In light of their most recent album, Runaljod – Ragnarok,Wardruna went on a European tour, playing two sold-out shows at Tivoli Vreedenburg in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Ghost Cult journalists Suzanne A. Maathuis and Lorraine Lysen went to Utrecht on Sunday the 30th of November to find out more about the latest album and some of the academic background of the project from Einar Selvik of Wardruna. He is also participating in this weekend’s New York By Norse event in partnership with Enslaved’s 25th year celebration. Einar talked with us about songwriting, the Rune Trilogy, Norse history and lore, the next Wardruna album, and much more.Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
The Norse gods are watching over London as ambient folk metal band Wardruna arrive to perform on UK soil for the first time. With the unfortunate departure of Steindór Andersen and Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson from the support slot on the bill, the challenge was left to From TheBogs Of Aughiska. Having described themselves as the musical equivalent of standing atop the majestic Cliffs Of Moher with a gale force wind in your face, it was certainly music with impact. The low droning rumble concealed vast soundscapes that struggled and blossomed into audibility before melting back down into the murk. Their choice to wear black face masks while performing diminished any chance of a connection with the performers, forcing the audience to fully engage with the music. This was not about personality but truly focused on sonically documenting the power of nature and Irish folklore. My only criticism would be the volume of the performance was too low to appreciate the full majesty of their sound.
Right from the first beat, the hairs on the back of my neck are on edge and shivers are running the course of my spine as Wardruna begin to play. For a short time the dark theatre, leather seats, and audience transform into vast forests, crystal lakes and imposing mountain edges. The soundscapes created by this band using old and traditional instrumentation alongside the sounds of nature are positively tribal, a reminder of old spirituality more in connection with the trees and the land. Starting off with songs of their first album, Gap Var Ginnunga they work from older to newer pieces building up from the calmer tracks to the more dramatically performed songs off Yggdrasil. Again, a choice by the band to perform in all black costumes allowed for the music to be the real focus of the piece, although splashes of drama were added through lighting for the more climatic moments. Wardruna is a truly unique experience live, leaving me emotionally exhausted through the sheer power of their performance. As the final noise fades, the voice of the gods recedes and we are left as we began, back in the darkened theatre and our leather seats.
A student of the Runes and a self-confessed “history nerd”, Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik has brought the ancient Norse sounds of Wardruna to life in modern times. Ghost Cult scribe Ross Baker caught up with him to discuss strange instruments, history and where Selvik’s maverick vision will take him next.
Wardruna uses so many unusual instruments to make music from deer-hide frame drums, bone flute, goat and cow horns and Hardanger fiddle to name a few. How did you gather such instruments?
Many of these instruments were made for me by specialists but some I collected from places. It was very difficult to find as not many people make or know how to play them either so I had to teach myself. I am a self-taught drummer and guitarist but things like the bone flute were very different. It was important for me to have all these instruments so the music has the correct feel. It took me seven years to write and record the first album and a lot of that was because each composition relates to a rune and each Rune demands something different.Instruments, sounds and seasons and even specific dates all represent the symbolic power of the Runes we are trying to express the meaning of. When we recorded for the rune that relates to water, we needed to be outside by a river. It is a very time-consuming process recording this band because the conditions have to be just right.
You described Gap Var Ginnunga as “sowing a seed” and Yggdrasil is the tree the Norse Gods meet at. Ragnarok will be the last album of this “Rune trilogy”. Will that be the end of Wardruna’s involvement with the Runes?
Wardruna will always be connected to the Runes in some way. A lot of people misinterpret Ragnarok as what the Christians called Armageddon but it is not that at all. Ragnarok is the great transformation, the end of something and the beginning of something new. The album will signal a change in our sound and how we evolve. How that will sound I cannot say yet.
How do you wish Wardruna to speak to people who may not be familiar with Norse history and culture?
To make a tree stand it must have strong roots or it will fall. Wardruna is not a re-enactment or us pretending to be Vikings, it is about celebrating our roots and culture. This project takes inspiration from our native culture but it is about creating something current and new. It is also important for me to dispel a few myths about the Runes and Norse culture that have been misinterpreted and made almost cartoonish by the media.The image of the Runes has been tarnished by some right-wing racist idiots who have no business using them and only did so for their own gain. I want to give the Runes a voice and let them speak for themselves! A lot of these songs have universal themes about man communicating with nature and the universe. I think people from all cultures can be inspired by that.
The Wardruna song ‘Fehu’ was used in the cable T.V. series Vikings. As someone with a strong interest in history how do you feel about the way the series portrays the Vikings and the culture you come from?
I am pleased with the way ‘Fehu’ was used but it is difficult for me to watch that series.I understand this series was produced primarily for the purpose of entertainment, even though it was on the History Channel but it is almost painful to watch because there are many inaccuracies.The way the Norse worshipped and traded for example were not depicted correctly but I understand this programme was not meant for a history nerd such as me. I do like some of the ways it portrayed the Vikings as they were; farmers and spiritual people with families. They were not just a bunch of barbarians! We come from a rich culture.
Wardruna’s music is steeped in Norse culture. How do you see it translate with people of different nationalities? Do different audiences react in differing ways to your music?
Actually it is remarkably similar. Our live performances evoke very strong emotions in people wherever we perform. I think it is important to have a venue that creates the right atmosphere and allows us to express ourselves.I have seen people crying at our concerts because the music is sometimes very melancholy. Wardruna’s music is very personal and it is sometimes hard for me to share it with people.I know we sing in the Norse language which most Europeans or other nationalities don’t understand but I feel the music has a life of its own and speaks with its own voice. People are clearly hearing his voice as it inspires such a reaction. The response has been overwhelming and it is very emotional for me to perform. This is not just music for the ears but for the spirit, body and mind. We want to create a connection, a non physical dialogue with our audience and I believe we are succeeding in doing that!
The two other vocalists Wardruna utilises are your ex-Gorgoroth bandmate Gaahl and folk singer Lindy Fay Hella. Do they bring anything to the creative process besides their voices?
Well Kristian (Gaahl) has worked with this kind of music on his own for a long time so he has several ideas he can bring to us. I am the main songwriter however our creative process is very organic. It can come from improvisation, a drumbeat, a lyric anywhere! Lindy brings a truly ethereal quality we needed for Wardruna. Her vocals offset ours perfectly and conjure up many different emotions. Our environment is very important for our rituals. Each composition is dictated by the Rune and the seasons and elements it represents. I may write a few parts then bring them to the group or I will gather them and suggest we work on something. It is whatever serves the Rune the best!
Coming from the Black Metal scene do you feel there is any link to Wardruna such as a shared attitude or set of ideas?
Definitely. Many people forget that Black Metal is not about a sound but the idea of doing whatever you want. I got out of playing Black Metal because it became quite monotonous. Suddenly it was all about who can blast harder and who can shred the most on guitar. It has lost all feeling. Wardruna allows me to connect with my roots but also move forward. Our creative process is very intense and inspiring!
What is your vision for Wardruna going forward? Do intend to expand the line up with other musicians?
I want to make it both bigger and smaller. I have lots of plans for Wardruna. Some compositions may be very stripped down and acoustic with minimal arrangements but I also want to add musicians for some things too. I have considered using a choir and more percussionists and I am always thinking about ways we can expand our horizons.
Wardruna, despite having released only two albums, enjoy esteem within the world of folk music for their use of traditional, handmade instruments and themes of Norse spirituality. Yggdrasil is the second instalment of their rune triology Runaljod. The album picks up where first record Gap Var Ginunnga left off, exploring the individual runes of the elder futhark. Continue reading →