Disa for the first time some months back. She weaves bleak wintry atmospheres and haunting soundscapes with her minimal dark ambient and ghostly vocals, and I was excited to see how this would translate into the live environment, especially as this is only the third show that she has performed since the project began back in 2008.
There’s much more of a visual element to her show, with a screen above the stage showing scenes from nature that perfectly match with the music she creates, videos of fire and ice interspersed with runes and the project logo provides a great visual backdrop. Over the top of the swirling, droning ambient, Disa, with her face obscured by dark traditional clothing played newly written music with traditional percussive instruments, making strange ritualistic movements throughout, adding to the dark ritualistic tone of the set. One of the best aspects of Draugurinn’s music is the haunting vocals consisting of wordless intonations, chants and rasps, melding with the dark music to create a chilling atmosphere. A completely hypnotising performance that came to an end far too soon and was the highlight of the weekend. She doesn’t play often so any dark ambient fans should make sure they’re present for the next one.
Before playing with his full group Wardruna on the Saturday, as the last act on the Friday night Einar Selvik performed a solo set. With a lot of talking to the audience in between each of the pieces he played, he explained a lot about the instruments he uses in Wardruna, and the background to a lot of the pieces of music he’s written and how they relate to Scandinavian history, doing so in a humorous and engaging way. The pieces of music he played throughout the performance he advised were basic due to limitations of the ancient instruments themselves, but they still sounded beautiful, and without the full band of Wardruna behind him his voice has more of a chance to shine than usual, and he sounded incredible, his voice rich and powerful, bringing emotion to each of the pieces he played, ending with a fantastic solo performance of Wardruna favourite Helvege.
Announced only three days before the show I had no time to listen to support act Kaunan before they opened the show on Saturday. A three piece folk act, they were another act using traditional Nordic instrumentation and vocals. With three string instruments the music was to me a little basic and not particularly interesting, with the foot tapping acting as percussion it was too stereotypically jaunty for my tastes, as a lot of the more upbeat end of folk music can be. But despite being a little dull to my taste they had a good interaction with crowd between songs, and got a good reaction from most of the crowd giving them a standing ovation once they finished.
With the connection with black metal and the show Vikings, Wardruna were the band most people came to see, and after the Saturday sold out they even added another show on the Sunday. With his full band behind him Einar went straight into the music, without interacting with the audience, playing pieces from across all three albums. Though the solo set the night before had been very enjoyable, with the full band and the range of traditional instruments played and the brilliant arrangements, the music was much more well rounded and very atmospheric and ritualistic – the acoustics of the venue really fitting the dynamic sound. His voice was brilliant as ever, melding with the haunting music, and the expressive female vocals from Lindy all added to the brilliant atmosphere. With his only speech to the crowd proceeding the last piece Helvege, this time with the full band, he explained it as being about wondering “who will sing for me, when I die” before they gave a stirring performance of the fan favourite, undoubtedly the highlight of a great set.
Overall it was a great two days of music, each of the bands giving a different take on Nordic music. Forndom and Wardruna are both great bands with fantastic vocals and hypnotic music, but the dark droning soundscapes of minimalist ambient and ghostly vocals from Draugurinn provided the highlight of the weekend’s music.