Norway, 2013, Nordic folk / dark folk
The following narrative has nothing to do with the music or its lyrics but is rather my reaction to the music, my imagination running away with me.
Part two of the Runaljod trilogy starts off with a bang–an all-male chorus as charged as the accompanying tribal drums. Yggdrasil is full grown, and the worlds ripen like fruit on its ancient boughs. We hear the voices of the Northmen for the first time as they call out from their wintry deeps. Women and men raise their voices in wonderment at the aurora borealis. The wonder the giants once felt at the beginning of Creation is reflected here. There is a festival, but the first hint of sorrow comes with the high cry of a grieving man. Death has come, and now the Northmen know that this beautiful world is also cruel.
Horses gallop through gathering storms. The shaman witches step forward to offer their insight, for the Northmen must make a long journey. They need answers. They meet other clans along the way, and the herald of the chiefs calls for others to join them. The new men answer his call. The heavy, solemn strings dominant in this section evoke the slow-moving migration of many people. The sounds of the warriors’ wooden shields knocking against their saddles and axe-handles call to mind Yggdrasil once more. Heavy feet crush the new-fallen snow, packing it down, and dragons with mouths of fire sail the dark, wintry skies. Siegfried girds his waist and arms himself with his bright sword, but his counselors advise caution against the Wyrm.
Our hero climbs the mountain in search of the Wyrm’s lair, and the witches augur for his success. They dance in a frenzy, caught up in an apocalyptic vision. Yggdrasil’s branches stretch out before their one shared mind’s eye like the shining synapses of the human brain, a network as complex as it is inscrutable. And then they see him: Odin, hanging on the World-Tree. But they cannot hope to approach his wisdom. We hear a nascent theme strike up that will later be developed in Runaljod – Ragnarok. This is the Northmen’s first war song…and it will be their last in the fullness of time. It is a recounting of many victorious battles by different chieftains. Then comes the birdsong. The warriors have traded stories and drunk the whole night through, but here comes the dawn. Siegfried returns from slaying the dragon, and he is met by maids preparing his bride. All celebrate.
Hel rides from Niflheim, sorrows increase, and battles multiply. A chieftain and his chieftainess talk of what it all means and what is to come. Fires burn all around until out of the blaze steps one ancient scop who sings of the death of Baldr beautiful. All stands still. In that moment, even the fires refuse to consume. Thunder rolls across the sky as a portent. That same chieftain–a distant descendant of Siegfried–has gone to find the truth of the disturbances beyond mortal ken and happens upon Baldr’s funeral at the seaside. Crows caw, and rain soaks the chieftain in a sudden deluge. And he stands alone, singing his own quiet dirge for Baldr beautiful.