Wardruna has been in the corner of my eye for quite a long time now. Kvitrafn (of Gorgoroth and Sigfader infamy) started recording as early as 2003. Bits and pieces of his work trickled out over the next few years, but we finally have the first complete work of the Runaljod trilogy, Gap Var Ginnunga.
The album is magical, both in the literal and figurative sense. As each album in the Runaljod series will do, Gap Var Ginnunga takes eight runes from the Elder Futhark and sets them to music. Wardruna use traditional and hand made instruments, and reportedly recorded in outdoor locations relevant to each of the runes. The end result is a haunting and authentic journey through Norse paganism and a unique ambient experience.
Kvitrafn is not alone in his efforts. Gaahl joins in the vocal duty, along with Lindy Fay Hella, giving Wardruna a terrifying and beautiful method for engaging listeners more than most "ambient" projects are capable of. The vocal arrangements are some of the best elements of Gap Var Ginnunga, though they never overshadow the other parts of the whole. Precussion is effective if minimal, and the melodies delivered by flute, mouth harp, and the occasional fiddle are stretched over the songs to excellent effect.
Gap Var Ginnunga carries a varied pace over it's eight runes to great effect. Often a release of this nature can lose me in it's more minimalist moments, but that has not been the case even once with this album. The slower moments of Gap Var Ginnunga bridge the rest together well, keeping a simple and yet interesting balance between tempos and tones. Gap Var Ginnunga is an album that can serve as periphery stimulation or primary listening - and accomplish the rare in filling either role equally well.
Wardruna have a great success in this album. Fans of ambient music, pagan neo-folk, and other traditional styles will all find something to like here. I was very excited to listen to Gap Var Ginnunga for the first time, after years of waiting. Upon hearing it, I am even more excited for the rest of the Runaljod trilogy. I can only hope it doesn't take another six years to reach us.