Review: Wardruna – ‘Yggdrasil’

Wardruna took us on a profound spiritual journey back to ancient Norse lands with debut album ‘Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga’. The Norwegian music collective – comprised of former Gorgoroth members Kvitrafn and Gaahl and completed by Lindy Fay Hella and Hallvard Kveiveland – wanted to make something as pure as the roots of the Yggdrasil tree itself, and it has quite naturally led to the second part of the Runaljod trilogy they began in 2009.


The conceptual basis for the project – founded in 2003 by Kvitrafn, Gaahl and Hella – was to “search in the scattered ruins of Norse history and use the runes as a tool to understand and evoke the depths of the old Nordic pagan beliefs.” Certainly, Wardruna’s inspirations are still as strong as ever with this second album. ‘Runaljod – Yggdrasil’ is an utterly stunning piece of work.

The intricate musicianship of Kvitrafn on this record is extraordinary. The former Gorgoroth drummer showed that his musical prowess extends far beyond his skills behind the kit on debut album ‘Gap Var Ginnarunga’. But with ‘Yggdrasil’, he surpasses his previous work with masterful musicianship; every instrument he picks up results in spine-tingling sensations. The gentle tribal beats thump in a hypnotic rhythm from the deer-hide frame drums while the organic sounds of the tagelharpa (an ancient Nordic string harp) is an instrumental centrepiece to the album’s progression. It’s one of the most beautiful sounds on the record, and contrasted with the very subtle backing of synth and layers of euphoric choir, it makes for a unique journey into the heart of ancient Norse culture. The vocal variety of the album is essential, ranging from angelic harmonies, deep throaty singing and passionate chants – all used interchangeably to constantly refresh the experience.    Instruments like the Kravik-lyre (an old string instrument played with a pleck), the goat horn, lur and mouth harp all weave in and out of the musical fabric of this masterpiece. ‘Yggdrasil’ never feels forced or contrived; every one of these instruments have a unique purpose.

You won’t find any filler in the album, but that doesn’t mean ‘Yggdrasil’ is without peaks. Opening track ‘Rotlaust tre fell’ is an immediate favourite for its sweeping energetic chorus, whilst ‘Solringen’ is another vivacious highlight, shrouded with mysterious, Syven-like synths and steeped in a deep, beautiful sadness induced by yet more exceptional tagelharpa playing. After the incense smoke has cleared and you’ve dried yourself from the residue of soaked leaves and flaky bark, you realise something… Wardruna have done what a lot of people thought was impossible after their debut record; they’ve bettered a masterpiece and sound even better than initially thought possible.


Review originally published at SoundShock Webzine:


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