ALBUM REVIEW: Wardruna channels the essence of Nordic culture with ‘Kvitravn’

It’s been two years since Wardruna dropped Skald, and half a decade since the last album featuring the full Nordic folk collective. Skald featured solo performances from project leader Einar Selvik, evoking the skald poets of pre-Christian Scandinavia. The album’s limited nature hasn’t hindered Wardruna’s journey, following up its work on the History Channel show “Vikings” with contributions to the score of the video game “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.” The last year also saw Selvik receive the Egil Storbekken´s Music Prize for his devotion to performing Old Norse folk using authentic instruments. His respect for cultural conservation as artistic inspiration remains just as powerful on Kvitravn.

By Norse Music, Jan. 22

Einar Selvik, in a recent interview with RIFF, described Wardruna’s music as a form of animism—the idea that objects, runes or even sounds can possess an innate spiritual component. To that effect, there’s more to opener “Synkverv” than Scandanavian atmospheres. The syncopated lyre plucking and resonant chanting exists to unveil a human connection to this ancient music. In the same way, the mid-tempo slow-burner “Kvitravn” builds to an engrossing wall of blaring horns and lurs. From its eerie field recordings to its rumbling low end, the song effortlessly transcends history and culture. It just hits—and hits hard.

Wardruna’s success comes from its balance of academics and expression. The band’s bread and butter comes from playing ancient music on ancient instruments, but its staying power comes from sheer emotional impact. A cut like “Viseveiding” certainly has a historical appeal, as everything from the drums to the bowed lyres come straight from the viking age, but there’s a sense of urgency to the singing that echos in the raveens of the soul. The impeccable production also increases the music’s universal allure. Cuts like “Skugge” and “Grá” have a lot of room to explore dynamics and arrangement.

While certainly bigger than Skald, Kvitravn has no problem with breaking things down to a single instrument. This is most apparent on the lyre strums of “Muninn,” but the droning hypnosis of “Ni” shows how Wardruna can milk simple ideas for all of the members’ feelings. The timely layering of counter melody and harmony gives each track a density to match its simple foundation. This works wonders for “Kvit,” as the rising action gets more and more engrossing as voices and drones join to bolster a two-note horn refrain.

While Selvik’s roots in Norwegian black metal have little overt connection to Wardruna, cuts like “Vindavlarljod” and “Fylgjutal” show why so many Scandinavian metal acts mine their cultural heritage for musical inspiration. It’s incredibly easy to imagine these refrains played on tremolo-picked electric guitars, or the percussion transposed to a massive drum kit. The visceral intensity to this music sports both elegant beauty and grimacing grit. Closer “Andevarljod” encapsulates this balance of scene-setting nuance and infectious spirit. The song’s 11-minute run-time brings some of the most overwhelming crescendos of the band’s career, topped by some incredible vocal performances from Selvik.

Whether approached by fans of ethnic music of the world or complete outsiders, Wardruna continues to earn its keep as the flagship band of Norwegian folk. Kvitravn is accessible enough to appeal beyond niche connoisseurs, yet completely dedicated to preserving archaic beauties. Don’t wait for curiosity to get the best of you. Diving into this Nordic masterwork will prove as rewarding as Wardruna’s previous albums.

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