Wardruna – An In Depth Interview With Brilliant Norwegian Band With Viking Roots Music
A band dressed as heathens or Viking minstrels are connecting with the internal drone of a long lost culture and nature itself. The music is mesmerising and like nothing else- two male vocalists sing dark, impassioned melodies whilst a woman lets her voice soar to the sky. The music is played on ancient viking instruments made by the band themselves- thudding rhythms on animal hides, strange horns and droning sounds- it’s powerful and it’s hypnotic, beautiful and dark and stunningly original.
This is Wardruna, who emerged from the Norwegian black metal undergrowth and took the animistic paganism of the form and went off on a tangent that has been a surprising big hit in Norway and the festival circuit and who are now coming to the UK for the first time with a gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on October 24. This is a show, like their two albums, that you cannot afford to miss.
The gig details for the Wardruna show is here.
Wardruna means the sound of the runes and their hypnotic and powerful music is amongst the most original out there at the moment.
Louder Than War caught up with Wardruna mainman Einer Kvitrafn Selvik at his home in Bergen where he explained everything about the group, the concept and their roots in black metal and further back into ancient Norwegian culture and a pre christian religion and culture of the runes of the mystical Elder Futark that has never been totally destroyed.
Louder Than War: Will the Wardruna gig in London be the same kind of thing as when we saw you in Oslo? That was an amazing night.
Einar: ‘It will follow similar lines but I think every show we do is different and has a different energy but it will along those lines. I see a gig as a two way dialogue and every show is different in a sense. I like to sort of communicate with the places I play in and the audience as well. I really looking forward to the London show, the setting will suit us very well and it will be great to play in front of a British audience for the first time.’
I read somewhere that you make up your music in your head when you are out walking and get inspired by the surrounding nature of Norway.
‘It is true that most of the music I write when I am out walking. That is where I very often hear it in my head or see it and I paint the rough pictures in my mind and then I go into the process of recreating that in a physical sense. Walking, especially in nature, is a huge source of inspiration to me and a tool that I basically use because it has proven to be very efficient and very easy for me to work with. On the other hand, it’s not only nature- sometimes it can be the lack of nature like when I am in a big city. That can be an inspiration, somehow it helps me to see nature more clearly as well.’
This sounds great, Where do you walk!!
“When I am traveling I can be in a different part of the world and sometimes that can strangely make me feel more like I’m in Norway but of course nature has a big impact on the music I make . It is always so connected and so tied together with so many things that I am singing about and the themes like man’s relationship to nature and nature itself and our relationship to each other and to something bigger than yourself are all part of it.’
Is this where Heathenism comes in? And are you an Asatru- a type of Norwegian heathen?
It’s the whole polytheistic thing that I am I into and also to the animistic thought that everything is alive and has its own unique energy and this is a big cornerstone of Wardruna. You can say I am a practicing Asatru but I am not sure I would define my personal belief into any specific system.
In Norway and some other countries Asatru is a recognised belief system that can marry people officially and perform funerals. I am a member of the Norwegian Asatru fellowship but I would not exactly define myself as an Asatru because I doubt one did in the early days as well because any nature belief is so bound by nature and the surroundings that you live in. That is the whole point, your whole belief system is not that all the great gods are important,u what is just as important is what is relevant to you in your life and the nature that you live in. The nature spirits, basically the old gods are images and manifestations of these different natures and human archetypes and elements.’
Is Asatru an all encompassing version of heathenism or one strand?
I would say that any polytheistic belief is very personal. You can’t compare it to Christianity- where you have more or less one direction. In any heathen belief system it is more individual to what is important to you and what is important in your life. There is no ‘one way’, some fear Odin- some praise Odin. In Asatru it is about your personal relationship with nature and your surroundings.’
How long you been into this? Was it there in the Norwegian Black metal scene that you came from because there seems to be an interest in that culture in the music?
I would say that the metal approach to heathenism, at least in Norway, is not very spiritually founded. It is more of an artistic thing or at least it used to be. There is no real connection between Asatru and Viking metal bands, but for me, personally, my approach to black metal has not got anything to do with Satanism or that’s sort of stuff, for me it’s seems more like a resistance to the state church in Norway or at least that’s what it used to be.
