Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik has had an extremely busy year, devoted entirely to his musical output and his complete focus on contributing towards some of the most authentic Viking-related music you’ll likely hear for a long time. Firstly, there was his distinctively outstanding collaboration with Ivar Bjornson (Enslaved) on Skuggsjá’s exemplary experimental output, first live but then later released under a studio pseudonym entitled A Piece for Mind and Mirror. The live rendition of this opus was originally meant for a fitting soundtrack centring on the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution, and it did an absolutely brilliant job. Then there was a spectacular headlining set from Wardruna at the recent Midgardsblot festival, where artists devoting their time to the celebration and fanaticism regarding viking lore were invited to perform and inspire. The very fact that Wardruna were chosen to perform as headliner for such an outstanding festival simply shows how vital bands like this are in the modern world.
Alas, Einar Selvik had one final thing to tick off his list for 2016, and of course this was the release of the much anticipated final part of the “Runaljod” trilogy, entitled Ragnarok, and just like its predecessors, it wastes no time in bringing forth a vibrant, effervescent musical journey through viking lore’s unforgettable past. On the previous two parts of “Runaljod”‘s trilogy, Selvik had experimented and crafted certain sounds which would be remembered if not for their musical accuracy or vocal harmony, then certainly for their relevance to the subject at hand. Ragnarok has thus taken this to the next level, and engaged in a more tense albeit still relatively settling affair.
Whilst it is certainly hard to at first connect with this album’s convincing display of authentic musicianship, Ragnarok seems to have a vibrant, energetic quality throughout which is maintained without filler or hesitation. Strangely enough, it’s the calmer, more ethereal songs here which seem stronger and connect with the listener easier, prime examples being “UruR” and “Pertho”. However, this isn’t to say that the louder counterparts aren’t as important: they definitely are, but in different ways and perhaps it’s because of this that the listener may find it hard to concentrate fully. The musicianship at all times however is an engaging, rhythmic display of emotional power, and you can certainly sense this from the differing levels of tension used for certain folk instruments such as horns, harps and flutes-all performed by Selvik. The instrumentation is generally very cohesive too, despite its sometimes clumsy sense of accuracy in songs such as “Mannar-Liv”, meaning that the consistency is broken apart slightly in favour of a rawer emotional outbreak. That said, the instrumental work in Ragnarok has certainly been concentrated enough to remain filler-free.
Ragnarok‘s true power however remains in its vocal usage, and there’s quite a lot to ponder with this particular aspect of the recording. Selvik’s own voice is maintained to deliver a calm albeit direct and passionate performance, untouched by the surrounding instrumentation. The same can be said for accompanying vocalist Lindy Fay Hella, whose soaring vocal prowess proves to be as creative and mesmerising but in different ways. Most of the time however, these two distinctive voices are not isolated to one another: rather, they work in conjunction to create a dual-vocal performance which is most of the time, outstanding to say the least. Take “Isa” for example, the first song to separate both vocal styles. Whilst both members of the band don’t harmonise at the same time, they do prove suitable connections to each other, taking turns to complement one another’s delivery and bringing a sense of cohesion to the mix. It’s not just Selvik or Hella however, who provide vocal input. There’s even a children’c choir to be found in “Wunjo”, which is deep-rooted in emotional power and sonic brilliance. The addition of such a choir is inspirational to say the least, and certainly tugs heartstrings because of the sheer energy emanating from the recording. Indeed, the vocal work on Ragnarok is near flawless.
Ragnarok is a beautiful end to an already excellent trilogy, complementing its predecessors in more ways than you’d think. Whilst the album is more powerful in the vocal department than instrumentally, it never fails to deliver a cohesive performance and that is exactly what is expected of Wardruna at this stage in their career. Selvik has crafted a magnum opus which, whilst not perfect, isn’t far from being hailed as one of the finest records of 2016. It is an album which should be heard without distractions, in order to engage with the experience properly.
Released: October 21st, 2016