Wardruna - _Runaljod - gap var Ginnunga_
(Indie Recordings, 2009)
by: Nikola Shahpazov (10 out of 10)
Though dead serious in their intention to explore the arcane and presumably heathen roots of traditional Scandinavian music, most Norwegian black metallers reached to the folk realm with genuine passion but a certain lack of knowledge. Thus Satyr's one-off project Wongraven, Burzum's keyboard-based pagan ambient, Storm's controversial metallic revamping of "Oppi Fjellet" or Ulver's folk noir experiment _Kveldssanger_ were all prime examples of a romantic and somewhat nationalist trend on the Norwegian scene, but were mostly fit for devoted underground fans only.

Considering this, Wardruna's debut is easily the best approach that black metal musicians have ever made to Norwegian folklore and foregone tradition; not easy listening by any means, but a fascinating affair for anyone interested in indigenous European tradition. Ex-Gorgoroth drummer Einar Kvitrafn, a.k.a. Kvitrafn, already hinted interest in the subject on Bak De Syv Fjell's obscure EP _From Haavardstun_ and Jotunspor's excellent (and, regrettably, only) release _Gleipnirs Smeder_ -- a fine cup of harsh metallic noise, magical chants and somber tribal drumming. After quitting Gorgoroth for good, Einar teased us with scarce information and MySpace-shared tracks for some two years before releasing _Runaljod - gap var Ginnunga_. Good thing it was well worth the long wait.

Turns out that during all this time away from fierce metal, the fellow has been working hard on Wardruna's concept and sound -- handcrafting shaman drums and horns, writing lyrics in old Noregian and gathering a small band of friends that would hammer out a magnificent debut album. _Runaljod - gap var Ginnunga_ is strikingly natural in its sound and execution: there are no keyboards involved, and even the long ambient passages rely on sampled loops and field recordings. The main body of the album is a mix of repetitive drumming, shamanic throat singing, soaring female vocals delivered by Lindy Fay Hella, runic chants by Erik and fellow conspirator Gaahl, the haunting sound of goat horn, bowed lyre, mouth harp and bone flute. Miles away from the charming but utterly amateur "folkish" endeavors of Lord Wind, Wojnar or Woodtemple, Wardruna is set much closer to ritual projects Wolfsblood and Waldteufel, and yet seems superior to them.

_Runaljod - gap var Ginnunga_ is so neatly crafted and brilliantly recorded that it just has to be considered a milestone in European neofolk -- perhaps the most breathtaking album since Fire+Ice's _Birdking_ or Waldteufel's _Heimliches Deutschland_. Good thing the album is part of a trilogy; while waiting for the second chapter, you might take the time to explore the lavishly designed official web page of the project, complete with links to live videos, pictures documenting the making of the album, and some in-depth info on the lyrics and meaning of _gap var Ginnunga_. Indulge.

Contact: http://www.wardruna.com/

(article published 18/7/2009)


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