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Wardruna
Gap Var Ginnunga John Robb , April 22nd, 2010 06:46

In the eigth century the Vikings slashed and burned their way across Europe. They have continued to haunt the UK psyche ever since, imagined as the marauders who fucked and fought their way through our coastal communities dressed in strange costumes, long hair flowing in the wind, churches blazing in their wake.

Modern Norway has had a scene of black metal bands who indulged in the same sort of wild behaviour. Some of them still do - but others have gone back to their musical roots. The Vikings, it turns out, were not quite the psychopaths that the cowering, quaking Brits have painted them as. They had a strong, discernable culture and their own music. In a brilliant twist members of Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth have made a record that incorporates ancient Norse instruments with songs that are built around the atmospheres of the Runes- the ancient pre-Latin alphabet of Norway.

Wardruna have released a stunning album in Gap Var Ginnunga, the first in a planned trilogy. Each album will explore eight runes, with each song in a way that represents the atmosphere around the rune -including sound recorded in the middle of a wood, or standing in a fast-running stream. Phew! A bit more interesting than guitar, bass and drums indie plodders and nowhere near as Spinal Tap as it sounds.

It’s not often these days that you get to hear a record that both confuses and entrances you in such a way. This a compelling record that pulls you into its damp and powerful atmospheres that smell of old wood and dense forests with a sound that is like nothing you have ever heard before.

Rising from the Norwegian black metal outfit Gorgoroth, Wardruna have reached further back than the usual 60s and 70s roots of rock music and deep into history to ancient Nordic folk music. They bring back the spirit of the Norseman with instruments such as deer-hide frame drums, mouth harp, cloven hoof rattles from deer and goat, bone flute, horns, Hardanger fiddle and bowed lyres. 

This also use even more unconventional inputs like trees, stones, water, fire which are also employed to enhance the nature of the rune being ‘portrayed’. This is clearly not boy/girl indie music and it does lead to some dark areas. Backing vocalist Gaahl has made some uncomfortable opinions known to the press in the distant past, perhaps in an attempt to shock and awe or perhaps in a moment of stupidity - views that he may have now grown out of. Since being released from prison vocalist has recently come out and won Gay of the Year in Bergen, confounding the metal scene who don’t often do that kind of man to man love thing.

Meanwhile the music is powerful, affecting and strange - a very dark folk music driven by Kvitrafn (Einar Selvik), and Gaahl’s sonorous vocals and demonic stage presence. His dark gravel voice contrasts amazingly with the female vocals of the stunning Lindy Fay Hella, whose voice soars and is one of the best female singers to appear for years - if she could make a solo album that was half decent her singing will stick her into the top ten across Europe.

Kvitrafn's roots in Norwegian black metal bands are hardly hinted at here. The music is dark and brooding neo-folk that sound like no-one else. The way he takes this difficult music and those esoteric instruments - many of which he has to make himself and makes them into tangibly atmospheric and haunting music is pure brilliance. There is no American influence- all this is a genuine European music with all the historical resonance and darkness that entails. Wardruna are one of the most fascinating bands that I have heard for a long time. They are perhaps like a Scandinavian version of Laibach - they have the same dark smarts and originality, the same sort of interest in European folk musics and a pre-Christian heritage lost in the mists of time and create the same sort of intense internet debate about their ideas.

Confusingly they don’t even sound anything like Laibach or a bunch of marauding Vikings- they don’t sound like anybody at all. You haven’t lived till you have felt the power of the goat horn.

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