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There are few things that get a lover of live music more excited than seeing a band they like for the first time. This is especially true when the band has never played in the United States (or whatever country they're in) before. Norway’s Wardruna provided these firsts to many fans in the crowd at Faerieworlds, a festival held Sept. 4 - 6 in a wooded setting in the Cascade mountains west of Portland, Oregon. The show was the band’s first U.S. performance, following an unsuccessful attempt at playing at Stella Natura in 2013, when, as rumor had it, they couldn’t get visas. I also heard from a friend that some dumbass acquaintance of his called Homeland Security on them, which may not have been the reason they were denied but it probably didn’t help.

Anyway, Faerieworlds is, as the name suggests, a faerie-themed festival featuring artists, authors, musicians and crafters who are inspired by folklore and faerie lore. It got its humble beginnings in Eugene, Oregon, several years ago and now has expanded to include other events like FaerieCon and Mythicworlds that are held around the country. Attendees commonly dress up to represent their choice of faeries, some light and whimsical, some dark. The overall vibe is colorful good cheer, but the dark side is welcome too. A couple of years ago there was a contingent of “mud faeries” that donned ripped up, dirty clothes, smeared mud on their bodies and slithered around on all fours, going up to people who had plates of food and sniffing them. Kids freaked out, just a little.

Up until this year, Faerieworlds had been held in a grassy public park at the base of a small mountain about 10 minutes down the road from where I live. My attendance this time required a two and a half hour drive to get there and a commitment to camp for four days. The new venue, a sprawling, hilly site called Horning’s Hideout, was a fun place to explore, although the entire weekend was uncharacteristically cold and damp. The early morning mist and dark, fern-laced woods lent a feeling that the ancestral memories we were there to share weren’t very far out of our reach.

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Photo by Cavan Wagner

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Faerieworlds has become quite popular, with its musical lineup as a big draw. In the past, the festival has drawn acts such as Donovan and Rasputina, but no one in the vein of Wardruna, which was scheduled to perform Saturday at 11 pm.

By Saturday afternoon it was obvious which side some of the attendees belonged to, as people in black metal garb appeared more thickly in the crowd. I was working at a booth so I had the chance to interact with a few obvious heshers who came by. A few of them seemed to be very familiar with Wardruna already, while an equal number said they liked the music but were just discovering it thanks to the band’s contribution of the theme song to the tv show “Vikings.”

Aside from the obvious appeal of Nordic spirituality and runic knowledge, the black metal connection to Wardruna came mostly from member Gaahl, of Gorgoroth fame, who lent vocals to Wardruna songs and is credited with helping to “conceptualize” the band. He didn’t perform, which no doubt disappointed fans who didn’t see the eye-blink of an announcement that Gaahl would no longer be performing live with the band.

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Photo by Stephen Parker

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It didn’t matter. Yes, it would have added another level of enjoyment to see Gaahl perform in person, but that detail could in no way diminish the pleasure of seeing and hearing the rest of the band.

For me personally, it was a totally “in the moment” experience that now, a couple of days later, seems almost like a dream. It didn’t occur to me to take photos, although now I wish I would have.

They opened with “Iwar,” and though it had been getting colder all day, a chill and a mist seemed to start settling over the crowd at this time. They gave fairly equal representation to both of the albums they have released so far, playing “Hagal,” “Bjarkan,” “Heimta Thurs,” “IngwaR,” “Laukr,” “Ár var alda,” “Solringen” and a couple others lost to the mists and my terrible late-night handwriting.

Linda-Fay Hella’s voice rang out strong and clear on every song, but was particularly powerful on one song I didn’t immediately recognize. It turned out to be “Gjallarhorn,” which is not on either album, but was captured on video.

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The security at the event seemed rather stiff—three uniformed sheriffs were walking around the crowd, although no one seemed particularly perturbed by them being there. Before the show started, I actually expected the crowd to be dancing with wild abandon, but most people, myself included, seemed content to stand mostly still and watch. Wardruna songs aren’t particularly high-energy, although they do have a few that pick up the pace. For this set, they focused more on the meditative and entrancing, repetitive songs filled with horn, harp and drums.

All told, they played exactly an hour, and didn’t address the crowd until right before the twelfth song, when lead man Einar Selvik spoke and said it had been an “absolute pleasure” to play in the United States for the first time, that they had been waiting a long time to do so and knew that a lot of people had been waiting for it as well.

In addition to the performance, Selvik also hosted three workshops discussing the tools and traditions behind Wardruna. I attended the free talk he gave on Friday, in which he spoke about how Wardruna was not meant to be seen as “time travel,” but as a way to recreate and bring into the modern day the ancient knowledge of rune secrets so they don’t get lost. He said no one really wanted to go back to the old days because “we were assholes,” which brought laughter from those gathered. Selvik played acoustic versions of a couple Wardruna songs, including “Helvegen,” which he played on the harp and which was also the song they chose to close out their Saturday set.

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In the above video you can hear his comments about how in the past, Norwegians had songs for daily tasks and for each stage of life, and when it was time to cross over from the physical plane it was common to have someone at your bedside singing to you for days. “Who’s going to sing me?” he asks. “It’s not about reenactment. The old songs are gone. We need to make new ones, that’s the whole point.”

Not everyone in the crowd at the actual show got it though. Behind me for the first half hour was a guy who I kept overhearing cracking dumb jokes about how serious the music was and how he’s been to Norway and hadn’t heard any music like this. Mercifully, he left to go drink some more, leaving the rest of us to our nostalgia. No, not nostalgia. Our now.

— Vanessa Salvia

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