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17 Nov 2010

Review: Runaljod ~ Gap Var Ginnunga (Wardruna)

Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga
Indie Recordings, 2009

Runa means mystery, and to me the word mystery conjures a dark, cloud-stained horizon, a pregnant foreboding, a sense of awe in the face of the wilds of nature. This album is an exploration of the spirit of the runes (eight of them to be exact), and insofar as it evokes exactly these same images…I have to pronounce it a brilliant success.

Despite the black metal background of several of Wardruna’s members, this music bears little resemblance to metal, excepting insofar as it shares black metal’s ability to evoke the misty horizon of mystery. The music is woven from repetitive beats, layers of droning tones (flutes, keyboards, and who knows what else), and some very powerful singing. It brings to bear traditional European musical forms, elements of what I would call “world fusion,” and also more modern music production techniques.

Thus we have the mournful ecstasy of Hardanger fiddle; a range of percussive forms that take down-tempo or world-fusion in a very organic, primal direction; and vocals that range from powerful recitations (almost like runic rapping) through to some compelling throat singing (which again sends the aesthetic and appeal of this very Northern album’s reach well beyond the borders of Europe).

The music is intensely ritualistic, with cycling rhythms and circling patterns of drone and melody subtly building to intense effect. It easily draws the listener into trance, head nodding gently, feet stamping, wordless chants on lips. As waves of naturalistic samples, chimes, mouth harp, horns, and throat-sung runes caress the listener’s ears a sense of mythic time becomes all-enveloping.

Therein lies the genius of this album: in fusing traditional and non-traditional elements Wardruna have afforded themselves the perfect musical toolkit for invoking a mythic sense of history. This distillation of mystery conjures an epoch that almost never was…yet one that always seems to hover nearby, ineluctable but palpable, if we can but still our minds for a moment.

Otherworldly yet earthy, dream-like yet compelling – this album gathers paradoxes with a deft touch, drawing us away into the depths of ancient memory. The passion, reverence, and sincerity of its treatment of something as sacred as the runes is to be greatly admired, and this album is pretty much a must-own for anyone interested in the pre-Christian roots of Europe (and for everyone, really).

The best part is that Wardruna have promised this to be the first in a trilogy of albums, so we can be virtually assured that we can look forward to much more of this brilliant band’s creative output.

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