In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Although I’m more of a Valhalla Rising man myself, I’ve really been digging History Channel’s Vikings, which recently wrapped for the season. Then again, I’ve always been a sucker for just about any kind of grim Scandinavian bombast. Chalk it up to a childhood spent reading Thor comics and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. One of the things that really drew me to Vikings—besides its gritty dramatization of the legendary, medieval warrior Ragnar Lodbrok—was its canny choice of music. Rather than coasting on a canned, pseudo-epic score, the show has been using the songs of the mighty Wardruna to help add that extra layer of ancient, icy atmosphere.
That said, Wardruna’s Viking-folk isn’t entirely period-specific or authentic, nor does it try to be. Instead, the Norwegian outfit crafts an ominous, tribal sound that combines traditional instruments, rock amplification, and a subtle yet powerful black-metal undertow. It’s also just plain fucking gorgeous. Of the many stunning songs on the band’s new album, Yggdrasil—named after the cosmic tree in Norse mythology from which Odin hung himself—“Fehu” is one of my faves. It’s steeped in pagan mystique, foreboding incantations, and the kind of syncopated percussion you’d imagine would keep the rowers in synch on a Viking ship. “Fehu” is used to great effect during an invasion scene in “Trial,” the fourth episode of Vikings’ first season. But with Wardruna’s primal evocation of Scandinavia past, the visceral visual elements aren’t necessary to get the picture.