WARDRUNA - KVITRAVN
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
SHAMANIC ANARCHISTIC ARCHAIC REVIVAL
Neo-paganism is on trend just now and not just in metal circles. Revivalism of pre-Christian Nordic culture and mythology has gained particular traction in popular culture and fiction and Wardruna are at the forefront. Originally often perceived, or overlooked, as an eccentric black metal spin-off with the likes of Ghaal previously in their ranks, Wardruna seek to create music that re-connects with historic Norse folklore and nature-focussed mysticism. This is their debut on a major label and comes after they penned music for the global TV series Vikings that brought them considerable worldwide exposure.
Wardruna rely (though not exclusively) on early traditional - and mostly now obsolete - Nordic instruments such as goat horns, deer hide drums, and bone percussion to authenticate their sound as well as pillaging historical sources and retreating for periods in the Norwegian wilderness for inspiration.
Founding member Einear Selvik's recent involvement in film and game production both on-screen and musically may have contributed to the cinematic vibe of Kvitravn which translates as 'white raven'. The production is clear, clean and panoramic enough to paint in a vast pre-medieval forest. First single, Kvitravn, which has been released for some time, is replete with echoed crow calls and, like much of the rest of the album, uses a repetitive refrain and primitive beat as a hypnotic core that builds in volume and intensity. Selvik's baritone chant counters and synthesises with Lindy Fay-Hella's high-pitched, shamanic warble.
Much of Kvitravn employs droning solemnity, uncomplicated banging percussion, and tribal chanting to evoke a sense of ceremony and spiritual naturism such as the slow ritual of Skugge or the rousing Fylgjutal which both develop into thudding, trance-inducing communal chanting climaxes. Equally, the hushed primitivism of Grå develops similarly to a crescendo of group chanting and impassioned rising singing before dying out eerily.
Fay-Hella's vocals, when they come to the fore - and that is usually during fervid crescendos, are high-pitched and febrile; rising and yabbering like a druidic Kate Bush going into a fire-lit trance. It adds an intoxicating, otherworldly, and wild element among the disciplined and measured percussive rhythms.
Elsewhere there is a sense of epic grandeur and a wider, cinematic vantage such as the gripping, sorrowful horns of Kvit Hjort which develops from an emotive, mournful hymn into an intelligently distilled, rousing melody and longboat rowing-rhythm. The album closer, the 10 minute journey of Andvevarljod is an impassioned high-point like an accompaniment to a Skaldic work and a truly dramatic finale.
At 70 minutes playing time, Kvitravn is an immersive, Saga-like opus more suited to, and enhanced with, continuous, committed listening time. Epic and solemn, eerie yet becalming, it has the hallmarks of a soundtrack to a film yet to be made. Neo-folk can be an easy target for derision and the style has, at times, lapsed into hammy be-costumed eccentricity. Wardruna do, however, approach their craft with a serious-mindedness and focussed conviction to create a vivid, bucolic, landscape. At times it is impressively composed with layers of clever interplay of vocals and instrumentation - this has to be the high point of Wardruna's work.