He may have once pounded the kit for black metallers Gorgoroth, but Einar Kvitrafn Selvik is now on an altogether different path. Inspired by his study of runes and Norse mythology, the Norwegian’s Wardruna project blends atmospheric folk music, ancient tongues and historic instruments – such as deer-hide frame drums and goat horns – to create something truly magical.
And last month, the group, which also features the vocal talents of Lindy-Fay Hella and former Gorgoroth/current God Seed frontman Gaahl, released their sophomore album, Yggdrasil, marking the second stage in the Runaljod trilogy – a musical rendition of 24 runes.
Richard Holmes caught up with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Selvik to find out more about his vision for Wardruna… and how his music has brought grown men to tears.
rushonrock: You were introduced to the runes at the age of 13 – how long have you wanted to create a musical project around them? Has it always been a long-term ambition?
Einar Kvitrafn Selvik: I have indeed envisioned something like this since I was quite young, not specifically around the runes… but then again the Runaljod trilogy is just the beginning.
rushonrock: Do you see Wardruna as a way of teaching people about the runes?
EKS: Well I strongly dislike preaching but I have to say that the poor state of modern rune-lore could definitely make use of some adjustments and clarifications, and if Wardruna can contribute to that, I’ll be very glad.
rushonrock: You’ve described the Yggdrasil album as ‘strengthening the roots’ after Wardruna’s first album, Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga ‘sowed the seed’. How did you go about purveying this musically?
EKS: The specific pattern of runes I use is part of it but first and foremost it is the runes themselves who are telling this story through me, with the sounds, instruments and words I use when portraying them.
rushonrock: Why do you think that black metal fans are drawn to Wardruna, aside from the connection with Gorgoroth and the interest in Norse culture and history?
EKS: Early black metal had two very important factors that one can clearly link to Wardruna. The first thing is that it was always about much more than just the music. The second thing is that the atmosphere you create is much more important than how well it is played or how ‘good’ a sound you have. Today, BM is more technique-based and more about how fast you can drum or how good your guitar sounds, which of course makes the whole thing less interesting – at least in my opinion.
rushonrock: Why did you recruit vocalists Lindy-Fay Hella and Gaahl to the project, and what do you think they bring to it?
EKS: When I started working on Wardruna in 2002 it was only natural for me to include Gaahl in my conceptual thoughts and ideas, him being a close friend as well as a huge resource when it comes to knowledge on the runes and Norse history. As an artist he has a great ability to become at one with what he is aiming to express, which is a quality that most recordings can make good use of.
We both knew Lindy-Fay Hella and had wanted to work with for a while, given her unique, fantastic voice. On this album I have worked much closer with both Lindy-Fay and Gaahl in the arrangement stage of the music than on the previous album and I am very happy with how we work together and the general creative flow that we have.
rushonrock: You’ve also collaborated with Icelandic composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and singer Steindór Andersen on Yggdrasil. Why did you bring them in for the sessions?
EKS: For many years I have had a great admiration and respect for them as both. These past years I have been working with Hilmar on a film-score that we are writing together. Working together is something we plan to do more of so it was a great honour for me to have them contribute on the album.
rushonrock: What were the biggest challenges in bringing Wardruna to life?
EKS: The challenges have been many. One thing was getting hold of the instruments I wanted and I ended up building some of them myself. Then there was the sound production and recording phase which I had to learn and also the subjects I am working with are very complex and require a lot of study. So all in all I feel that the seven years it took me to make the first album was a long climb that needed to be done.
rushonrock: In 2009, you played at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, in front of the 1100-year-old Gokstad ship – how did you find that experience?
EKS: It was a great honour to be allowed to be the first and only group to perform there. It was our very first concert and a strong experience for me after working with the record for such a long time and then to manifest it all in such a special setting. I think it was a very special concert for the audience as well and grown men were crying.
rushonrock: You’re playing at The Queen Elizabeth Hall in London this October, your first show in the UK – why did you choose that venue in particular and what can fans expect from the performance?
EKS: The QEH is a renowned concert hall and that type of seated concert hall suits us much better that a rock club type of place. I am very determined when it comes to how I wish to present Wardruna and believe that the aesthetical frame of the surroundings is an important factor in creating a special experience for the audience. You can expect a concert that is more than a concert and like nothing you have ever experienced.
rushonrock: What are your plans for Wardruna following the release of Ragnarok, the follow-up to Yggdrasil and the final part of the Runaljod trilogy?
EKS: The plans and ideas are many but at this point there are quite a few projects that need my full attention before I start diving into that process again. So it is really hard to say anything about what and when yet.
rushonrock: Can you ever imagine returning to a metal band now that you’ve created Wardruna?
EKS: Maybe not a band, but I have some ideas for metal music stored in the back of my head for a vacant moment at some point down the line.
Yggdrasil is out now on Indie Recordings. Wardruna play The Queen Elizabeth Hall at The Southbank Centre, London on October 24.