Sometimes an album comes to you at exactly the right time. Having spent lockdown in the middle of a city, I felt myself being drawn more and more to music that’s taken me out of that space and into nature. As I’m once again spending more time isolated in an urban space, Kvitravn, the latest album from Nordic folk collective Wardruna, has been just what I needed to feel some connection to the natural world.
Since forming in 2003, Wardruna have built themselves into a global act. The band’s mix of folk, electronica and historical instrumentation is steeped in nature and Norse mythology and has seen them attract fans well beyond the normal extreme metal crowd. Their Runaljod trilogy earned them widespread critical acclaim, and when main man Einar Selvik contributed to the soundtrack for the popular History Channel show Vikings it helped expose the band to an even bigger audience.
Kvitravn is the band’s fifth effort (and their first for a major label) and continues the journey the group started in 2003, further refining their sound to create something which is both rustic and operatic. The music is driven by minimalist, trance inducing percussion, over which are built layers of traditional instruments such as the taglharpa (a sort of Viking cello) and the Kravik-lyre (a sort of harp crossed with a lute), interspersed with unobtrusive electronic affects. The band’s use of field recordings throughout the album (the sounds of ravens calling at the start of the title track, the crash of waves on ‘Skugge’) work perfectly to bring the listener out of their own environment, while also giving the music itself a definite sense of place. While most bands who claim an affinity with Vikings tend to focus on the violent, battle and plunder aspect of history (which we’ve discussed with Einar himself), Wardruna evoke a meditative feeling, focussing on the pagan ideals of harmony with nature and landscape, and the music bears this out. The ethereal vocals of Lindy Fay Hella lend tracks like ‘Viseveiding’ and ‘Gra’ an almost symphonic feel, while the epic final track ‘Andevarijob’ brings to mind medieval devotional music, appropriate given that Selvik has described it a plea to the nine Norns, the weavers of destiny in the Aesir belief system.
As previously mentioned there are many bands that use Viking/pagan aesthetics in their work (unfortunately some do so to promote insidious right wing ideologies, something Wardruna have unequivocally spoken out against), but very few manage to convey the sense of spirituality and longing that Selvik and his collaborators do. In all of the chaos, the depressing news and the feeling of helplessness and isolation that the current world situation has brought with it, Kvitravn feels like a pagan prayer in the darkness, a reminder that life can be hard but in nature and unity there is healing. Deeply rooted in this feeling, this is an album of evocative, melancholy music that also carries a message of hope.
Kvitravn is out via Music For Nations on 22nd January and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader