So, hands up if you like conceptual Norwegian dark folk. Really? None of you? Okay, hands up if you’ve seen the TV programme Vikings. Ah, that’s better. The series would, frankly, be a turkey without its soundtrack – without Wardruna.
Wardruna’s music is hypnotic, looming and utterly steeped in the atmosphere of a long-forgotten Scandinavian past. Their second album, 2013’s Runaljod – Yggdrasil is certainly no exception to this rule. Based on the Elder Futhark, it kidnaps the unwitting listener and plunges them into a world of dark pine forests and vengeful, bearded gods.
The album’s opening track, Rotlaust Tre Fell (“a rootless tree falls”), begins with the sound of heavy rain, before spiralling into a cacophony of chants, horns and drums. It is an invocation of the gods Odin, Frigg, Vanir, Thurs and the Norns. The fact that these deities are almost completely unknown to a modern audience works in the song’s favour, lending it an otherworldly quality akin to the tribal dances of the Amazon or throat-singing of the Inuit.
This reverie builds throughout Runaljod – Yggdrasil, from the haunting AnsuR to the almost dance-worthy Gibu and the epic (in the old sense of the word) Solringen. It is, to use a cliché beloved of music journalists the world over, a journey. You feel the wind whipping your face, the pebbles crunching underfoot, the waves lapping on an ancient shore.
The album’s stand-out moment, however, is its final track. Helvegen is a funereal lament that quickens the heart and will have you running for your longboat. It finishes with a section of the Hávamál, set against the simple patter of raindrops. Stunning.
WORDS: MAX FIGGETT
Got a taste for the stranger side of music? Well, I reckon you’ll love The Tiger Lillies.