The world of Viking metal is one of war chants, keyboards and folk music. It is a bristly genre, one in which a beard and a frothy brew are required. It helps to have a nose for the destructive and an affection for large wooden ships and Norse paganism, although it’s not as indispensable as the facial hair and the beer. Trust me on that.
So here’s Einherjer, a Viking metal act from Haugesund, Norway. They formed in 1993 and broke up in early 2004 after the release of what was to be their final album, the marvelously-titled Blot. Of course, Vikings are never ones to hold a grudge and Einherjer reformed in 2008 to play some festivals across Europe. By December of 2010, they had signed with Indie Recordings and Norrøn was born.
This is the band’s fifth full-length and it is firmly ensconced in Norse and Viking lore. The lyrics are, of course, in Norwegian but the chest-thumping hostility and chant-like quality of the music knows no language barriers. Even if there were barricades, vocalist and guitarist Frode Glesnes would bowl them over.
Glesnes is quite the frontman. Together with Gerhard Storesund (drums) and Aksel Herløe (guitars), Einherjer’s attack is persistent and diabolical. It is ear-splitting and ferocious, too, but there’s also a layer of splendour and magic to the music that keeps it listenable.
Good music, no matter the genre, has the ability to transform and to take the listener on a journey. Through its courageous arpeggios and legendarily coarse vocals and chants, the expansive epic of Norrøn does just that. It is like being aboard a Viking ship and getting battered by hurtling rollers and fabled sea creatures. It is like sitting at Odin’s table, knowing you’ve at long last earned your place.
“Norrøn Kraft” opens the album with a monstrous Motörhead-ish power chord. It’s a call to take up the mighty axes and get to hewing heads. The over-13-minute number sprawls with tempo changes, call-and-response guitar riffs and preternatural ether. The track almost carries a military-sized march, swelling as it does with Glesnes’ brusque vocals.
“Naglfar” opens with sodden atmosphere and within seconds it feels like we’re at the sculls of a massive vessel out in some very volatile conditions. Glesnes calls out instructions and the guitars chomp away.
Tone and atmosphere really are at the core of what makes Norrøn so much fun to experience. Whether it’s the golden riffs of “Malmting” or the down-played acoustic folk of “Balladen om Bifrost,” Einherjer never lets up on the crustiness and whiskery awesomeness. This is a record worth raising a mug or seven of ale over.