Interview: Wardruna – Secrets of the Runes

By NekroTroll.

Folk bands nowadays are growing and spreading like a tumor. Hardly a day passes without a new addition to the fold. And of course, each new one would certainly be truer, kvlter and more traditional than all the previous ones. Wherever you go, you’d bump into these newly found Vikings, Celts, Slavs, Indians and Thor knows who else. And while we are at it, it is hardly worth mentioning the fact that the overwhelming majority of these bands first heard about folk the day before (well, two days before at the absolute chuffing best), cannot spell ‘Edda’, wouldn’t tell a bodhran from a ritual drum, and a Mjollnir from an Undercross. Complete ignorance and cashing in on a thing that's ‘in’ today! However, even in this pile of utter musical compost, one would every now and again find something worthy. And that's exactly the pearl I am about to show you today. My acquaintance with Wardruna began, as it often happens, quite accidentally. One day I was sitting at home, having nothing to do and browsing YouTube, when I stumbled into the now all too known Gorgoroth documentary. The flick was quite naturally accompanied with a soundtrack, comprised mostly of Gorgoroth, but for one exception. At a certain point the thundering blast beats and the evil croaks of Gaahl gave way to the gust of wind, the heart-beat booming of a ritual drum, and in a split second I was washed away in a mesmerizing flow of a shaman throat-song. The music combined with the beckoning images of the Nordic scapes made such a strong impression upon myself, that I rushed to the forums trying to find any hint or reference as to the source of this magic, and – woopdeedoo – five minutes later I was already sitting at Wardruna's myspace page listening on end to the then only available track. As it turned out at a closer glance the idea of the project landed upon the head of none other than Kvitrafn of Gorgoroth fame. The rest – as usual – was technical: two emails and Kvitrafn is telling us all that we wanted to know and weren't scared to ask about his new venture...

- Well first and foremost let me go with a bunch of obvious, unoriginal, and self-evident, yet mandatory questions: How and when did the idea of Wardruna come about in the first place, who else is in the project with you, and what is Wardruna's key artistic mission?

- The idea of doing a project like this, I think came to me sometime in 2002 as a result of increasingly working with runes and shamanism. I started to do some recordings with a shaman drum, rattles and vocals by Lindy Fay. The concept has since then slowly evolved and found its form more and more. The name Wardruna means ‘the guardian of secrets’, or ‘she who whispers’.

Helping me in the project is Lindy Fay (vocals), Hallvar Kleiveland (Hardanger fiddle), Øivind (visuals, web etc.) and Gaahl (from Trelldom, Sigfader, Gorgoroth) who has been a great resource in the forming of the concept with his extensive knowledge of the runes and Norse history and traditions. He will also contribute vocally. The core idea and purpose of Wardruna is to revitalize old traditions, thoughts, instruments and techniques. I wish to sow new seeds and strengthen old roots in a cultural, musical and cultic context.

- What about the publishing label? Have you entered into any discussions with anyone? And of course when are we going to hear the end result?

- I've received offers from a couple of labels, but I haven't really started working on getting a label yet. Maybe I'll release it myself. I have been without a studio room the last 7-8 months so the recordings has been on hold, but now I have a new place. Hopefully I can finish recording before the summer.

- As far as I understand from your statement on Myspace the whole concept of Wardruna is based in the runes of the elder futhark, however, you chose not to follow the commonly accepted Aettir pattern – any special reason for that? And what will be the 8 runes that will make it to the first album? Also could you dwell upon the concept itself in more detail?

- The ‘Runaljod’ trilogy, as I call it, will interpret the runes of the elder futhark over three albums, each featuring eight runes. I have chosen not to follow the aettir pattern. There are several reasons for this, but the official reason is that I think the way I have chosen to divide the runes serves the main purpose of Wardruna best. The first album, entitled ‘gap var Ginnunga’, is about creation and will feature the following runes: Hagall/Hagalaz, Bjarkan/Berkana, Thurs/Thurisaz, Jara/Jera, Laukr/Laguz, Kauna/Kenaz, Algir/Algiz and Dagr/Dagaz. The idea is that the recording process partly take place at locations and/or with instruments or sounds relevant to the different runes. The instruments we use are mainly old and historical instruments but also more unconventional inputs like trees, stones, water, fire etc. are employed to enhance the nature of the rune being ‘portrayed’.

