Norwegian musical project Wardruna was formed in 2003 by former Gorgoroth drummer Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik. Inspired by his long-held fascination with the Old Norse language and the Elder Futhark (the Norse runic alphabet), he created something truly ancient-sounding. The project utilized mostly ancient traditional instruments, some of them homemade, such as hide-covered frame drums, goat horn, Kraviklyra (Norway’s oldest known stringed instrument), and lur (birch trumpet); lyrics mostly in Old Norse; and guttural shamanic singing. He teamed up with vocalists Gaahl (né Kristian Espedal, also of Gorgoroth) and Lindy-Fay Hella, and together the three produced truly beautiful, dark, haunting music that bore elements of folk, world, and ambient, but transcended any of these labels. Evoking the spirits of nature and the freezing darkness of the Norwegian winter night, it was not dissimilar to that of Finnish band Tenhi, but felt more ancient, and had a distinctly Norse flavor.
In 2009, the trio released their debut album Runaljod: Gap Var Ginnunga, the first of a planned trilogy of albums which would, when taken together, cover all 24 letters of the Elder Futhark. The runes were not just letters; they were strongly associated with magic, and each was taken to have an occult meaning and mystical power. Selvik took all this into account, recording several of the songs in places associated with the particular rune in question, sometimes outdoors. The Runaljod trilogy was completed with Yggdrasil in 2013 and Ragnarok in 2016. Gaahl amicably left the band in 2015. Selvik brought much of his expertise to the music for the second season of the TV drama series Vikings, on which he worked in collaboration with composer Trevor Morris; he also later appeared as an actor on the show. In 2016 he teamed up with Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson to form the band Skuggsjá. ~ John D. Buchanan