REVIEW: HUGSJÁ – “Hugsjá”
Hugsjá is the latest installment of the collaboration between Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna’s Einar Selvik. This record combines original and contemporary music with Norse and Norwegian poetry, the instruments ranging from those of the Stone age to the present. The basis and concept of Hugsjá originated as a commission through the Bergen International Festival, much like their previous record Skuggsjá, but soon expanded into a multi-layered, open-ended work. The record is described as a journey along the island-dotted coast of their native land that combines a continuity of beliefs and traditions from its earliest settlers into the present day. Ivar and Einar also worked alongside other musicians, language experts, local experts, and archaeologists to flesh out nearly forgotten deities, myths, history, and traditions. Luckily, the compositions and hard work will be released on a worldwide scale for fans so they too can experience and relish these stories of old.
Much like the previous, Hugsjá commands the use of the Norwegian language (Norse) throughout the work, further fleshing out the majesty that is the people and land. Sadly, there isn’t any sort of translation tool to read along with what is being thrown to the listener. Some may not be bothered by this hiccup, but I for one would love to read along with the “stories” being told to embrace the message being conveyed. Alongside the language nuance, Ivar and Einar also bring the ever familiar instrumental onslaught of ancient and simple instruments. This is where the likenesses start to separate, as Hugsjá begins to form its own identity from the older sibling.
The title track churns out some weird ambience, like a churning motion to stir up the listener, and soon brings in a dynamic array of chants and strings. Hugsjá immediately proves to be more dynamic and rich in sound, reminiscent of the Wardruna influence. This familiarity is welcomed from the get go as I’m also a huge fan of Wardruna and it feels as if Einar is able to reach a higher potential of creativity in this work.
Ivar’s songwriting influence comes into play with some of the “folkier” sounding works as well as chiming in on more of Einar’s hunting grounds. “Ni Døtre av Hav” is a great example, combining a majestic presence with a more grounded foundation that can be heard in the underlying movements. This foundation comprises of snares and strings in a basic rhythmic tendency not far from rock and metal bands of today, thus bringing a human element into a natural setting, much like the settlers of old finding home in an untouched land.
“Nattseglar” contains a darker approach, possibly bringing out more of Ivar’s style into the mix (some of Enslaved darker sounds without touching into the black metal territory) as there is a foreboding mood associated with the composition. Quite the change of pace considering the previous tracks on the album, but also welcoming. This is about as dark as it gets, a bit different than the previous work which contained the black metal style, but I can safely say it works just as well in terms of atmosphere and engagement. “Nytt Land” does something similar to this but in a more grandiose folk technique.
Hugsjá just brings so much to the table in terms of sound and formation. Fans of orchestrated music will rejoice when hearing how everything is pieced together, while folk enthusiasts will be in awe with the different instruments of different eras are being played. Although the music itself isn’t rock or metal in any definition, the thought and work put into it definitely vibes with the attitude associated with the genres.
With all this said, there is a lot more to explore here, but it isn’t exactly something that can be easily described in words. Hearing is believing is an understatement in regards to Hugsjá and everything behind it. Diverse soundscapes combined with a natural sound bring forth a monumental beast of an album without being as heavy as one. This collaboration will only get better if they continue to experiment and diversify in their songwriting. The tales of the old Norse have never sounded more beautiful or majestic.