I’m more into talking about what I see as correct, rather than talking about everything which is not correct or good. I prefer talking about what I do believe in, rather than what I don’t believe in. It is a more fruitful thing.’
You virtually grew up in the Black metal scene, were you always moving toward this rootsy almost folk music? And is black metal itself a kind of folk music reacting to its environment?
Yeah I was always interested in the folk element but maybe not as extremely as it turned out! Ever since I made music from when I was 13/14 uI wanted to move to my roots and that has always been a huge source of inspiration for me. I always imagined that at least I wanted to move in that direction. I made my approach with the runes and the old poetry to the old traditions and it became more practical that I needed to do something like Wardruna and the need became bigger and bigger. In the end it was not something I wanted to, it was something I had to do and that feeling is still very strong. This is not something I played with. It had to be done. It’s very personal. I really feel very passionate about it.
What come first? The music or the runes? Or the Elder Frutark?
The runes have been part of my life for a long time. I started reading about them when I was 13 and luckily I was pointed in the right direction which was not in the British and American rune books, which are basically bullshit and haven’t got anything to do with the original use of runes. Basiaclly what they did in the late seventies was that they sort of took the Elser Frutrak, which is the set of runes we know least about and that makes a lot of room for personal interpretation and what they did was that they mixed the runes with kabala, tarot cards, astrology etc into a direction which has very little to do with real rune magic. If you are going into it properly you will see that all of these books and systems are so covered by the personal perception of the people that wrote and they should be read with extreme caution.
They are more likely to confuse you than educate you.
The runes have been working with me for the better part of my life and I still feel like a young novice when I come to them. It is also a great puzzle because the amount of knowledge we have on them is so sparse. If people want to learn about the runes they should find out the theories behind them and then go into the older part of them.’
Do they contain more magic and depth than a normal alphabetical system.
Einar : ‘I would say that the magic is far less magical than people tend to believe. I think people imagine that the rune magic is more like Harry Potter and that’s not the case and it’s really complex but the power of your voice and the world were a very important part of old Norse magic. The words and also the power of repetition and your voice are all great parts of it and that’s what makes up the word rune. It can mean a letter or a symbol. It can be graphical, a symbol- it can also mean knowledge, it can mean a secret, it can mean a magical sound, a confidential conversation – every time you see the word rune in an old text, it can mean any number of these things. People today only focus on the symbol and the symbol itself does not contain magic, it contains a symbolic value but the belief that people have of them of being magical has nothing to do with the old approach to it.’
Is it the sound, the look or the hidden meanings that inspire the music?
You could say that in some ways the runes are the composer and I’m the instrument. I would say it’s the words, the names of them and the symbolic value that inspire me. My approach is to go to the core of it and interpret it as much as I can to their own premiss by complimenting sounds and instruments. I would try to record in interesting places and with the setting and conditions that have a relevance to what I’m working with.
I’m trying to interpret them on their own premise and that was what I was missing before with other people working with Norse thematics.
Your use of old instruments is fascinating. You have had to recreate many of them from scratch…
‘At that point when I started there was hardly anyone working with the old instruments and the information about them was really difficult to get hold of. To make some of instruments I had to make them myself. Luckily there was a few people left making them to help. In the the last five to ten years it has started to grow and people are starting to make these instruments again which is a good thing.
I don’t think I ever intended that I would have to learn all of these instruments when I started. It was difficult to find musicians to play them so the best thing was to do it yourself which has been very much in the spirit of Wardruna. It’s been a do it yourself process from the start. The first album was the first album I recorded and produced myself after playing in other bands and it’s been a long process of learning and it now sort of feels like an institution on many different levels.
Just how do you recreate old instruments? is it by looking at old pictures and guessing what they looked and sounded like?
Luckily we have old finds in Norway. In some way I guess that what I’m doing is searching through the ruins to recreate history. When it comes to the instruments it’s a big puzzle. What I’m doing is not reenactment. It’s not trying to be vikings again. It’s not about being authentic. It’s more about creating the right atmosphere and the right feeling and energy. I don’t thinks it’s roots for the sake of being your roots, that is not necessarily that important. What I’m saying is that there are lots of things from your own past gathering dust that are just as important today as they were 1500 years ago.
