Album Review: Wardruna „Runaljod – Yggdrasil”

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Album Review: Wardruna „Runaljod – Yggdrasil”

Wardruna „Runaljod – Yggdrasil”

Where to start? How about Norway? And how about an album of songs and acoustic music about ancient runes, with rhythms based on the drumming that would accompany ancient poems and stories.

Runes are very old and part of a whole culture, not an entity in themselves. Runes have been hugely abused and misinterpreted by the new age movement (such a shame that genuinely fascinating and perhaps important ideas should have been so mistreated by a bunch of charlatans that make the worst excess of the hi-fi industry look positively wholesome). At this point my understanding fails and I’m left to try and describe the extraordinary music that Wardruna make.

First of all, how to classify it? It’s a mixture of traditional instruments, drums and voices. The rhythms are hypnotic and absolutely accessible, the melodies relatively simple and held by the beats of open frame drums. The songs are chanted and unless you are fluent in Norwegian, be grateful for the English translations. What appears on the page as profound on occasion is markedly more so when sung. The fact that they’re in a foreign language is unimportant, there is darkness and mystery but also a sense of familiarity and comfort. How strange that an album like this should sound so immediately familiar, and yet against that familiarity is that listening is both fascinating and thrilling but never uncomfortable. Ambient and dense, simple and very complex, capable of creating an extraordinary mood, one that most music doesn’t come near to.

There’s something unique to Scandinavian music and it’s mostly noticeable in the numerous metal bands. Get past the noise and the lyrics and there are melodies that have far more to do with a Scandinavian musical past than they do with western rock music. There is also a strong sense of movement and progression, a willingness to explore and experiment. If you ripped this album, there’s a good chance it’s going to come up under the metal genre – it isn’t. What it is for anyone who wants to explore rather than content themselves with the familiar is an extraordinary trippy and compulsive set of songs and music. It’s a piece rather than a collection and nothing breaks the mood; beats and rhythms run into each other and birdsong and wolf howls (a lot of the album was recorded in the open air) add to the intensity of the chanting. This a journey of exploration that if you wish you can share, and you should, music like this doesn’t happen very often and if it does, very rarely is it this accessible or this well recorded. It does have more than a degree of magic about it; it will change the mood and atmosphere of the space you listen to it in and it is both fascinating and profound.

Right now there’s a lot of good music around, but it so often references the past forty years of popular music. So when something new comes along, grab it. When I was young, the sense of discovery and the new was so exciting, the times you’d have to play first one side then the other – and then the other side again because what you were hearing was so new and so exciting. Keeping that thrill as you grow older is hard but albums like this will show you something different; somewhere new to explore, in every way a new landscape to discover.  Nigel Finn




Album Reviews


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