The Last Kingdom had a long and successful run on Netflix, spanning five seasons and the epic follow-up film Seven Kings Must Die. During that time, viewers came to know Uhtred son of Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), the heroic warlord who was born among Saxons but raised by Danes in medieval England.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason the The Last Kingdom became so beloved because there’s so much that’s good about it; the show has a stellar cast, high production values and epic battles. It’s also a great adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories novels.
And then there’s the music, starting with the opening theme, which features driving percussion and hypnotic throat singing from Faroese music artist Eivør. The Last Kingdom’s soundtrack stands out in this genre.
We recently talked with Eivør and The Last Kingdom composer John Lunn about Seven Kings Must Die as well as their brand new companion album The Last Kingdom: Destiny Is All, which they created with fellow Last Kingdom composer Danny Saul. During the conversation, Eivør and Lunn reflected on how that iconic opening theme came about. Head below for the details, or watch the full conversation here:
How The Last Kingdom title theme song was created
While Lunn is a veteran composer of scores for television and film who has worked on productions like Downton Abbey and The White Queen, The Last Kingdom was the first time that Eivør ever did work for the big or small screen. The collaboration ended up lasting throughout the entirety of the show’s run.
During our conversation, Eivør recalled her very first time working on music for the show. “John flew me over to London and we did a fun session where we did some experiments with throat singing and some me screaming on top of his tracks,” she said.
“She’s talking about the title sequence by the way, it’s hardly screaming,” Lunn added with a laugh.
“That was just such a fun experience altogether. And yeah, like John said it ended up being the title music that we created at that moment. And by then, I didn’t know that I was gonna be this much involved in the series as I then later on became,” Eivør continued. “This music that John had created for The Last Kingdom just really also resonated within me and kind of brought me back to my roots in a way, in Faroese folk music, which seemed very appropriate to be inspired by in this series.”
Eivør’s vocals are one of the signature elements of The Last Kingdom soundtrack; she sang all the music for the show for the entirety of its run. That includes lower growls and all sorts of other creative vocalizations, which you can hear in her live performance below:
Over the course of nearly eight years, she and Lunn worked together so closely that they developed their “own language” to communicate about the different facets of her voice in the recording studio. “When we need something, you know in like a battle sequence, like it’s a bit like the title sequence, I call that her ‘demented baby’ style,” Lunn joked. “Because Eivør had never done anything to film before, but she picked it up you know so, so quickly.”
Of course, one of the difficulties about using a voice within film is that, you know, the dialogue you have to be really careful of, and the lyrics to a song can sometimes get in the way. So we had to find a way for Eivør to actually do this without having lyrics. And she’s done that brilliantly.
In fact, when I think about how we started out, I’d never in a million years imagined that we’d use so much voice in the show. But the way that she’s developed it means that we’ve been able to integrate it just as if it’s part of the underscore, really. And believe it or not, there are some songs on [The Last Kingdom: Destiny Is All] album that still have no lyrics at all.
“Not a note” of the vocals in The Last Kingdom soundtrack were ever written down
This idea of using Eivør’s voice as though it were another instrument in the score allowed the songwriting duo, along with composer Danny Saul, to take a very different approach than most other scores with a vocalist might. That allowed Eivør “a real freedom” to experiment with different sounds.
That freedom extended to the way the music was transcribed as well. According to Lunn, “not a note” of Eivør’s singing on the series was ever actually written into the scores. “We’ve never written any of it down. Well how would you go about writing down what Eivør does? You could be there all day! Why not just let her do it?”
While this was done for a practical reason — Eivør was singing in ways that would be nigh- impossible to actually transcribe into a score — it also feels fitting for The Last Kingdom, a series which examines how parts of Uhtred’s story have been recorded while others fade into the mists of history.
Fortunately, Eivør, John Lunn, and Danny Saul’s music is on prominent display in the series, so we can all listen to it for years to come.
The Last Kingdom: Destiny Is All is available now on music streaming services and retailers. The film Seven Kings Must Die is streaming on Netflix.