Label: Indie Recordings
Review by Alessandra Cognetta
Wardruna’s “gap var Ginnunga” is the first album from their “Runaljod” trilogy. The album was first released in 2009, but in May 2014 it was re-published in a variety of vinyl formats through Indie Recordings. If you’ve ever watched the TV show “Vikings”, you may recognize a lot of the songs on “gap var Ginnunga”, since Wardruna’s music was heavily drawn upon for the soundtrack of both seasons. But Wardruna’s music is much more than that. This incredible project is a manifesto of Norway’s rich musical and cultural tradition, as all songs are recorded and performed with old (sometimes even rare) Nordic instruments and using the throat singing technique, a peculiar style of many countries’ folk tradition. The lyrics make no exception – you will find Norwegian, but also Old Norse and Proto-Norse. The really striking feature of Wardruna’s work is, however, that the “Runaljod” trilogy is based on the elder Futhark, a series of 24 runes, each with a specific meaning, with themes ranging from ancient gods, nature and landscapes, to everyday life.
The album title itself helps us dive into this mystic journey: “gap var Ginnunga” refers to the b, which was all that existed before the universe was born. This great gap is also the place where Odin first found the runes and learnt about them. He then shared their meaning with gods and humans, so here we are, literally starting right at the beginning with “Ár Var Alda”. This track is the perfect introduction, setting the atmosphere with the looping violin notes and the sound of rain and thunder and it feels like a calling from a very remote place. The following song is “Hagal”, the rune whose meaning is “Hail”. The unrelenting rhythm of the rain is marked by the drum, while a faint voice whispers the lyrics in our ears. The rain turns into streaming water in “Bjarkan”, “birch”, where traditional instruments pave the way for the alternation between male chants in the first half, and a beautiful, uplifting crescendo sang by Lindy Fay Hella. Next is “Løyndomsriss”, released as a digital single before the publication of the vinyl and one of the most chilling tracks of the whole album, able to create an incredible atmosphere with a few elements combined.
“Heimta Thurs” and “Thurs” follow, introducing the rune reconstructed from the Germanic “Thurisaz” with the meaning of “giant”. It is not the only meaning, but since it’s not my place to focus on runology, you can check Wardruna’s website for a list of recommended readings on the subject. The most striking feature of this two songs is the use of male vocals and how the sound transition into a chaotic mix of voices and, eventually, an almost deafening humming. It’s probably one of the more interesting aspects of what Wardruna tries to achieve with “gap var Ginnunga”, a sound rising from the very core of the human being. A definitely more quiet voice leads us into “Jara”, “harvest”, where chanting voices express their hopes for a good summer and thank for the harvest. The hope for a favourable season is reflected by the merrier mood of the music, and birds can be heard singing in the background. The gentle flow of the water once again marks the beginning of a song, “Laukr” (“lake”), and this time supports the male choir for the whole duration of the song. The constant use of looping chants adds to the mystic intent of the music, making the listener feel part of a ritual. Throat singing is used in shamanic ceremonies, for example. The strong wind fends off the “torch” of “Kauna”, another song where the horn plays an important role in building an evocative musical experience. The rune “Algir” is featured in two songs, probably the peak of the album, especially for the haunting vocals and the rich instrumental arrangement. The album is closed by “Dagr”, “day”, a beautiful ode to the sun and its power to bring life with its presence and death with its absence.
It’s difficult to comment or even just describe Wardruna’s music, as, in my opinion, it’s unavoidably tied to the listener’s experience, as it inspires feelings and images that are almost transcending, at times. With old and apparently rudimental instruments, which in fact have still a lot to tell us with their sounds, and lyrics that are completely incomprehensible for most of us, Wardruna manages to build a unique, otherworldly atmosphere that will awaken the interest of the most skeptic listener. For those who already have some sort of appeal towards Norway and its culture, mythology and language, “gap var Ginnunga” is proof that the runes, one way or another, still hold an incredible power even today.
Rating – 90/100
- Ár var alda
- Heimta Thurs
- Algir – Stien klarnar
- Algir – Tognatale
- Lindy Fay Hella – Vocals
- Gaahl – Vocals
- Hallvard Kleiveland – Hardanger fiddle
- Kvitrafn – Vocals and all other instruments and sounds