Wardruna’s Runaljod – Ragnarok (Indie Recordings/Norse Music), the cataclysmic end-of-the-world event of Norse mythology, is the third album in the “Runaljod” trilogy, following Gap var Ginnunga (Indie Recordings/Fimbulljóð Productions), the yawning void that existed before creation began, and Yggdrasil Indie Recordings /Fimbulljóð Productions, 2013), the tree of knowledge that spans the world. The title of the trilogy is Runaljod, rune-song or spell, and the runes of the elder fuþark, the rune-row or alphabet used in Germanic lands from roughly 100-700 AD, compose the overarching theme on all three albums.
With reconstructions of ancient instruments, modern instruments, natural sounds, and stunning vocals, Wardruna explores and attributes new meaning to the roots of Norse mythology and the historical and cultural past. Some of their music has served as a soundtrack for the Vikings tv-series (History), and the atmospheric qualities of the first three songs – ‘Tyr’, ‘UsuR’, and ‘Isa’ – of the album reflect this function well, approaching the status of composition rather than song. ‘UruR’ is the best example of this, lacking a true climax but having a quiet intensity throughout.
The ‘MannaR’ diptych really bridges the gap between the calmer waters of the first songs and the tempest that follows, with ‘Drivande’ increasing and then decreasing in intensity, while ‘Liv’ has a higher energy overall. Wardruna’s full capacity for building dramatic tension is showcased from ‘Raido’ onwards. The use of instruments is beautiful, and there is incredible drama without feeling dark. ‘Pertho’ is an absolute gem of a vocal performance, and can be faulted only on its brevity. ‘Odal’ is profoundly beautiful, following understated vocals with impressive polyphony, culminating in a sense of peaceful optimism. Both the good spirits of the music and the children’s choir are continued to the next song, ‘Wunjo’. ‘Runaljod’ is the final song of the album, and thus of the eponymous trilogy. The melodies are engaging, and definitely reminiscent of the sound on the previous albums.
While at first impression the earlier section of the album seems somewhat weak compared to the rest, it has a power of its own, causing it to be different but not less than the rest. This album not only breeds enthusiasm for the upcoming live shows, but also raises curiosity for where the project is going next.