Wardruna and the First Flight of the White Raven

Photo: Kim Öhrling

The encountering of a white raven is said to be a good omen, their rarity suggesting that the mere sight of one is considered to be a blessing that brings clarity. Last night as Norwegian folk ensemble Wardruna became the latest band to try and plug the gap where live music used to be with a streamed concert, band leader Einar Selvik spoke ahead of the performance about the significance of the title, First Flight Of The White Raven, and of the way white ravens are historically entwined with prophecies aligned with enlightenment or great change. Not only is it another example of the way in which the band aims to subtly promote a connection with nature, but it is tied to perhaps the key point Selvik made in his introductory interview: Wardruna’s music may be obsessed with the past, but it’s not escapism, and it’s not about a reductionist or reactionary will to return to a simpler time, rather it is a chance to look back and learn from our past. To take old lessons that remain relevant, and learn from them.

Seldom does a livestream seem to have its own concept beyond “we miss gigs”, and whilst that’s still very much the reason for this concert’s existence, with Selvik admitting that this is currently the only way for them to give tracks from latest album Kvitravn (translation: white raven; hence its “first flight”) their live debut, it also wouldn’t be a Wardruna event without something a little bit extra. The band’s aim, Selvik claims, is to “challenge the concept” of a livestreamed event.

Instead of a show performed live in front of a camera in real-time, First Flight Of The White Raven was a carefully curated affair. Taking place on a dim stage with enigmatic, stark white lighting and a projector backdrop, the show was elevated by some elegant production and cinematography. In an odd sense, it almost felt as if such a format was tailor-made for the band’s high-concept music.

Live and in person undoubtedly remains the optimum way to experience the band’s deep percussion and chanted vocals, but the use of technology didn’t come without its own pros. The camera and editing subtly enhanced the performance, from well-framed images that added to the atmosphere to the camera panning in on Selvik during a dramatic vocal delivery. One of the unexpected delights was the opportunity to witness the band’s unique instrumentation up close as it was played live. Notably, instead of quick cuts, each shot faded slowly into the next, briefly blurring two images into one and ensuring that the visuals were never at odds with the music.

“The symbol of a white raven can be interpreted as one of hope, something we could all use a bit of right now.”

Additionally, a welcome surprise was that each song was introduced with a brief title card and poem, or in some cases a brief line of relevant context, setting the mood and theme of the song before you heard it. The introduction for the ruminative ‘Skugge’ spoke of sitting in solitude on a mountaintop before coming face to face with a shadow of yourself, whilst ‘Raido’ spoke of both the mind and heart racing in harmony like a horse set free after a storm. To further their ability to give each song its own distinct performance, the band also changed their surroundings between tracks, whether it’s adding flaming torches for the moody ‘Helvegen’ or dramatic god ray backlighting for the intense ‘Fehu’.

A more intimate solo performance of ‘Völuspá’ highlighted the poignancy of Selvik’s vocals, but just as impressive were fellow vocalists Lindy-Fay Hella and guest vocalist Katrine Stenbekk (of the wonderful Kalandra), not to mention the alluring choir-esque vocals when the other musicians joined them in harmony. The music itself was exceptionally tight throughout. When it comes to livestreams, all a band can do is perform to the best of their ability and hope that it resonates, and Wardruna certainly did that.

It’s a shame that bands right now are having to resort to such streams to be able to perform new music, especially as there exists countless talented bands who simply won’t have the means to do so. Ultimately, we need live music back as soon as it’s safe. That said, it’s perhaps the thinnest silver lining on the biggest, blackest cloud out there that this livestream happened, because it was not in the least a poor way for Wardruna to premiere some of their new songs and revisit some fan favourites in the process. 

From the use of old languages to the introduction of traditional folk instruments, Wardruna’s music is rooted in the notion of ancestry, but the band are keen to not be stuck in the past. The symbol of a white raven can be interpreted as one of hope, something we could all use a bit of right now. It’s fitting that a live show making use of modern camera and editing techniques should serve as a vessel through which they can voice this.

If you’re reading this on the 27th or 28th March, the livestream is still accessible by clicking here.

Words: George Parr

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