A project originally conceived to celebrate 2014’s bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution, Skuggsjá – A Piece For Mind and Mirror (Season of Mist) was a collaborative record from Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved, and Einar Selvik of Wardruna. After the success of that 2016 release, the pair rekindled their partnership and have now written follow-up piece Hugsjá (By Norse Music).
Commissioned by, and performed at, Bergen International Festival in 2017 as part of a series of concerts called “Nordvegen” (“The Northern Road”), Hugsjá was inspired by the history and traditions of coastal Norway. Selvik and Bjørnson, working alongside archaeologists and experts in history and languages, continued with similar themes to its predecessor, although with a little more freedom and creativity.
Using traditional instruments such as the Kravik-lyre, Taglharpa, goat-horn, Bronze-lure, flute, and Hardanger-fiddle (many of them handmade by Selvik himself), the record features some wonderfully authentic Nordic sounds, and even a mixed choir, but little to none of the Black Metal sound of the first album, although its influence is still clearly apparent. Opening track ‘Hugsjá’ (which translates as, “to see with or within the mind”) is slow, dark and melancholic, while ‘WulthuR’, with its use of horns and a standard drumkit, is a more uptempo affair.
Accompanied by the sound of babbling water, ‘Ni Døtre av Hav’ feels like it’s time to slip into some warm furs and animal skins and set out to sea, ‘Ni Mødre av Sol’ is all baleful strings and vocals backed by drums, ‘Fornjot’ and ‘Nattseglar’ are both dark and dramatic but in different ways, while ‘Nytt Land’ incorporates a bluesy, distorted electric guitar riff to complement the strings and horns.
‘Nordvegen’ is a more upbeat, strummed acoustic number, ‘Utsyn’ slows things down again before blossoming into another powerful middle section, ‘Oska’, although not heavy in the traditional sense, is as close to Black Metal as the album ever wishes to come, and the moody ‘Um Heilage Fjell’ rounds the album off superbly.
Although concentrating far less on repeating the more modern Black Metal aspect of the first album,
there is more than enough variety on the record to keep most Viking enthusiasts and professional beard braiders happy for hours on end, although it’s fair to say that for first time listeners, Wardruna fans may take to it faster than followers of Enslaved. Much like the first album, Hugsjá is much better experienced as a whole rather than in separate pieces, so take yourself away somewhere free of distractions, relax into the background noises of crackling firewood and flowing water, and lie back and think of Norway.