Wardruna was formed in 2003 by former Gorgoroth members Einar Selvik and Gaahl as a project dedicated to creating musical renditions of Norse cultural and esoteric traditions, while making use of Nordic historical instruments. Fast forward 17 years, Gaahl is long gone and Wardruna are releasing their fifth album Kvitravn. The line-up consists of the aforementioned Einar Selvik (vocals, lyre, taglharpa, flute, goat horn, lur, drums, percussion), Lindy-Fay Hella (vocals), Eilif Gundersen (lur, goat horn, flute, backing vocals), Arne Sandvoll (percussion, backing vocals), Hans Christian Dalgaard (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and John Stenersen (moraharpe, backing vocals).
Kvitravn means ‘white raven’ in Norwegian and is also Einar’s artist name. The album cover taps into the Runaljod trilogy of albums with the same runic styled symbol. The album starts with Synkverv (Turn-sight), an epic sounding number which made me feel like I was looking out over the expansive terrain of forestry in the wilds of Norway. The vocals are impassioned and one feels a profound sense of peace listening to them, the instrumentation is subtle and unobtrusive.
Next up we have title track Kvitravn which starts with the sound of a white raven (I think?). There is a repetitive drone post-rock quality that reminds me of modern day Swans, if they had of hailed from Norway as opposed to New York, so obviously with that comparison in mind I was always going to be on board. Skugge (Shadow) has a shamanic psychedelic vibe, one needn’t ingest peyote in order to get otherworldly sensations. Grá (Grey) is the shortest track on the album and starts with the sounds of wolf cries and there is a gothic sensibility about it. In fact the opening reminded of Type O Negative’s Wolf Moon albeit without the sexually charged lyrics of course.
Fylgjutal (Speech of the Fylgja) is next, Fylgja in Norse mythology is a supernatural being/spirit which accompanies a person to their fate or fortune. The track opens to the soothing sound of rain and thundering instrumentation follows, there is a strong percussive element which I absolutely love. Munin (Memory) demonstrates Wardruna‘s strong interest in Nordic traditional music, there is a pagan pre-Christian spirit highlighting perhaps simpler times.
The evocation of nature and landscapes was exquisite and especially suited the frosty weather we’re currently experiencing…
Kvit hjort (White Stag) is stunning, the use of layered harmonies takes you on an ethereal journey, I feel fully relaxed by its conclusion. Viseveiding (Song-hunting) has a sense of tension in contrast to the preceding number, it feels like it’s the kind of song one would use on an arduous journey, or when about to engage in some type of conflict. Ni (Nine, no relation to the Knights who say Ni from The Holy Grail) is a ritual invocation that you would listen to collectively around a campfire, which it funnily enough ends with.
Vindavlarljod (Song of the wind-bred) suggests a strong interplay between song, wind and landscape, while concluding track Andvevarljod (Song of the Spirit-weavers) is the longest track on the album at over ten minutes, it has a climatic feel with the sound of thunder and bells, all the while sounding like a plea to the deities who control destiny. This is shorthand for the modern day equivalent of slowing down, letting the universe take control and chimes with the naturalistic/hippy(ish) themes of the album.
It could be a case of lost in translation but I wasn’t fully engaged with the lyrical themes of the record, however the music was absolutely beautiful. The evocation of nature and landscapes was exquisite and especially suited the frosty weather we’re currently experiencing as I write this review with hot coffee and a roaring fire. Recommended.
Scribed by: Reza Mills