Hardanger by Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik

Release date: November 5, 2021
Label: By Norse

Looking at Hardanger, it’s not hard to see why anyone would be moved by it. Hardangerfjord’s crystal-clear waters and walls of craggy, splintered mountains seem like something straight out of the sagas, while main town Odda has a charm that is uniquely metropolitan and traditional; so it feels fitting that after Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik spent time there during the writing of Hugsjá, they chose to revisit the area in spirit years down the line. The two tracks on this short EP come from very different places but the soul and messages are the same – messages of journeying, of people and of the land from which it takes its name.

‘Him til Yggradsil’ isn’t a cover of Enslaved’s ‘Return to Yggdrasil’ (from 2004’s Isa) but rather a recapturing of its essence.The brutality of Grutle Kjellsson’s screech is absent but in its stead is Selvik’s clear, noble timbre, lending the melodies an air of high majesty. Iver Sandøy’s measured drumming and Ice Dale’s gently strummed acoustic keep a brisk pace throughout, while Kjellson returns to lend his voice in a spoken word interlude that smacks of high drama but (mercifully) not cheese. Energetic electronics dance in a fashion that really captures the sense that this is modern Enslaved reclaiming a piece of their past, returning not to steal former glory but to renew its vigour and wisdom. It’s a gorgeous piece and it almost feels like a privilege to be able to hear it redone with such love and intimacy.

‘Hardanger’ is an entirely new piece and relies less heavily on melody, its body largely held together by a skeleton of ramshackle percussion and a steady, pulsing heartbeat of drone. In lieu of that is a sense of living poetry, Lindy-Fay Hella’s throaty cries and ululations harking back to some primordial fragment of the land’s psyche as she sings of migration and of the creation of what is now Norway. It’s a deeply primal work, with Selvik providing his own rich voice to balance and introduce an element of contrast, and even though there’s a sense of the ancient here, it’s tempting to think that fans of the more spiritual side of 90s house music like The Orb would find something here to really latch onto.

Clocking in at less than ten minutes, Hardanger feels like a snapshot. You’re not even done taking in the scenery before the road is leading you back into the rest of the world, but perhaps that is the point. This is a brief moment of escape, an attempt to capture Selvik and Bjørnson’s love of a place and a time that truly enraptured them, and for the brief moment that people listen to this, there’s a chance for others to feel it and maybe make their own Hardanger memories somewhere down the line.

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