As we crossed the channel, and up the Seine to reach Francia, the seas were calm. We sang along to the skald, our voices echoing across the calm waters and thundering in our veins. As we charged towards the beaches of Francia, we leapt from our longboat and shouted glory to the All Father. The air was filled with the sounds of glorious battle. Squelch, squelch, squish, grunt, clang, yell, grunt, clang, squish, squish, squidge.
That's how battle sounds in Assassins Creed Valhalla without any external help from Spotify. There is no clangor of swords or rousing drumbeat to keep our hearts fluttering. There are lots and lots of squishy sounds. You can also hear a lot of squishy sounds. Do you want to shoot an arrow at a Frankish warrior?" Squish. Squish. Squish. Squish. You've guessed it: Squish.
Before we continue, let's be clear: I love Valhalla. It is one of my favourite games and the first game I felt fully represented as a queer woman. It is an absolute pleasure to spend time with Eivor WolfKissed. I keep coming back for more because of the strength of the game. I wish there was more music. I wish there were more music for when I'm on the ground and not with my backup singers.
Your crew will sing Norse sailing songs to you while you are sailing in your longboat. They are haunting and atmospheric and set the mood as you navigate the misty rivers of Early Medieval England. The music stops once you step on dry ground. Well, almost entirely. You might get some exploration music if you're really lucky. However, I find most of my land sojourns to be very quiet even if I increase the frequency.
Music from the Dark Ages is less known and more popular than music from later periods. Folk music isn't always well-preserved or even recorded. This was also a time when religious music was often more popular than secular music. It had the advantage that religious music was meticulously recorded down. Those records still exist to this day. That is why we often think of droning songs when we think about medieval music. We know that secular music was created and listened to by people in this time. They played instruments and made music, they cursed and sang songs that would make modern audiences blush. Even Anglo-Saxon religious musicians can be heard praising vain and singing incoherent secular songs. This is the kind of thing that you would hear coming out of a crowded tavern's doors on a hot summer night. It must have been the good shit that Norse music was able to stick in the craws of an ancient monk.
We don't have any surviving Iron Age folk songs in standard musical notation so we need to ask: What sounds like pagan and secular music? The Assassins creed series is an excellent example of historical reconstruction and educated guesswork. The AC series is a master at filling in the gaps in our knowledge about a specific period. Origins has a rich, ancient Egyptian musical soundscape. Every historical piece of music requires some degree of reconstruction, which is to say, educated guesswork. We have a lot of information from the Norse to help us make these guesses.
Archaeological evidence has shown that there were many wind instruments made during this time, including a few string instruments. We have a picture of the first known triangular harp from less than 200 years ago, when Valhalla took place. Even outside observers have modern accounts that comment on Norse music.