WARDRUNA, which can be translated by “keeper of secrets”, was formed in 2022 by Einar Selvik while he was still the drummer for black metal outfit GORGOROTH. The first three albums form a trilogy based on the language of runes in elder futhark, « Runaljod – Gap var ginnunga » (2009), « Runaljod – Yggdrasil » (2013) et « Runaljod – Ragnarok » (2016). The fourth record “Skald”, released in 2018, is inspired by the traditional stories told by the skalds and the song composed by Selvik for the tv show “Vikings” on which he worked on as a composer and historical consultant.
The goal of WARDRUNA is not to accurately reproduce music from the Viking era but to create a bridge between the present and the past. To accomplish this, Einar Selvik recreates traditional pre-Christianity Nordic instruments and also uses various “natural” sounds (bison galloping, fire, water, wind…). This process is also used to counter the traditional stereotypes about the “Viking era” and put a light on the forgotten parts of that history and share historical knowledge with the public.
This fifth effort “Kvitravn”, also follows that path and the same logic, while centering more on the spiritual connection between mankind and its environment, since Einar Selvik describes himself as an animist.
While this presentation is a bit long, it is necessary to know all of this to understand that WARDRUNA is closer to religious music than it is to the caricature visuals of most bands claiming to be Viking metal. Out with the corpse paints, the typical black screams, there are no riffs, no blast beats and not a single electric instrument in sight.
This raises the following question: how can this music be described without just being factual? How can you evaluate the skills of musicians of centuries old instruments that no one actually knows how to play? How can I compare this band to others when they are absolutely unique in every way?
One could say that it is once again brilliantly produced, that the depth and reliefs of the sound are magnificent, that the record just flies by and the 65 minutes feel like 10 because of how diverse yet coherent it is.
But that would not be enough. Because listening to WARDRUNA is, first and foremost, a personal experience, an intimate and almost religious one. It is a music you feel in your soul as much as in your body, a call to just let everything go for an hour to just sit comfortably and take the time to meditate, guided by the images and the emotions induced by the music.
This is why this album is much closer to sacred chants than to the traditional definition of a song. The track “Kvitravn” (“White Raven”) for example, with its first verse that leads to ritualistic percussions and powerful polyphonies with a rare evocation power, will haunt you for weeks and its beauty still give me chills after all that time. “Skugge” (“Shadow”) looks like a nocturnal celebration, with the sole light of a bonfire, with tremendous work on the vocals and a feeling that the mind is purified when the piece ends. “Ni” (“Nine”) looks like a ritual during which the congregation answers to the officiant to enhance the prayer.
And when it comes to the massive “Andvevarljod” (“Song Of The Spirit-Weavers”), it concludes the album in the perfect way by evoking the link between the souls of mankind and the wind. It gives the sensation of being in the middle of a clearing only with the company of the forest, the water and the wind, as if everything was about to be cleansed by the rain and the storm so that it can be reborn in another form. For the anecdote, the first time I heard it, it took me five minutes to realise that it was over, because I thought the silence was part of the experience.
“Kvitravn” can be approached in two different ways : each song can be taken separately to look for a specific image or mood or it can be taken as a whole, like a long trip on which Einar Selvik is our lone companion. And both approaches are equally good, this is the strength of that fifth album. It looks like it answers to the listener in a very personal way and everyone will receive what they specifically need from it.
Because I love sacred music, my mind went to this direction to find comparisons. Whether it is in mantras, sutras, Gregorian chants or even Vedic chants, there is always this call to just lose oneself in the music, the rhythm and the singing in order to communicate with what is felt but not perceived. This is what WARDRUNA does here with tremendous success.
If the Runaljod trilogy was already incredibly rich and dense, “Kvitravn” gives a feeling of unfathomable depth and healing power which makes the listening experience like climbing at the top of a mountain where the mind can finally enter into communion with all that surrounds him.
I could continue to rave about this album for days and days because of how rich and beautiful “Kvitravn” is. It is a great record that shows that WARDRUNA is a band that still makes progress that deserves all of the success they are getting. Undoubtedly one of the biggest album of the beginning of the year that you must listen to in those troubled times.
Recommended tracks : All of them.