Written by: AP on 02/06/2021 22:14:55

Despite the fact that Einar Selvik had a respectable tenure as the drummer of the Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth between 2000 and 2004, it is with his ambient, Nordic folk project Wardruna that he has earned international renown — not least by virtue of scoring the six seasons of Michael Hirst’s critically acclaimed television series “Vikings” that were produced from 2013 to 2020. With one foot entrenched in extreme metal and the other in historical fantasy, Selvik and his collaborator Lindy-Fay Hella are in a unique position for catering to a much wider audience than such dark and ritualistic music typically gathers, and as such it is no less common for their ensemble to be invited for a performance at some of the most grandiose theatres in the world than it is for them to deliver a midnight mass at a heavyweight metal festival. Truly, this is one of those rare bands with universal appeal and for that reason alone, it was high time our webzine took another deep dive into their mysterious universe via this fifth and latest offering of theirs, “Kvitravn”, the title of which is derived from Selvik’s stage name Kvitrafn, meaning White Raven.

A plea to begin with: exorcise whatever expectations you have for a black metal musician and forget about that genre for a time — for the music of Wardruna is impossible to define within the boundaries of rock or metal. The pair eschews modern electric instruments completely, and replaces them with a vast assortment of traditional instruments that includes a Kravik lyre, different kinds of flutes, harps, bronze lures, bone horns, and various frame drums created with deer-hide. There is no shortage of peculiar elements in “Kvitravn”’s soundscape thus, and by virtue of Selvik’s masterful arrangement, these are fused together in strikingly original and altogether spellbinding compositions that are unlike anything you’ll have heard before. The album opens with a gust of wind and the squawk of a raven to announce one of its strongest song candidates, “Synkverv”, a tense piece built around the thrum of a forlorn, yet mesmerising lyre, and Selvik’s wistful singing in the Old Norse language. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, which presents a mysterious and foreboding atmosphere and a sound that, like the group’s soul twins in Heilung, is very focused on shamanic rhythms and vocalisations, and relegates the string and wind instruments to providing a nonetheless elegant backdrop for those central elements.

Yet, as underlined by the likes of the titular “Kvitravn” and “Skugge”, the music is not rendered any less vast by the fact. In both of these tracks — and in many others across the record — there are moments when the drumming picks up, and the combined voices of Selvik and Hella stretch to their respective extremes, that parallel the epic build-ups and crescendos normally found in post-rock. And Wardruna’s music is just as, if not more evocative as that genre, with Selvik’s mantric throat singing, not to mention his eerie inhales and exhales in tracks like “Grá” and “Fylgjutal”, inevitably conjuring visions of ancient pagan rituals, while others still are certain to send your thoughts wandering across the once-untouched, rugged grandeur of Norway’s landscapes via their monumental, contemplative instrumental arrangements. When listening to the album, there is no doubt that the two artists creating the music possess a profound spiritual connection with the nature and mythology of their ancestral land — the sheer emotion bursting from every drumbeat and strum of melody, every archaic lyric sung is palpable. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the consummate highlight of the record, the intense and atavistic “Viseveiding”, which casts a plethora of different voices and vocal techniques against a cinematic, nigh on orchestral backdrop to end up sounding like some sort of grand conjuration of the old norse gods.

That song perfectly encapsulates the density of the atmosphere and the richness of sound that defines this masterpiece of antediluvian folk music in which none of the eleven tracks tempts your skip finger. Mysterious, droning and hypnotic, it plays like an antidote to contemporary forms of rhythmic music, while simultaneously drawing upon a myriad elements from extreme metal and the more expressive and artful forms of rock music as well to create an album with something so rare as almost universal appeal. Of course Wardruna is unlikely to ever break through to the mainstream beyond the most hardened connoisseurs of Vikings — their music demands far too much patience and explorative spirit for that to happen — but for anyone who holds a true interest in music, it is hard to imagine a more unique or mesmerising prospect than Wardruna. It says something about the Norwegian duo’s compositions that it has taken me nearly half a year to distill the thoughts and emotions it awoke and continues to awake in me into a review; there is simply an abundance of fascinating nuances to consider and decipher, certainly enough to render “Kvitravn” into an essential piece of the annals of heavy music, deviant from genre norms though it may be.


Download: Synkverv, Skugge, Fylgjutal, Munin, Viseveiding, Vindavlarljod
For the fans of: Forndom, Heilung, Nytt Land, Skuggsjá
Listen: Facebook

Release date 22.01.2021
By Norse Music

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