Interview with Kvitrafn of Wardruna

After releasing a near-perfect debut album with ‘Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga’, conceptual Norwegian project Wardruna are ready to continue the trilogy with second instalment, ‘Runaljod – Yggdrasil’. Headed by ex-Gorgoroth drummer Kvitrafn and made complete in the studio by his ex-band-mate Gaahl, singer Lindy Fay Hella and hardanger fiddle-player Hallvard Kleiveland, the project take inspiration from the ruins of Norway’s indigenous heritage to create stirring ambient folk music. With the collective now heading to London in October, I found out more from mastermind Kvitrafn on the unique atmospherics and strong Norse concepts that beat at the heart of the band.


Firstly, second album ‘Runaljod – Yggdrasil’ is just around the corner. How did recording go?
Kvitrafn: Managing Wardruna as well as being a family man demands a lot so creating enough time and space to fully lose myself into the creative process needed for this has taken a while. So when I had the space to do so, things went very well and we are very satisfied with the outcome.

You said that a lot of the recording is done outside. How important is this when attempting to capture the right atmosphere for the recordings?
Kvitrafn: That is what the creative concept of Wardruna is about, namely to interpret the themes we are working with as much as possible on their own premises. That means to use sounds, instruments or even places that hold any relevance.

To add to the organic nature of this project, you use instruments which are hand-made by yourselves alongside other natural sounds. Have you crafted any new instruments on the new album that we didn’t hear on ‘gap var Ginnunga’?
Kvitrafn: None that I have crafted myself but I use quite a lot of an instrument called the Kravik-lyre. It is a replica of the oldest-found string instrument in Norway and it is dated to around the 1200’s.

On your website, it says that you wish to ‘evoke the depths of Norse wisdom and spirituality’.  Was there a particular moment when you realized you needed to immerse yourself in this? When did you fully realize that you needed to make music that thematically revolved around this? Was there an epiphany of sorts?
Kvitrafn: It was not a result of one specific experience or time-period but rather the sum of many factors pulling in that direction. It’s a result of me going more into the practical practice and study of Norse esoteric arts such as runes, seidr and galdr. I also felt the need for someone dealing with these subjects on their own premises. That being said, I have had a lot of epiphanies after I started working with this.

Obviously, the concepts at the heart of Wardruna are very important to the band. The runes in which you have picked out provide a thematic foundation for you to build the music on. You’ve said previously that it’s not your intention to analyze the runes from every possible angle in depth. But what was it that made you interested in specifically using the eight runes per album? Why are they essential to Wardruna and to the Runaljod trilogy?
Kvitrafn: I do my best to stick to the core also the overall purpose of the Runaljod trilogy. When searching in the scattered ruins of the Norse history I find that the runes are very good tools to shed light on different aspects of the old ways of living and viewing the world. Separating the runes into three groups is a natural thing to do and not a new idea at all but traditionally they are separated in a different way than I am using. The runes are put in an order that suits the purpose of Runaljod and that tells the ‘story’ I wish to tell.

How does Wardruna shape the important concepts on offer into the music and find the right precious atmosphere for each set of lyrics?
Kvitrafn: My inspiration for creating the lyrics are sometime derived from my own experiences but also I use old rune-poems and poetic metres found in skaldic poetry for inspiration.

You said that you fasted for two days before the vocal recordings and went walking up a snowy mountain with little garments on, in order to prepare yourself for it. You were keen to explore this juxtaposition between ‘the fire that takes life and the fire that gives life’. It seems that Wardruna are delving back to the very roots of nature in our human experience; life, death and the beautiful yet often-overlooked foundations of our existence. How did your fasting and walking help construct an atmosphere for the album? In hindsight, was it an effective method and would you use it again?
Kvitrafn: Fasting as a method to reach a higher state of mind is not unusual in esoteric approaches to these types of themes and can lead to some quite profound experiences. The example you mention here was quite extreme but fasting is a method I practice from time to time.

Do you think that humanity has become overly apathetic as a result of their materialist comforts? If so, how does civilization begin to bring back some of the ways of old?
Kvitrafn: Well I think that some people have throughout the whole of time been apathetic as well as overly materialistic. This is no new phenomenon so I don’t think old ways would necessarily play much difference.

Do you think humanity is doomed to exhaust the world of resources and destroy themselves?
Kvitrafn: It’s hard to say but there is a slight possibility that something like that might happen but lets hope not.

On your website, you say that you want to be ‘sowing new seeds and strengthening old roots’. Putting these thoughts into action, do you want to challenge people’s beliefs with Wardruna’s music or do you simply wish to offer something for listeners who are already interested in exploring the old Norse ways?
Kvitrafn: First of all I want to say that I think that Wardruna operate in a Norse symbolic and lyrical universe; the overall themes that we work with are quite universal and relevant to most people regardless of the age, cultural or social background they might have. Wardruna is not about re-enactment or the thought that everything was better in old times but rather show people that there are things forgotten that are worth remembering; things that are just as relevant today as they were in ancient times. A tree with no roots will fall.

To what extent is Wardruna a project that calms and cleanses each band member in a cathartic way?
Kvitrafn: I can´t really comment on what personal experience the others might have when performing but I can at least say that the others – like me – feel that performing with Wardruna has a very special feeling to it that is hard to compare to other stuff we have done.

Humanity has technologically developed at a rapid pace in the last few hundred years, but it seems we have perhaps left behind and forgotten a lot of important values. Greed has taken over our sense of brotherhood and compassion. Would you agree? What do you think we have lost from these times?
Kvitrafn: Like I said before, I think that it is not necessarily the human nature that has changed but rather the consequences of our actions and lifestyles that has become of more catastrophic proportions. Western society in general has lost or forgotten our place and relation to nature I would say.

Some indigenous cultures can relate to one other across the world in many different ways. To a certain extent, many of them have common ground for the fact that their culture has been crushed by foreign invaders or oppressive powers. Would you say that some of Norse culture can relate to other cultures like the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas in this way?
Kvitrafn: Yes, this has sadly been the tactics of several of the biggest salvation-religions and theocracies for thousands of years. All of the native European paganistic cultures were annihilated by Christianity and more or less totally lost so yes I totally relate to all of these cultural miss-happenings.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Kvitrafn: At the moment there are a lot of planning going on both for new projects, collaborations and concert activity but sadly not much I can talk about just yet.  We will of course work on promoting our new music.

‘Runaljod – Yggdrasil’ is out on Indie.

Interview initially published at SoundShock Webzine:


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