Wardruna (from the album Kvitravn available on By Norse Music) (by Chris Wheatley)
Norway is a country rich in both history and folklore. Many will be familiar with tales from Norse mythology (thanks in no small way to the Marvel franchise) and, of course, the distinctive imagery which leaps to mind at the mention of the word 'Vikings'. Fewer will be familiar with the equally deep musical traditions of that locale. Thankfully, contemporary bands such as Norwegian sextet Wardruna offer a visceral reminder. The band utilize a mix of modern and historical instruments, including the wonderfully named sootharp, goat horns, lyres, and the bronze-lur; a type of horn the sound of which is manipulated solely by facial muscles, lips and teeth. The gamers among you will be interested to note that founding member Einar Selvik's credits also include composing music for Assassin's Creed Valhalla. For this album, the band are joined by a group of singers spearheaded by Kirsten Bråten Berg, ‘one of the most important custodians of Norwegian traditional song’.
Opener “Synkverv” is a thing of remarkable beauty, building from voice alone to incorporate a hypnotic, deceptively simple melody played on sparkling strings. Frame-drums, assorted percussion, choral backing, and sung-chanted vocals create a wide, cinematic soundscape. There is not mere atmosphere, however, Wardruna possess the compositional nous to match ambience with distinctive refrains and sophisticated structures. You can't help but be reminded of Van Gelis' extraordinary soundtrack for the film 1492. There is too, a perceptible progressive Rock/Metal vibe, albeit refreshingly free from histrionics and wailing guitars. Wardruna's commitment to authenticity is self-evident, and the sculpted power on display is absorbing.
“Skugge” evolves from roaring wind and keening strings. Slow drums, harmonized voices, and melancholy pipes progress at a stately pace, which is no less compelling for its slow tempo. Ancient history, indeed, echoes through this music, which summons visions of stark beauty, feelings of deep connection, and sends a shiver down the spine. When the track picks up into fast-paced, intertwined Folk song with double-time drums, the resultant rush is quite something to behold.
Rising from the pouring rain, “Fylgjutal,” impossibly, ups the game further, with thudding percussion and glittering melodic counterpoints, which build layer upon layer into a highly affecting imaginary vista. From this vantage point, the band switch gears once again, breaking into a galloping, driving torrent. Voices weave in and around, alternately guttural and ghostly. It is to Wardruna's credit that nothing feels overcooked. I have no doubt that this stems from their ingenuous sincerity and thoughtful dedication to their craft.
The remaining tracks are no less moving and memorable. “Munin” dances and sparkles with light, deft touches juxtaposed nicely against those earth-shaking drums. Propelled by simple vocals and unwinding drones, “Ni” digs down to the bare bones of Wadruna's music. The choral accompaniment, when it appears, is arresting. “Kvit hjort” showcases the wondrous ability of horn-music to summon from within the most primal sensations of humanity. Therein lies the secret of Wardruna's spellbinding music. A highly recommended listen.
Listen and buy the music of Wardruna from AMAZON
More information is available on the Wardruna website