Einherjer – North Star
It’s easy to lose track of a band when you’re younger, don’t have much money, and didn’t have all of these streaming services to keep you in tune to what they’re up to (or even how to pronounce their name), but that’s what happened with me and Einherjer, pronounced Ayne-hare-yar…I think anyway. It also didn’t help that they only released one album after my introduction to them, before taking a long hiatus. After their return I had, for the most part, focused on other genres, although never truly abandoning my love for Scandinavian metal.
I happened upon Einherjer by chance, seeing a rare American performance of theirs at the Milwaukee Metalfest 20 years ago. Despite looking like a black metal band and being as loud as one, they had an unusual sense of melody. Keeping in line with gruff vocals you would expect, there was actually a bit of singing to be had with much more concise guitar riffs than a typical Norweigan band. I guess the “singing” is more like shouting a refrain, like you might expect a group of people to do while drinking mead out of a horn. Little did I know that this was my exposure to a subgenre called Viking metal.
Einherjer were touring in support of an album called Norweigan Native Art and after promptly buying a copy it rarely left my CD player. With their new album North Star I was curious to see how much they had changed or if they were the same group that evoked mental images of viking pillaging their way across Europe. Fortunately, their latest opus is exactly what I hoped for and what you would expect of a band that continues to push the boundaries of their genre while still remaining completely true to it.
North Star begins with a fast driving tune called The Blood and the Iron. Without having a lyric sheet handy and with their vocals not exactly crystal clear, I immediately thought back to my recent trip to L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. Long thought to be the location of the arrival of the first Europeans a millennium ago, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that they found evidence of iron forging, which confirmed the artifacts found were not from native inhabitants and were indeed vikings who had journeyed farther away from home than they ever had. I even got to stand in the exact spot of Leif Erikson’s longhouse (and his Irish slaves’ outer quarters which hey, my ancestors may have been among). Less than a minute into the pounding drums and guitar riffs, Einherjer hit a familiar stylistic inclusion of some simple and somewhat light melodies. This is indicative of how the rest of the album will feel, with songs providing an ethereal soundtrack for the voyages and battles of vikings past.
Oddly, my mind is driven to the word “groovy” which one would think would not fit at all within this genre, except two more songs down the line and Einherjer actually utilizes a variation of that in the title for West Coast Groove. My formative years being in the 90’s, I couldn’t help but think of the East Coast/West Coast feud in the American rap community, but clearly Einherjer is referring to the western coast of Norway. I don’t actually feel that this song has any more groove than the previous two songs, but it is amazing how different it feels from them. Having such riff driven music gives each song a diverse feeling from the last even though they hit on the same aspects: vikings, triumph, heaviness, and melody.
Backtracking for just a moment, I would be remiss not to mention the second track, Stars. Taking a bit more of an atomospheric tone before hitting you with a bass gallop that beckons Black Sabbath’s Heaven & Hell, Stars may be the best track on the album. With a chorus that would demand an audience sing in unison, this could become a signature song of theirs.
With these first three songs, you basically get a clear picture of how the rest of the album will sound. Either the song will have a faster pace while in no way reaching the lightning speed riffing of their contemporaries, or it will have a determined heaviness. This is in no way a criticism of North Star because, honestly, I find the album to be flawless. Those two types of songs are exactly what I loved about their earlier works, and despite the similitude, each track has its own unique qualities. Ascension travels back towards the fast side while Higher Fire slows it back down, hitting that familiar groove. The last several tracks go back and forth in this same way and at a very comfortable 42 minutes, the album is closed out by a slightly more ambient song called Chasing the Serpent with another chorus to be easily shouted in unison, mead in hand.
If I had kept up with Einherjer better, I might be able to tell you whether the consistency of this album keeps in line with their previous several releases but as admitted earlier, I can’t. I can say with absolute certainty that as much as I loved Norweigan Native Art, this album goes a step further. Variety sure is the spice of life and Einherjer gives you two strong flavors in heavy doses throughout. There are so many great albums out there that hit so many different cross sections of various genres but no matter how good they are, there will always be a song or two you just need to skip because you’re not in that mood. You won’t have to worry about that with North Star. If you’re in the mood for heavy viking metal, then there’s not a single song you’ll want to skip. They’ve managed to branch out just enough to make you want more and demand your attention but not giving you any excuse to get bored. If you want a ballad or speed metal you’ll need to look elsewhere but if you want to bang your head at various rates, look no further. Thank Odin this album revived my interest in Einherjer but it may take me a while to seek out their back catalog I’ve missed out on since I’ll be playing North Star on repeat for a while.
Bernard Romero is a history teacher by day and a music and film fanatic by night. He barely passed French in high school so you may not want to quote him on just how you’re supposed to pronounce words in another language like “Einherjer.”
- The Blood and the Iron 03:34
- Stars 05:32
- West Coast Groove 04:07
- Ascension 07:39
- Higher Fire 03:38
- Echoes in Blood 04:55
- Listen to the Graves 06:55
- Chasing the Serpent 06:05
Get the album here: https://einherjer.bandcamp.com/album/north-star
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