July 16, 2024

Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok    is heavy Viking music that is not of this world


Expecting thundering Scandi post-metal, instead I get atmospheric sounds and a horn blowing one note repeatedly as assembled drums pat martially and a chorus gives mystery menace. As we go on we have steady drums, pounding a tribal beat. I’ve heard similar patterns from the Anti-Atlas to Scandi-folk drone. The relentless steadiness is not only very disciplined, it is hypnotic. Lurs feature frequently, as do, inexplicably, animal noises and snuffling sounds. The lur, should you be wondering, is the bent horn pictured on a tub of Lurpak butter –the lur being the national emblem of Denmark and a feature of Scandinavian history. Which brings us, inevitably, to Vikings. How close this is to traditional music is anyone’s guess and I’d say probably not very. Despite this, this band’s music has been picked up and featured heavily in the Vikings TV series. You will also hear goat’s horns, deer-hide drums and other old instruments.

This is the third part in a trilogy and therefore the third part of the Viking alphabet, each track having been based on an interpretation of a rune. Do you need to have heard the other two parts? No. In fact, start here, this is possibly the richest part, with more of those wacky lurs and atmosphere in spades. Male choruses are solid and female ones either ethereal or, like Bulgarian choirs, shrill and curious. Despite two of the members having been in Norwegian black-metal bands, this is not rock and roll. This is carefully composed; the parts all fit and none has latitude to improvise. I hear elements of the medieval at times, in the relation of notes, before tunings were regularised and exact note intervals agreed on. I hear it, too, in the drums when they free themselves into lighter patterns, the sort of thing heard in Spanish troubadour songs.

Sometimes there is a lone voice and Raido, the sixth track, is positively melodic. Each track is distinct (of course) yet the theme and tone is consistent. It is a captivating brew and, despite a slight shiver at the thought of this being New Age idealistic Viking re-imagining, I am swept along in the romantic feeling of this concept of damp and be-furred ancient warrior folk journeying across the world.

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