On January 22, 2021, the Norwegian folk band Wardruna released its highly anticipated album, Kvitravn. As a die-hard fan, I have been waiting for this moment since they announced it’s release in 2019, and then announced it’s pushed-back date for release due to the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. In addition to this delayed-release, they rescheduled their entire 2020 tour, which meant that many fans would have to wait even longer to experience the magic of their music live. Despite all of these setbacks, however, Wardruna released four songs ahead of the scheduled release: Grá, Kvitravn, Andvevarljod, and Skugge. The staggered release schedule not only provided the listeners with content to experience and build interest for Kvitravn and Wardruna but a chance to get used to the new sound.
The album begins with Synkverv, a song that invites the listener to take the spirit-world journey that includes themes of animism, nature, and mythology. Beginning the album with this lively song indeed draws the listener in and prepares them for the following songs. As those who have followed Einar Selvik since his time in Gorgoroth know, his own stage name was “Kvitravn”, however, this titular song is not entirely about him. It draws from the concept of white ravens and their connection to the spirit world, as well as the lessons and gifts they bring to those who honor their presence in the modern world. The messages within each of the songs draw an aspect of the album to light, not dwelling upon one subject for too long. The timing was absolutely perfect on every single song. Some songs had me wanting more, and that’s an indication that it was executed with fidelity.
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Einar Selvik is nothing if not a master storyteller. With purposeful planting of sounds, instruments, and harmonies, he brings insight and is able to put the listener in any mood he chooses, whether it’s deeply introspective or inspired to dance.
“Whether the given song is about traditions, spirituality, philosophy or other esoteric subjects, there should always be a potential of learning something,” he explains. “… yet the knowledge that is not served as overly explained truths, but rather in abstract images and hints that inspire the listener to seek their own understanding–much like the way Old Norse poetry deals with esoteric matters.”
If you consider the fact that Einar is a master storyteller and also undoubtedly musically gifted, then it’s obvious why this category [Technical Execution] has a perfect score.
Skugge, which has only been released for a week, feels like a call to your spirit or shadow, and the skill of the musicians on this track (along with Viseviding) inspired my feet to tap along animatedly. A great example of the interweaving of the “old” with the “new” is Munin, which begins and ends much like the skaldic poetry in the previous album, Skald. The song drops into a deeper, more immersive sound that touches the soul, and calls back to the music from Runaljod-Ragnarok. Vindavlarljod is another song that inspires with its sound. Despite some cadences being predictable, I found it more comforting than the unexpected. There is power in predictability, and Wardruna does not fail to deliver.
This is the one album I will insist that people listen to with headphones or earphones. This is only because of the little intricacies that can be detected by close listening and lost when heard in a car or over a speaker. Now, this is not to say the audio production is bad. In fact, it is so precise and so detailed that I was glad I heard it with my AirPods for the first time. There are no distractions in Kvitravn, just deep layers that bring the music to life that continue to surprise even the closest of listeners.
As far as song variety goes, every single song on Kvitravn was diverse; each individually painted pictures of the titular topics. As for me, I visualize as I listen to music, and not a single song on the album painted the same soundscape or evoked the same feeling. For context, the album ends with the already-released Andvevarljod, which is Wardruna’s second-longest song to date. To say that this song is just the ending to what is already a fantastic album would be absolutely incorrect. Andvevarljod — which has a distinct beginning, middle, and end — paints a beautiful picture all on its own, and Einar Selvik’s true ability to write songs that tell a story is fully displayed on this last track. The track also features Kirsten Bråten Berg, Sigrid Berg, Unni Løvlid, and Ingebjørg Reinholdt alongside Wardruna’s own Lindy-Fay Hella, who give life to old traditions with their beautiful voices.
This album, for those who have followed along the band’s journey, is the first step into what feels like a new era of Wardruna. I remember hearing them for the first time in 2014 and wondering “who is this band?” then desperately soaking up all of the music that they offered. It’s been seven long years since that moment, and I find myself desperately soaking up this new sound just as eagerly as I did back then. To listen to Wardruna go through so many stages of evolution and to end up here is better than anything I could have dreamed.
With Wardruna’s growing popularity, this departure from the Runaljod series is a perfect point of exposure, and the memorability of Kvitravn will hopefully transcend time with its innovation and integration of the new and the old.