Hagalaz’ Runedance

Hagalaz’ Runedance
Candlelight Records, 2004

4/5 Broomsticks

The sound of waves crashing on a ship starts, the tide taking it slowly out to sea as bagpipes play and women sing a farewell. You can feel Frigga’s grief as Baldur and Nanna sail into the sunset, almost hear the arrow being shot that sets it ablaze and smell the wood as it burns. The waves slowly swallow the ship, and the echoes of the women grieving the passage. This is “The Crossing”, the first track of Frigga’s Web, and sets the tone for the whole album. Frigga’s Web is at once grieving and reverent, powerful and striking. In any other hands this may have been one of the most depressing albums I could have listened to, but with the pounding drums and Andréa Hebel’s dynamic, commanding voice, the songs inspire one to dance rather than mourn.

The movement from “The Crossing” into my favorite track, “Hel: Goddess of the Underworld” was satisfying both musically and mythically, following Baldur down into Helheim. Runedance has captured the essence of Hel in a song, and it is both awed and nuanced, showing Her many qualities as both nurturer and Goddess of the Dead. As the track moves into the titular piece, we hear the bagpipes from “The Crossing”, connecting us to the journey Runedance takes us on to see Frigga. The connection between the Hel and Frigga through their songs is unmistakable, bringing the two Goddesses, bridging them in the ending of life, in “Hel” and seeking a new one in “Frigga’s Web”. This kind of interplay between life and death, letting go and holding fast to memory, is found throughout the album.

These themes of holding fast echo through “Albion Autum” and “Where the Lonely Souls Go”, where letting go is clearest felt in “The Home That I Will Never See” and “Soul of a Hound,” providing contrast between a grasping grief and a releasing; “Soul of a Hound”, written after Hebel lost her 12-year-old greyhound, feels connected to “The Crossing” in style, but ends with acceptance of the passing.

The album feels like a complete journey through the trials death can hand us. Beginning with the funeral of “The Crossing”, the journey moves into the underworld with “Hel: Goddess of the Underworld”, confusion and discovery in “Labyrinth”, anger in “Little Light”, wonder in “Where the Lonely Souls Go”, and sorrow in “Albion Autumn” and “The Home That I Will Never See”, ending in the acceptance and moving on after death with “Soul of a Hound.” Frigga’s Web takes on these themes with a solemnity and celebration that alternates itself between the trance-inducing instrumental background and a driving, explorative voice that together push the listener deeper into the experience with each new song. Though a heavy, emotionally charged album, it never lingers in the pain, but pushes through it with beat and cries of defiance that form the core of this album. A powerful, uplifting album.

Witches&Pagans #24 - Heathen & Northern Traditions

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