Wardruna - Kvitravn review

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Band: Wardruna
Album: Kvitravn
Release date: January 2021

01. Synkverv
02. Kvitravn
03. Skugge
04. Grá
05. Fylgjutal
06. Munin
07. Kvit Hjort
08. Viseveiding
09. Ni
10. Vindavlarljod
11. Andvevarljod

The bards have returned.

The Nordic neofolk scene has been increasingly co-opted by metal fans in the past decade or so; when I saw Heilung in 2019, there were as many metal band t-shirts on display as at most metal gigs, and I could imagine a Forndom show is not dissimilar. This connection is most apparent with Wardruna, however; between the links between Einar Selvik (and former member Gaahl) and Gorgoroth, the collaborative projects of Selvik and Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved, and the regular inclusion of their music on the soundtrack of the TV show Vikings, Wardruna are pretty much the face of this sound from a metal fan's perspective. However, Wardruna are not a metal band, and never was that more apparent than on 2018's Skald, on which Selvik went it alone without the rest of the band and produced a record where his vocals were the primary (and at times sole) element of the music. Some people might dig this; personally, when I listen to Wardruna, I want to hear stirring instrumental ensembles, layers of vocals and epic, dramatic atmospheres. Thankfully, that's what Kvitravn provides.

The album that shares its name with Selvik's stage name from his time as Gorgoroth's drummer comes to listeners later than intended; an April 2020 release date was scrapped as a result of the pandemic, with the album postponed to January 2021. It was a long wait, but the drones, delicately picked strings and sustained first anguished cry of Selvik on opener "Synkverv" makes up for the wait. I won't try to identify and dissect the array of instruments used on Kvitravn; if my referring to the various different instruments as 'strings' and 'wind instruments' causes you pain, then I can only apologize. However, I can still enjoy the interplay of the myriad of vocals (solo and choral), melodic instruments, drones and pounding drums that appear on this track and most that follow. There's something truly enchanting about Wardruna's sound that instinctively pulls me in, and mercifully that irresistible force has not diminished in the five years since Runaljod - Ragnarok.

After the mood-setting intro track, listeners are treated with the raven croaks that introduce the title track, perhaps the most memorable song on Kvitravn. This is partly due to the increasingly prominent vocal contributions of Lindy Fay Hella, whose contrast with Selvik is something I feel is generally underutilized by Wardruna, but which elevates "Kvitravn" as the track progresses from a bass consisting of the central strings motif and steady drum beats to something altogether richer, the sound fleshing out with horns, more vocal layers and additional percussion. The subtle intensifying of the tone and fleshing out of the instrumental arrangement as a song progresses is something that Wardruna do extremely well, but "Kvitravn" may be one of the finest demonstrations of this yet.

Not all songs are as dramatic and stirring as "Kvitravn", naturally; "Skugge" does gradually build up a bit, but the first half is relatively stripped down, relying primarily on the lead vocals to carry it forwards. "Grá" is even more vocal-oriented, only featuring anything more on the instrumental side than the customary drones and drums in the last third of the song, with Selvik and Hella leading the way on this track. However, whether featuring 2 instruments or 20, each song is captivating in its own way, even if "Grá" does feel a bit short. I could try to dissect the rest of the album further, but without an intricate knowledge of the different instruments that are being employed, it's hard to give much more detail, and much of what has already been said about the first few songs applies for the rest of the record. There's no real surprises here; it's just Wardruna doing their thing and doing it well. I wouldn't say Kvitravn is quite as memorable as Runaljod - Ragnarok, nor is there something as iconic here as a track like "Helvegen" (although "Kvitravn" gets close in my opinion), but it's nevertheless a strong outing for the project.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: -
Production: 9


Written on 03.02.2021 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 1   Visited by: 79 users
05.02.2021 - 00:41
An excellent review to an excellent album.

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