Runaljod – Ragnarok

It’s been a busy year for Einar Selvik. In March, he, along with collaborator Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved, unveiled Skuggsjá — a piece of music created to celebrate Norway’s 200th Birthday, as commissioned by the Norwegian Constitution. This was followed by a series of immersive concerts where Enslaved – currently celebrating their 25th anniversary – and Selvik’s band since 2003, Wardruna, came together under the banner of By Norse, a platform for Nordic art, music and culture.

Finding time to add percussion and vocals to a song for doom the band Sahg – as well as forge his own career as a soundtrack composer on the hit TV series, Vikings – he has finally completed a project begun seven years ago when Wardruna released their debut album, Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga. Set to be a trilogy, Selvik was inspired by the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark, a proto-Nordic language. Runaljod – Yggdrasil followed in 2013 and now Runaljod – Ragnarök is upon us. Named for the apocalyptic battle in Norse legend that left just two surviving humans to repopulate the world, this third offering from Wardruna is not the hope-bereft, thundering climax you would expect from the name, nor the ominous war cries and drums that begin the album. Selvik himself will protest the idea that he is a black metal musician – and we are inclined to agree: although he was a key member of Gorgoroth and as such Wardruna has been embraced by the scene, Wardruna is a musical exploration that goes beyond genres, becoming more an auditory experience that is both hypnotic and evocative.

The study of runes allows deeper understanding of the world on both a mundane and spiritual level and with each piece of music, Selvik presents each rune – whether it be the glacial minimalism under the siren-esque vocals of Selvik’s collaborator Linda-Fay Hella on Isa [ice], the uplifting drive of Rhaido (journey), or childlike comfort of Odal (homeland) – as if giving the listener a sonic seminar in this esoteric language. Wardruna is not the first of the black metal godfathers to step away from caustic cacophony to explore outré and arcane sounds, Emperor’s Samoth did it with Hagalaz’ Runedance and Ihsahn with Hardingrock, but Wardruna have the benefit of being active in 2016, where Scandinavian history and a human desire to get back to its roots is unmistakably chic.

Pulling from Vangelis’ Blade Runner and Nordic saxophonist Jan Garbarek (whose 1990 ECM album I Took Up The Runes is a perfect partner to Ragnarök), as much as Selvik’s black metal past, some of the songs presented here would have fit perfectly on any of those ’90s compilation CDs that featured Enigma, Enya and that song from the British Airways adverts, but will equally transfix and entrance any hardened heathen. If Ragnarök is among us, let’s hope the two surviving humans are Selvik and Hella. There is hope a-plenty with those two.

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