- I don’t want to pretend to be what I am not (that is to say I personally do not practice Rune Magic, but I do believe in it), and since I do my reading quite attentively... If I were to interpret the key message(s) of the first installment of the trilogy, would it be a correct assumption that this is a story of Chaos (Hagalaz), Birth (Berkana) of some new (idea?), then through the Anguish and patient Waiting (Thurisaz) finally the result is Ripe and ready for Harvesting (Jera), giving the Energy for Cognition (Laguz), which is followed by Understanding and Opening of an Inner Fire (Kenaz), which will give Strength and Protection (Algiz), until the subject is ready for Transformation (Dagaz)? (that is assuming, of course, that all the runes are in their direct/upright position)?

- I have a personal interpretation and agenda with the trilogy, but I only want to influence or guide the listener's journey to a certain degree, I'm not telling the story for them. The runes live their own life and will lead the listener to different experiences and conclusions. I can tell you how I think without being too specific: Hagall is balancing on a knife edge between creation and destruction – it cleanses/kills ‘the old’ to make room for ‘the new’. Bjarkan is the womb that carries the seed through its death and rebirth. Thurs is the summoning and awakening of the ancient beings. Jara – the winter solstice and harvest of what you have sown an hopefully a state of balance – ár ok fridar. Laukr is about cleansing, nourishing and giving energy. Kauna is the torch. It enlightens overgrown paths and places of dark. Algir is about man seeking contact and the guardian and god of the forest/nature. Dagr – summer solstice, dawning of the new day.

- I see, by the way, would you consider including a bonus track for the 25th Blank Rune or do you belong to those who object against this rune? 

- No, I don't plan to do a Wyrd track. Not because I object to it or people using a 25th blank stone, or whatever material your rune set is made of. People have their own views on how to work with the runes and that's fine, but it does not fit in with my way of approaching the runes. You cannot really call it a rune, can you?!

- Once again according to the website, you make extensive use of – for want of a better word – original folk instruments, such as ritual drums, deer-hoof percussion, bone flutes, and such like in the recording process. Are they of your own make, or do you buy them, and if so – are they expensive (I am asking because I know they usually cost a hell of a lot)? 

- Some of my instruments are self-made and some are bought, and yes they are rather expensive but worth every dime. I make the shaman drums myself and they have rituals connected to their initiation and use. The whole process of working with the animal hides, preparing them is a slow journey towards bringing the animal back to life.

- Do you buy the hides, or do you hunt the animal and skin it yourself? Also the way I understand shamanism – one would be obliged to compensate the kill somehow, or am I wrong here? (for instance to me if I want to cut a branch off a tree, I would have to cut myself too – or am I taking this too literal?)

- No, I get the hides from local hunters during the hunting season. In terms of the shamanistic approach to that sort of thing, there are definitely some sacrifices or offerings to be done. The rules of the extent of these sacrifices I think is made by you and your ‘spirits’.

- If you don’t mind my asking, what was the top price you had to pay for an instrument and what instrument was it?

- One of the most expensive of the nature instruments I have bought was the tongue horn (goat horn with a reed), it costed about $850. It's really not that bad compared to what you pay for a decent guitar or a drum kit.

- Are those the only instruments, or do you also use the more regular modern day samples and keyboards?

- I use some keyboard sounds here and there, but I try to keep it at a minimum. Most of the samples in use I have made myself by recording sounds related to the different runes.

- Coming back to the traditional instruments; which one is your absolute favorite? 

- I like them all, but I would have to say the goat horn. It's raw moaning timbre makes it perhaps the most fascinating amongst the older Norwegian wind instruments.

- Rune magic – as far as I know – is commonly assumed to be (as Terry Pratchett would of put it) of female persuasion. That is to say that it is generally practiced by women. Would you agree with this?

- Yes, today maybe, but not historically or in accordance to mythology is that the case. One of the reasons for this is that many of the people who work with the runes and such these days are Wiccans (at least in Norway) which I believe have higher number of female practitioners than male. I also think that many of the male practitioners are more private in their use of the runes and such. This is also the case when it comes to Ásatrú in Norway.

- This might be kind of personal, so feel free to tell me to piss the fuck off and mind my own business, but nonetheless: you have a tattoo of Naudiz inked on your left arm – why that particular rune and what meaning you personally associate with it? 