It’s more about sewing new seeds and strengthening old roots because a tree without roots will fall.
There are lots of things from our past which could stay in the past because they are not relevant today but that being said, there are tons of things from the past that are just as relevant today like when it comes to our relationship to nature and the things that are bigger than yourself. To do it exactly like a 1000 years ago would be far less interesting. The fact is that I make the music for the people who are alive to today at this time and that makes it more interesting. We have lost the old songs so we need to recreate them again for now but if you go to Viking markets and festivals where the reenactment things are going on you hear some mediaeval ballads which I find personally not so interesting and it’s quite a strange thing. It sets a sort of atmosphere that is not what I mean to do with Wardruna.
Norway has strong fascination with this culture why is that?
I think I would like to disagree with you there. I don’t think there is a large interest. Sadly the main reason for that is the lack of good information because of the way you learn about these things in schools. The way you learn about it in Norway makes it impossible to take it seriously. It is always simplified and has very little to do with the reality. There are so many things that are lost but I do agree that things are about to change. You can feel it. People are rediscovering these old things more now, but we also have to remember we live in the same place as then in many ways.
Norwegians like dark music and melancholy and there are a lot of things like that, that are deep in the culture. You can find this in the old culture, in the poetry and songs and in that sense we still have the same thing and that’s part of the reason that a lot of things from the past are just as relevant today. We are still part of the same nature as then and that’s part of what makes it relevant still.
Black metal itself, reflected those feelings in the music and was a folk music in a sense?
Well Norwegian nature is very harsh. It can be very dark and, of course, this affects our art, our music and our mindset. So I think we are quite good at finding beauty in the darkness here in Norway. You can see it in the old folk musics that there are these dark elements with trolls and nature spirits and different types of things been real big part of the thematic. Some of the oldest Harania people have songs with melodies in Norway that are really really grim and quite monotonous. There is a clear link between the old early black metal and the old folk music in the musical part as well as the lyrics and conceptual parts.
What makes some people in Norway so in touch with these roots, is it because it’s a long country with isolated communities? The dark weather? The fact that the christians got there late and that it has not been ‘civilized’ yet!
In that sense it is interesting to define the word ‘civilized’ but you have a point. Norway is a vast country with 4.5 million people living in it all spread out and you have some very isolated communities. That being said it’s really sad to say that a lot of the old knowledge dies with the old generation now because people are moving into the cities more and more. A lot of the old trades and traditions are closing down and basically people are not picking up on all of the threads. A lot is being lost and will be lost within the next 50 years.
Initially Wardruna was just you and you brought in the other people, was it because they were fascinating characters like Gahl – the controversial singer from Gorgoroth or because they fitted the sounds you heard in your head?
I got to know Gahl when I started playing in Gorgoroth in 1999. We connected very well because he is the most pagan person I have ever met. So when I started working more and more with the idea for Wardruna he was the person I discussed the conceptual aspects with and could thrown off ideas off. We also had the plan ever since the start that he would contribute vocally as well when that time came.
I also brought in Lindy to sing because I knew her from Bergen. She has a really unique, unpolished but very beautiful voice that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
On the latest album, both Gahl and Lindy have been working much closer in the creative process than the first one.
I would say that if you listen to the first album you can notice that there is progression thought the album itself and I feel that progression continues into this new album. It’s also more into the poetic- the old poetic meters and I wrote the lyrics in those old poetic meters and also get inspiration from the rhythms that they contain, they have quite complex rhythms to them. I tried to use that in this album and I feel that it is more complex and a bit bigger in sound as well. I feel that it fits with the overall concepts of the album. The first album was about creation and sewing a seed and this album is about making that seed grow and strengthening its roots. It’s more about growth and the first album is about creation.
I read that Wardruna was about making a trilogy of albums about the runes.
I feel that the trilogy is one project I’m working with and I feel that this is just the beginning. I’ve got tons of ideas and projects that I want to do afterwards with Wardruna…this is just a beginning…