Lyonel Perabo interviews Einar Selvik, the frontman of the Nordic folk band Wardruna and a composer for the soundtrack of the new video game, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
TWH — During a 2002 concert in Daytona Beach, Fla., by Tool, that esoteric prog-metal band, I found myself shapeshifted. “I would totally trance-journey to the underworld if this was played at a Samhain ritual!” I thought. Similarly, while listening to a CD by Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I realized: “Wow, this music would blow up my crown chakra at a Beltane celebration!”
Such has been my reaction to hearing live and recorded music many times during the two and a half decades that my Pagan path has coincided with my career as an arts, entertainment and music writer at daily newspapers. Non-Pagan music (however one may define that nebulous term) can unexpectedly transport one into Pagan space-time. With that in mind, here’s a look at five music albums for Pagans by non-Pagans.
ADELAIDE HILLS, Australia — The members of Spiral Dance are “song catchers of magick, myths and legend” – so says the Australian folk rock band’s website. On Land and Legend, the band’s latest album and its ninth since its 1996 debut, Spiral Dance walks in two worlds. Its members celebrate the gods, goddesses, and myths of their ancestral roots in the British Isles, and they seek to connect to the spirit of their Australian home. The Wild Hunt spoke to singer and main songwriter Adrienne Piggott, as well as accordion player and songwriter Paul Gooding, about walking that walk. TWH: Do you identify as Pagan?
TWH — The goddess Brigid is not a jealous goddess – at least the Irish/Celtic goddess of poetry, healing and smith craft is not such a deity on Land and Legend, the latest album by the Australian band Spiral Dance. “I know Brigid’s walking with me when the wild flowers have come,” the Australian-born Adrienne Piggott sings on “Goddess of the Southern Land.” The lyrics continue with “and the wattle flowers into life the color of the sun. In misty mountain bush land the smell of eucalyptus after rain and bark fall signal that it’s time to celebrate Beltane.”
As the croaking drone of a didgeridoo and gentle djembe and guitar open the song which opens the CD, Piggott unveils a confession: despite remaining rooted to her ancestors in the British Isles and to Brigid, she is on a vision quest to discover and connect to a new goddess: the “rainbow serpent mother protector of the land” where Piggott lives in the Mount Lofty Ranges near Adelaide Hills in South Australia. The tone of Spiral Dance’s aptly-titled, mesmerizing ninth album is set from the start: connecting, or staying connected, to land and legend in the midst of an increasingly mobile global culture, in an age when a modern-day shaman’s dance is a mundane reality for so many humans who literally walk — or jet — between two worlds. It’s a topic of deep import for Pagans, polytheists and members of earth-based religions, especially those in the United States.
TWH — On the song “Descent to the Realm of the Dead” by the duo Nemuer, singer-guitarist Michael Zann chants and growls, “Ušellâ mītūti ikkalū balṭūti,” but only a handful of scholars in the entire world will know, without looking at the liner notes of the band’s new album Gardens of Babylon, that Zann is singing, “I will raise up the dead so that they devour the living.”
That’s because the Czech-born Zann isn’t singing in his native tongue, some other Slavic language or Klingon. Rather, he’s singing in Akkadian, the extinct language that was all the rage in Mesopotamia from 3000 B.C.E. to 1000 B.C.E.
Evocations of flesh-eating, netherworld denizens aside, Nemuer (pronounced Ne-moo-er) isn’t some black metal band. Instead, Zann and his mate Katarina Pomorska call themselves “an atmospheric dark folk duo.” Their bio proclaims that “in order to keep the atmosphere utterly immersive, they use solely authentic dead languages or lyric-less primordial chanting.”
Zann’s co-writer for “Descent to the Realm of the Dead” was some anonymous, ancient Babylonian scribe who carved the tale of the goddess Ishtar and her descent to the netherworld onto a clay tablet some three millennia ago. That song and the rest of Gardens of Babylon are certainly atmospheric and dark, but it’s the darkness of shadows and sorrow, of dread and the Dark Side of the Moon rather than something overtly sinister or evil – even if the band did use the term “Lovecraftian atmosphere” to describe some of their earlier work. Cross-breed the sound textures of that Pink Floyd classic with the mythopoeic world music ensemble Dead Can Dance, then mix in the story of how Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian goddess of love, sex, fertility and war, ventured into the netherworld, and you have an idea of Gardens of Babylon.
Due to be released next weekend, The Green Album is a collaborative work containing songs from 14 different Pagan musicians. The project was born in late 2014 and has been spearheaded by Tuatha Dea, a “Celtic, Tribal, Gypsy Rock Band” from Tennessee. Not only is The Green Album a collection of songs expressing an eclectic musical variety, but it also focuses on the preservation and stewardship of our ecosystem. Each song is devoted to the theme and 25 percent of the album’s profits will go to the nonprofit organization Rainforest Trust. “Music is the Universal language.