When Wardruna founder Einar ‘Kvitrafn’ Selvik says in this month’s Subterranea that “it is the runes that are the composer and I am the instrument,” and that the “instruments are alive” he’s not merely saying it for effect. With an approach that befits the mythological and pagan explorations of the music itself this, the second album in a planned trilogy of works that explore Norse wisdom, spirituality and shamanism, once again deploys the use of solemn ceremonial drums, cloven hoof percussion and field recordings of elemental sounds – trees, wind, water – as heard on predecessor Gap Var Ginnunga.
Though occupying the same mental space as the best of Norwegian black metal, Warduna are a million miles away sonically, instead preferring to create drone-based, folk-flecked musical mantras. It works to hypnotic effect. Occasionally things drift into esoteric new age territories that might inadvertently recall Enya – though as far we know Enya never collaborated with the controversial and ever-enigmatic Gaahl, once of Gorgoroth, whose portentous vocals combine perfectly with the chants and recitations of Lindy Fay Hella.
In fact, Gaahl’s rich voice was probably wasted on black metal. The ‘most evil man alive’ can clearly sing, his vocals heightening the tension created by the sonorous rumble that underpins Yggdrasil throughout. Kvitrafn’s impeccable arrangements ensure Wardruna transcend their metal associations on a powerful collection of sounds that evoke a pre-Christian age.
There’s also a discernible Celtic influence on display – understandable given the short hop across the North Sea from Norway to Scotland – though it’s the type of unnerving, adrenaline-racing horror-folk most likely heard when soundtracking cinematic human sacrifices. Wardruna tap into something primeval and are uniquely haunting.