Wednesday 26 October 2016

Review: Wardruna – 'Runaljod - Ragnarok'

'Runaljod - Ragnarok'

The third and final chapter in Warduna's 'Runaljod' saga arrives on the shore from out of the mist with the inevitable 'Ragnarok'. This may be the end of their hypnotic Norse Folk trilogy, but it is just the beginning for the band. Since the release of the trilogy's first instalment in 2011 with 'Runaljod - Gap Var Ginnunga' the project under the leadership of Einar 'Kvitrafn' Selvik has slowly built from a more minimalist sound to something a lot more epic in scope. And that is what '...Ragnarok' immediately hits us with. The traditional instruments, improvised sounds, ancient metres and tongue still remain at the heart of the band's sound, but there is a more considered move towards cinematic ambience.

The pace of the album returns to the meditative approach of the first release rather than the more varied '...Yggdrasil', but the dark ambient atmospheres and deeper compositions make this perhaps their most enthralling so far. 'Tyr', 'UruR', and, 'Isa' stoke ancient fires with haunting intensity as central drones and steady rhythm frame arcane chants. The two 'MannaR' tracks 'Drivande' and 'Liv' begin to increase the pace and energy of the album, utilising brighter instrumentation that leads the listener out of the darkness of night and into the light of day.

'Raido' sees the first of many stunning vocal performances with the music surrounding it with a tense dramatic veil that doesn't resort to darker tones to increase its power. 'Pertho' sees the lead vocal take the brunt of the composition with a chorus joining in periodically to bolster the light musical backing, which makes for one of the stand out performances on the trilogy. 'Odal' follows on with a tense combination of rhythm and drone that sees far more subtle and subdued vocals utilised to return to the more ambient feel of the earlier tracks. The penultimate track 'Wunjo' sees the use of children's vocals and the tense but serene atmosphere of the previous track continue into a more rounded composition. 'Runaljod' then rather aptly finishes the album, and the trilogy, in a manner that seems to tie elements from all of the albums together in a rather neat way.

The production is heavy on scope and atmosphere. There is a definite sense of the cinematic running in a more pronounced way throughout this album. The traditional acoustic instruments and styles meld well with more modern sensibilities. It maintains the accessible nature of '...Yggdrasil', yet remains faithful to the hypnotic solemnity of the band's first outing.

This is a stunning album. Warduna are a band with a lot to offer and many more ways in which they can present their concepts. The fact that this is in essence a folk album doesn't make this twee or easily dismissed by metal purists. This is in places, dark, always atmospheric, and with sense of composition that would give the progressively orientated likes of Ihsahn a run for his money. This is a fitting end to a nice trilogy of albums, but better yet, like the Ragnarok of Norse mythology, the seeds of a new beginning are planted as well.  

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