A philosophical quandary: there is an invitation-only livestreamed event where Einar Selvik will personally introduce the forthcoming Wardruna album, Kvitravn, and perform two songs from said album in a stripped-down, unique skaldic format. Given this opportunity, do you connect your conference call device to the nearest speaker system, or blow your savings on a new skyquake soundbar setup? Given the measly budgets of music journalists (never mind those of musicians themselves, post-COVID restrictions) I was forced to opt for the latter, but believe me, the tears that flowed during these performances were no less copious or genuine.
The livestream, which was chaired by the filmmaker responsible for the current mini-documentary series on Wardruna’s YouTube channel, Alexander Milias, may originally have been planned as a listening party for Kvitravn, but Einar’s enthusiasm for the record and its many themes turned the hour-long event into a Q&A, punctuated by the aforementioned live renditions.
“Never Climb the Rootless Tree,” episode 1 of Milias’ video series.
Because let’s face it, Wardruna may have enjoyed multiple long-term collaborations, from Lindy-Fae Hella to Eilif Gundersen, but Einar Selvik himself is the driving force. And it’s his deep love for the music and themes, his appreciation for the histories, and his inventive songwriting that comes across in spades. Even having left behind the runic tale-spinning of the first ‘trilogy’ of albums and the bardic tradition of 2018’s ‘live’ album, Skald, in favour of a more individual musical message tells just how personal a project Wardruna really is. While Einar himself describes the new record, Kvitravn, as a “message of hope,” based on the sacred traditions surrounding albinism in animals and the raven itself as a carrier over the bridge between worlds, this fairly lofty ideal comes through as a more down-to-earth, detail-oriented and human interpretation of the expected Wardruna subjects of longing, mysticism and primeval forces.
This profoundly personal connection to the music is seen in the album name itself – Kvitravn – which is the same as Einar’s stage name, but he is quick to emphasize that he is not the inspiration for the record. As with all prior Wardruna releases, the literal translation of ‘warden of the runes’ (runes meaning language, knowledge and musical traditions) is still front and center: Kvitravn is as much an exercise in archeology as it is in anthropology, culture or musical studies. That desire to maintain and respect Nordic history is also reinforced by the guest appearance of a choir of prominent traditional singers, spearheaded by Kirsten Bråten Berg, considered an important custodian of Norwegian traditional songs.
The title track off the record illustrates these themes perfectly.
The unmistakable sense of yearning that has also characterized the band’s discography is also firmly felt: not just in the official videos shared ahead of the album’s release but in Einar’s individual performances thereof. The first offering of the evening, a simplified take on “Munin” is a wonderful summary of what to expect from the album as a whole.
Thematically, the word itself carries multiple meanings, referring obviously to one of Odin’s twin raven attendants, but also to its very literal translation – memory. Because it’s memory that connects us to our past and memory that creates the primal tie we feel when we hear Wardruna’s music. It goes far beyond the media-based associations of the very successful tie-ins with the Vikings series, or the latest Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla video game. Wardruna speaks to a tribal genetic code that surpasses musical genres and cultural differences and presents a unifying force of emotion that is not only appreciated in these uncertain times, but is practically essential.
Kvitravn will be released on January 22nd, 2021 via Sony/Columbia (worldwide) and By Norse Music (USA/Australia). Pre-orders can be placed here: https://wardrunashop.com/pages/pre-order-kvitravn
“Grá” may have enjoyed its video release in early 2020, but this ode to the wolf in Nordic mythology is still a great taste of things to come.