An Eerie Glimpse of Obscurity: A deep look into Wardruna’s new record, Kvitravn
An ode to slowing down, to reconnecting
Kvitravn crosses our paths following the closure of Wardruna’s trilogy Runaljod – a work divided in three albums: Runaljod – gap var Ginnunga, Runaljod – Yggdrasil and Runaljod – Ragnarok, where each song was inspired by the characters belonging to the “Elder Futhark”, the oldest form of the runic alphabets. Kvitravn, which was scheduled to be released during the year of 2020, was delayed and comes to us more than a year after the intended date. About this new album Wardruna’s Einar Selvik says that “For me, this album points out more clearly than ever what has been the ultimate goal or motivation of Wardruna since the beginning – taking old thoughts that still carry relevance and creating something new with them.”
Wardruna’s link with nordic tradition is primordial to the band’s history. It’s carefully embraced in the approach to their sonority, the instrumental and vocal tonality and technique, the language in which they sing, the contents of the lyrics, and in details such as the clothing worn or the handmade, traditional instruments used both live and on the record. Influenced as they are by this rich nordic history, Wardurna’s intention was never to mimic or to play music that already existed. As Einar explains:
“To recite and copy the past is not very difficult, but to understand and integrate ancient thoughts, tools and methods with real purpose into a creation that is relevant to the modern era is truly challenging and remains our prime goal in our work”
Kvitravn’s main inspiration comes from oral traditions, more specifically about animist traditions – traditions that were prevalent in pre-Christian cultures, some of which are still present to this day – and that reflect well not only on how people dealt with the unknown, but how they approached life overall. In Einar’a words: “Kvitravn is inspired by oral traditions, an oral culture. In an oral society, words, poetry and even runes, where it was written, had a great power. I find the traditions of old Norse poetry thought provoking and inspirational. The truth was not served on a platter but through questions, riddles, and abstract images. They allow you to put multiple meanings into things, which leaves a lot of room for listeners to find their own meanings.”
Animism can be described as the belief that an animal, a tree, or basically everything on Earth is imbued with a powerful spirit. It’s not hard to understand how it’s the natural elements which bear the sacredness, the prophecies, the wisdom in these early cultures. Kvitravn, Einar says, “refers to the symbolism and legends of sacred white animals found in Nordic and other cultures all over the world. These highly regarded ghostly creatures, whether a raven, snake, bear, moose, reindeer, elephant or lion – are in animist traditions seen as prophetic, divine messengers, and guardians representing renewal, purity and a bridge between worlds”
Through eleven tracks, Einar delves into the philosophical, the esoteric, the Nordic myths and how these old traditions define human nature and nature itself. Each track on Kvitravn has an obscurity tangent to it, some more than others, but it’s one of the elements that marks a difference between this latest album and previous works. Additionally, Kvitravn sees appearances by traditional Norwegian singers, lead by one of the most prominent guardians of Norwegian traditional song, Kirsten Bråten Berg.
Introducing us to the album is Skynkverv – a deep shout followed by a serene choir leading us to a melodic atmosphere that unravels with the voices interlacing with the instrumental.
The wind rustles and Kvitravn calls. It’s with the call of the white raven (translation for kvitravn), that the second track of the album begins. The song unravels with a textured instrumentality – distinctively produced by nature-scavenged instruments – and with a female choir following Einar’s voice. Set in a mesmerising pace the music builds slowly with horns and vocals engaging with each other. Like a flight of a raven, we travel through these landscapes presented to us.
Skugge follows with a brooding introduction. A slow paced ambience accompanied by deep, low voices that invites us to look inside, to reflect, to know the shadows within. A pain filled clamor fills the void and we are introduced to a hypnotic, ritual-like cadence guided by a fast-breath-paced chant. The ritual builds in intensity, by closing our eyes, the dance between lights and shadows grows within us.
A lonely howl is heard at the distance: the wolf has arrived.
Grá is carried by this solemn pace constructed through the sound of bones and drums. A gasping rhythim builds tension along with two voices. These are finally unleashed, and like the gallop of a wolf in the mountains, they roam free, they grow and expand. This being the shortest track on the album, I would personally love for the music to expand more, but even so, there’s so much concentrated here, so much feeling: It’s healing, cathartic even.
The wolf resumes it’s journey in Fylgjutal, accompanying us as a silent companion, quickly and quietly, it shows and hides, helping us reveal these qualities in ourselves.
The sound of harsh strings echoes, a kravik lyre is playing alongside a solemn voice, Munin has started. A mellow melody goes, it’s the sound of longing, the expression of dealing with the duality between memory and thoughts, on how when losing one both are lost.
The sound of the bukkehorn fills the environment and at a slow pace we travel between worlds. Through the mist, a glimmering guidance unveils, we encounter Kvit hjort.
A piercing vocal cuts through the air. With Viseveiding the rhythmic gasping and the nature-textured percussion returns, setting a rhythm to a background of vocals in Kulning technique. This is a song that is very close to the roots of european folk music and it’s followed by Ni that continues this legacy in a more slow-paced approach.
Leading us through Vindavlarljod is one sole voice, chanting in uninterrupted pace, growing, opening up, taking flight, traveling free.
Voices raise, singing vendum, vendum… turn, turn… we are introduced to Andvevarljod, the song of the Spirit-Weavers. Spinning the threads of fate, ruling the destiny of gods and men are The Norns. Like in a loom, where the warp threads are interwoven with the weft threads, the female choir interlaces with Einar’s voice. It creates mystery filled landscapes that so perfectly convey the spirituality, history and guidance inherited by past traditions. Breathe in, breathe out, we see wide and clear.
Listening to Kvitravn gives us an opportunity to look inside, to find our roots and reconnect.
Even though this album inhabits an eerie obscurity, it’s also predominantly meditative and hypnotic, with moments of ecstasy that allow the growth and space necessary for expansion. Throughout eleven tracks we are given a glimpse to the past, to the traditions and spirituality inherent in Norse culture, but with a very clear vision of how to bring them into contemporary times. Wardruna not only brings this very authentic and genuine feeling into their work, but they also have this particular quality in how their music resonates with so many people from different cultures. We could say that this is something ingrained in our DNA and that Wardruna are only reviving it. But most importantly, by doing so, Wardruna manages to influence and deliver a very necessary message on how we should regard nature as something sacred, something to protect, similar to the approach of cultures past.
Coming up this weekend is the opportunity for you to watch Einar Selvik engaging in conversation and playing his music in an online event. With the Jorvik Viking’s Festival unable to take place due to CoVid 19, the alternative is a live-streamed event called “That Jorvik Viking Thing”.
Einar will be part of the event being streamed live from Norway. The founder of Wardruna will be a headliner of the festival on Saturday the 20th of February at 7:30pm GMT. A demonstration of traditional instruments will be given, he will speak about his music and play selections of his most recent works. You can book tickets for this event online at jorvikthing.com or jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk. The ticket price is £15.
Words by Marta Rebelo
Warduna’s pictures by Ragnarok Film
Einar’s quotes taken from press release, written by Kieron Tyler, March 2020