November 17, 2021 — Whether you prefer the black metal sound of Enslaved or the more traditional folk ambiance from Wardruna, one cannot understate the impact Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik have had on their respective genres. It should come as a surprise to no one that great things happen when these two musicians work together, like their 2018 album Hugsjá.

So how does their new two-track EP Hardanger fare considering it is the duo’s first major project in almost three years?

History Taken Seriously

The region of Hardanger in Norway (located a few hours away from the duo’s at-the-time operations in Bergen) serves as the main inspiration for the pair’s new material. It is assumed to be the area where the tribe of the Harudes (“Hǫrðar” in ancient Norse) settled in the distant past, thousand years ago, becoming the first Western Norwegians. The Hǫrðar people also gave name to the Hardanger fjord.

The title song celebrates the history of the Hardanger region being populated by the Harudes and other peoples migrating, meeting, and melting together — over time, creating what is today Norway.

Traditionally Tranquil

‘Hardanger’ is plentiful in the percussion department, introducing listeners to the track with a rhythm akin to the beating of a heart. However, it fleshes itself out with the inclusion of both traditional sounds and exotic melodies to craft a serene sound. According to the duo, the real-life Hardanger is pure, mysterious, and utterly awe-inspiring; qualities that have successfully been transcribed into the song.

Most of the instrumentation possesses a natural sound that prominently features drums and strings, further enhancing the tone and atmosphere. As the song progresses, a keen-eared listener will gradually notice the inclusion of more voices to the mix, a nod to the history of the region and how groups of various people came to call Hardanger home.

Revitalizing a Classic

The other song on the EP may not hold the honor of being the title track, but it is more than worth the five minutes it would take to listen to. ‘Heim til Yggdrasil’ is a re-imagination of Enslaved’s beloved song ‘Return to Yggdrasill’. Selvik & Bjørnson felt the song wove itself so well into their own musical tapestry that they ought to invite the other members from Enslaved to record it for this EP release. The song features a wide range of voices and instruments, with piano, fiddle, drums, and acoustic guitar all being present. Additionally, Enslaved’s vocalist Grutle Kjellson added his signature spoken word-voice to Einar’s passionate vocals. The passion that went into this song is brazenly evident when listened to, and the final product is so much more than a cover; ‘Heim til Yggdrasil’ is a new, essential piece that needs to be experienced.

Verdict

8

Out of 10

The Good

  • ‘Hardanger’ wears its inspiration on its sleeve, providing listeners with a tranquil experience. The song also manages to showcase the history of its titular region through its vocals.
  • ‘Heim til Yggdrasil’ delivers on all fronts, putting a fresh spin on a much-loved classic. The track features guest performances from members of Enslaved that further elevate the material.

The Bad

  • Not applicable on this release.

When one considers the passion and quality of Hardanger as a whole it is almost unbelievable that Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik have not worked together as a duo in almost three years. This two-track EP project meant a lot to the duo, which is clearly shown through the care they put into its creation. One can only hope the pair will join forces again soon.

 

Hardanger is streaming now on major music services. Fans who want to further support Einar Selvik & Ivar Bjørnson can purchase a digital copy on Bandcamp or order the physical EP release on CD or vinyl from Norwegian label ByNorse who runs both an EU-store and a US-store.

As always, we have updated the Kurgan Compass™ neofolk playlist on Spotify with our favorite song.