Monday, May 17, 2010

Einherjer - Norwegian Native Art

Einherjer - Norwegian Native Art
2000, Native North Records

So Einherjer has left Century Media and signed to a little label closer to home, which may or may not be their own creation. The bio that came with this CD doesn't really make it clear. It doesn't matter to me, as long as this record is distributed widely and listened to on a large scale - because it surely deserves it.

I'll be the first to admit that I was never completely seduced by the entire 'viking metal' genre - flowing from Bathory's initial salvo 'Hammerheart' and later mixing itself with Manowar, becoming in the process a metal scene that had equal taste for pathos and bathos, primal rage and pomposity - if Enslaved are 'viking metal', then what are Thyrfing, Mithotyn, and Einherjer? The scene seems to be tightly constricted at first, but the closer you look the more obvious the boundaries become, and there are few bands from the Scandinavians lands that have not turned their hand to a few well-worn viking themes. Some seem to grow away from it after a while (Amorphis), sinking deeper into their own culture or mythology, others adopt it as their particular mode and style. To be inspired by one's own history and native culture can hardly be a detrimental thing in a music style (I'm talking about extreme metal as a whole here) that is known for a lack of originality - at least it offers you a steady stream of themes and subjects. The reason it just seems like such a cliche now is because so many bands have come out of Scandinavia over the last ten or twelve years, and almost all of them, one way or another, are seen to reflect positively on the past glory of their land. Where are the South American bands with their stories and mythologies? The Chinese, the African? Missing in action. I am willing to listen to music in this style, still flowing steadily from the Northern lands - but only, now, if it offers something new to my ears.

If Enslaved are the seers, prophets, and dark shamans of viking metal, spreading a melodic vision that is tenebrous, technical, and overwhelming - mining the black heart of the genre, always searching for something new - then Einherjer are like the messengers that carry the words of the shamans to the rulers of the realm, and the strong swordsman under the liege of those same powers. They are the bards from the front line of the viking raids - singing from direct experience. Their music has a much more immediate, modern, and direct feel to it - songs sung on battlefields, for immediate ends: spreading cheer, raising the heart to contemplate glory, and readying the berserkers for slaughter. This isn't music that reaches deep into the soul, stirring hidden powers there, but it is moving nonetheless - a physical power, a song and series of singers from the daylight hours, chanting lays of their own history, and of their destiny to come. Huge bruising chords and longship slabs of bass slam repeatedly into you, the drums beat out a steady tattoo of ocean-washed skin upon skin, hastily switching from a measured rowing pace to the distracted excitement and ebb-and-flow of approaching war. The keyboards drip scintillating sparkles of rain from a gray sky, mimicking the spray of cold waves and sea foam over a keel, and the cries of sea birds high above, or swell into grand choruses that take the place of a gathering of warriors. Instead of searching within the depths of eons past for rites of power, Einherjer bring the past into the present, and resurrect its grim spirit with the all the enthusiasm of artists genuinely inspired by their heritage. I wish them luck in their crusade...