Norwegian Viking metal band Einherjer have returned to Napalm Records after a quarter of a century. The last album they released on Napalm was their debut, Dragons of the North, in 1996, and the world is a very different place now to then. Viking metal wasn't new in 1996 but it wasn't a particularly busy genre back then and it hadn't spread very far outside of Scandinavia. Now Viking metal has found its way across the globe, which makes the genre an interesting one for the musicologists to define.
Einherjer have also grown as a band in those twenty-five years and this, their eighth album, is clearly more mature than their debut, even though, at heart, it's still simple in mindset. Viking metal is most often described as black metal slowed down somewhat with folk instrumentation added and the lyrics focusing on paganism rather than Satanism. That's mostly true, but I've always felt that Viking metal is a sonic exploration of strength and that's really applicable here.
Everything on this album speaks from a position of strength. It's not particularly fast, certainly not if compared with the blastbeats and wall of sound guitars of most black metal, but it's inexorable, ever moving forward with no intention of stopping or diverting its course once in motion. The riffs are of granite and they're accompanied at points by odd anvil noises, which of course are demonstrations of strength too. Have you ever seen a blacksmith who couldn't crush you in his fist? The drums refuse to speed up because Gerhard Storesund, formerly known as Ulvar, is more interested in beating the crap out of them and letting them echo. We just know he could drum ten times faster if he felt an urge. He doesn't.
The vocals from Frode Glesnes, formerly known as Grimar, aren't harsh so much as they're rough. He's bellowing not growling and certainly not singing, but his words are easily intelligible and they're as much of a promise as they are a lyric. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a statement and we're sure that he means it all. Now, who did he promise to kill and who did he promise a flagon of ale to in harbour after a successful raid? Someone should keep tabs.
I like everything on this album, but I realise that only two songs really stood out for attention, so it's a 7/10 release.
The best is Listen to the Graves, which wears the black metal origins of the genre on its sleeve, even if we can hear Grimar's bass prowling throughout. It's a strong song anyway but its elevated by a really neatly layered chorus. There are multiple voices there and they play off each other perfectly for great effect. I dig the solo late on too and the even slower drumming that comes later still.
The other is West Coast Groove, an unlikely title to sit on a Viking metal album given that it conjures up visions of surfer dudes on Venice Beach who might listen to Suicidal Tendencies but might be fans of rap music instead. Of course, those aren't the "raging waves" Einherjer are on about. These are the raging waves of the North Sea crashing against the west coast of Norway, as the longboats prepare to launch. "Behold the West Coast groove," they bellow. "We're the Norsemen. We're marching on."
This isn't the greatest album I'll hear this month and it's not the greatest thing Einherjer have done, but it's a solid and dependable listen that does everything a Viking metal album ought to do. It sails into our worlds and the band intimidate and fight and conquer before heading back home so they can drink about everything they've done within these forty-two minutes. And we look forward to the next visit in another two or three years.