- Naud is my birth rune. I don't want do go into exactly what it represents for me, but in general I can say that it is a symbol of need. In this case, maybe it is more relevant as a symbol of the fire and energy that ignites when you are in need!

- This next one might also sound kind of stupid given the amount of space we have – but if we try to put it in a nutshell – what is shamanism to you?

- In a nutshell, for me shamanism, or animism is one of the cornerstones of my belief and spiritual path.

- Now let’s talk a bit about the recording process: how is it different from conventional ‘rock music’ recordings? Do you need any special studio arrangements or anything? Are any instruments particularly difficult to capture on tape? You also mention on the site that some of the themes were recorded at outdoor locations – how do you set up those?

- Well, first of all working with the runes the way I do, I have found to be a winding road and quite demanding at times. I soon found out that it would be more practical to do the recordings myself. The biggest difference from a more conventional recording process is that this is much more time-consuming. All the outdoor recordings are of course less convenient and there are many obstacles that you normally don't have to think about, but basically the recordings are carried out just like a normal indoor recording. Mic'ing up trees, stones etc. as well as regular instruments.

- The vocals employed are, I understand, mostly shamanic guttural singing – who is in charge of those and exactly what type of guttural singing is this? 

- There will be both shamanic singing as well as normal singing and throat singing. I do most of the vocals myself, but like I mentioned above some of it is done and will be done by Lindy Fay and Gaahl.

- Was it hard to learn the guttural/throat-song? (Gives me a sore throat every time I do it, although it’s getting better faster now) And how did you learn?

- It's not hard to do it once you get past the sore throat. I learned it myself just by experimenting with my voice.

- Folk music and culture have become quite popular today, in your opinion, is this a good, or a bad thing? Since quite a lot of those bands/projects are only in this because it’s ‘the flavour of the day’, if you know what I mean, and has nothing to do with the spiritual side of traditional music and culture. 

- I won't say what others should or should not do, but I do notice that in the folk genres as well as the metal genres there are fewer and fewer bands and artists that put any deeper meaning into what they do or why they do it. Technique has taken over and makes the listener in many ways more passive, not demanding anything from them. This ultimately makes it more alike the pop industry.

- Given the nature of the music and instruments involved, will you keep Wardruna as a studio project or will you consider playing live as well? 

- The plan is to play live at some point, but not before the first album is out.

- Would you rather play indoor or outdoor venues?

- I think both can be good. Ideally we would play in a forest, a cave or on a mountain, but there would be some serious practical issues to confront then.

- Now, if you don’t mind a couple of non-Wardruna questions. How are things progressing with your other two projects Jotunspor and Fimbulljod? Any news in that department?

- Fimbulljóð is just a sort of company name or a uniting name for my work. Jotunspor merchandise is being produced and the LP version of ‘Gleipnirs smeder’ have just arrived. I do not have any concrete plans for a second album yet, but I will probably start working on something new when the Wardruna album is out.

- Also a Gorgoroth-related question, which I just have to ask given the current goings-on in that camp. What do you make of the recent patent agency decision to give the name to Gaahl and King? Do you believe their actions on taking over the name were legitimate in the first place? (I know a court decision is a court decision, then again Infernus was in the band since day one, hence the name should be his by right)?

- I think it's irrelevant whom I or anyone else feels should own the Gorgoroth name. It isn't as simple that Infernus, just because he was there from the beginning, automatically should have the name. There are two sides to every story and luckily I don't have to decide the matter.

- As a musician do you feel more related to black metal or traditional music? Or are those – to you – the two faces of one coin?

- I would have to say that I am more bound to traditional music. I think there are a lot of similarities between the two styles in the sense that they are both very visual.

- I was recently told about this traditional Icelandic meal - matured shark liver, i.e. a shark liver that was put under a stone in spring, and was dug out in autumn – do you have anything similar in Norway and have you personally ever tried it? (And would you recommend it to anyone?)

- Here in western Norway we have something called ‘smalahove’ which is a grilled sheep's head. Everything on it is eaten. Wouldn't say it's as bad as the rotten shark though.

- Okies, cheerz muchos for the interview and your final message to the readership?

- Hope to play in Russia sometime soon. Visit for samples and updates. Hail Odin, hail Frigg!

Til árs ok fridar.

This interview took place via e-mail in March 2008. It was originally published in Dark City Magazine #44, May/June 2008, Russia.