REVIEW: WARDRUNA – “Runaljod – Ragnarok”
Wardruna are a very special band. Part conceptual, part experimental, intensely spiritual and wholly entrancing, Wardruna uses old Norse instruments and atmospheric soundscape samples to take you on an epic journey through each of their albums, which form a triptych based around each of the 24 runes known as the elder futhark. Despite using primitive instruments, their latest album ‘Runaljod – Ragnarok’ has a polished and excellently-produced feel to it and is incredibly listenable. For this review, as it is such a cinematic creation, I was tempted to talk you through exactly what I envisioned as I listened to the album, but then it struck me that that is quite a subjective thing, so I will do my best to convince you through a broader description to take your own trip through this musical voyage.
The album starts with thunder, and distant voices in the track “Tyr”. It’s intense. I can’t think of a more ominous way to start an album since the beginning of Opeth’s ‘Blackwater Park’; in fact, that just doesn’t feel all that intense any more. I’m on my sixth or seventh listen through this album and every time I’ve heard this intro, the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The traditional instruments reign in this piece, you can hear the raw acoustic feel of them, and this is a rich track. Some form of creature welcomes you to the next track, “UruR”. I want to stay it’s a big cat… a sort of purr… Textured soundscapes tingle and you feel really quite uneasy. Drums and horns erupt and incite war through their tones and rhythm. Wailing voices contrast against more growls and purrs. Despite your timid entrance to this track, the mood builds and grows into a creature, and yourself ready to take on the beast.
By this point I’m pretty ready for some psychedelics and an existential, spiritual meeting with an elder, shaman or God. Despite not strictly being in the psychedelic genre of music, this is a soundtrack to the trip scene of the movie. Something very important is happening. The tribes are gathering. The stars are bright. The moon is high. The singers call loud and long. I am incredibly impressed with the richness and depth of this album. I cannot stop tingling. It may well be a genre of music that you just have to get, I understand it’s not for everyone. But if you like delving into an ancient soul, this is a perfect theme. I’m going to have to find a way to know what they’re saying. I think it would help my life.
Another standout track for me is “Odal”. It’s so enchanting. Slightly softer, and tribal drums lead chanting by children, and men, and women, individually, and then together they create a glorious extended chorus crescendo, leaving you feeling elated and spiritually aligned. As part of a triptych, this does have a very similar feel to previous albums ‘Gap Var Ginnunga’ and ‘Yggdrasil’, but it has an even richer, textured and cinematic feel to it. It truly is a stunning piece. Wardruna’s third part of their epic triptych delves deeper into an almost forgotten tribal soul, bringing it to doom, progressive, experimental and folk audiences with intensity.