“Ragnarok is not a story about the end of the world. It is about nature. It is about the end of something and the beginning of others. A rebirth.”
Those words come from Einar Selvik, also known by his nom du kvlt “Kvitrafn”, also know the leader of Wardruna. Einar beautifully summed up a popular misconception about Norse legend, but also summed up the entire weekend of New York By Norse. NYBN was a celebration of all things from the new By Norse label featuring a private seminar by Einar, a larger public symposium of Norse music and history, and the capstone event, 25 years of history from the band Enslaved. It was quite a time for fans and the media to partake in such an inspiring and unique event.
The private event was for media only and the frigid December night air was fitting for the subjects. I have met Einar once before and he was again soft spoken, generous with his time, and has a great sense of humor. He lectured about Norse history, demonstrated ancient instruments used by Vikings, and made it very relateable for everyone in attendance. While we drank spirits and beers and sampled some food, Einar guided us through his knowledge, learning’s and experiences. If the success of Wardruna, their amazing Rune Trilogy, or his contributions to the music of the acclaimed TV series Vikings has changed him, you couldn’t tell and likely it has not. This gathering was also an opportunity for the leadership of the management and label of By Norse to address the room and discuss the future opportunities on the way, including more band signings, a Viking themed video game, and much more in the vein of this weekend.
The larger symposium took place at the fitting Scandinavia House on the East side of Manhattan in midtown. The venue, often the site of events and parties, was exquisite. For Ivar Bjornson of Enslaved, it was a little arduous getting to the event at all. Due to weather and other issues, Enslaved flight to to American from Norway was delayed by 24 hours, causing some stress. Once the logistics were worked out and the band rebooked their trip. Just making it to JFK Airport, during the earlier event, the band collected their bags, ate supper en route and made it to Scandinavian house with minutes to spare. These are the times when musicians may sometimes regret their careers. But to Ivar’s credit he was smiling when we saw him. BardSpec, his ambient music side project performed , with visuals from David Hall of Uneasy Sleeper. Musicians, fans and press were all pretty happy with the resulting short set, lecture and hangs.
Saturday was the main event for Enslaved 25, and the symposium. The venue opened early and Ghost Cult photographer Jonathan Arevalo hit The Gramercy Theater, hung out with some press folks and I even saw some peeps from all over the country. Fans actually traveled from all over the world for this event which is amazing. Artwork was displayed in the venue while metal heads from all walks were in the house. Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved participated in a Grimposium led Q & A, hosted by the directors of the upcoming Enslaved 25 the Anniversary Documentary, Vivek Venkatesh and David Hall. This went well, and the band revealed they are hitting the studio in early 2017 to record the next full length Enslaved album. They also fielded questions about the band from fans. This kind of access to a band like this is unprecedented.
After the members left the stage, the lights went down and we were treated to a preview of Enslaved 25. It was amazing to hear the story of how the band formed, the trials they went through. Their early demos and life when they were known as Phobia (not to be confused with the grindcore band) and their early touring experienced in America, which was dodgy to say the least. I can’t wait for this entire film to be done.
At last the floor was filling up and it was time for the show, right around 8 PM. The band came on stage to play the first of two sets. The first being their all old school, black metal albums, form 2001 or before. After the into music of ‘Frost’, the kicked into ‘Loke’ and the place just exploded. Lots of people screaming, head-banging, and what passed for moshing from a bunch of newbies who had never been to black metal show before. That’s okay, the caught up by the end of the night. Getting to see all the ancient jams like ‘Heimdallr’, ‘Eld’, ‘Fenrir’, ‘Jotunblood’, and ‘Alfadr Odinn’ performed immaculately was a thrill. But the highlight of the night came net as Einar joined the band on stage as well as producer Iver Sandøy (producer of Einar and Ivar’s Skuggsja project and album) to perform ‘Haevenless’. Not only is this the greatest song in Enslaved’s’ history, it is rarely heard live. Grutle actually made light of this before they played it. I could have left right then and there and this would have been one of the best sets I’ve ever seen.
Of course they were not done. After a brief break to drink presumably, they returned to play more of their more recent, avant-garde material. Songs like ‘Roots of The Mountain’, ‘Ruun,’ and ‘Return To Yggdrasil’, really show the depth of this incredible band. Bolster by Keyboardist and clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen impeccable performance and the further guitar heroics of Ivar and Arve Isdal, the second set was an exercise in proggy, atmospheric perfection. It would turn out to be Larsen’s final show with the band. Once again bringing out Einar and Iver to perform an abbreviated version of Skuggsja’s stirring ‘Bøn Om Ending, Bøn Om Byrjing’, it was a magical night. The band came out to perform a few more songs for the encore: ‘As Fire Swept Clean the Earth’ and ‘One Thousand Years of Rain’ to bring things to an epic close.
WORDS BY KEITH CHACHKES
PHOTOS BY JONATHAN AREVALO