Einherjer is back with another round of epic, adrenaline-fuelled battle chants and out to prove, yet again, that it’s still got what it takes to be among the vanguard of pagan metal bands. As with all good bands, Einherjer has developed a sound all of its own: not for them the blast beats or riffs so complex you’d need a degree in maths to comprehend them. No. Try a couple of very big drums, a foreboding melody, epic horns, strings and a venomous, jabbing verse. All of which would be the perfect background music to rowing across the North Sea to crush your enemies or, if you don’t live in 793 AD and mostly wear wolf skins and horned helmets, the ideal soundtrack to hammering in that fence you’ve been erecting between you and the unbelievers next door.
After one hell of a classic Viking metal release with Blot in 2003 the band split only to return from the dead eight years later with 2011’s Norrøn. Norrøn was always going to struggle against the legacy of Blot which had pretty much etched the band’s signature sound in stone. But it was a brave departure – less drenched in melody, instead opting for an even darker tone. But, for all that, it still managed to be theatrical and captivating even if it was a bit more of a slow burner. Not a bad thing, and so a damn good follow-up, with some inspired arrangements that proved Einherjer was still fresh as an axe hewn corpse on the doorstep of a monastery.
So, having successfully reclaimed their territory, how can Av Oss, For Oss (translated as By Us, For Us) capitalise on the winning Einherjer formula? Is this a return to the insanely catchy Blot or a continuation of the darker, more sublime Norrøn? Well, both and neither. Av Oss, For Oss, initially at least, doesn’t seem able to decide which way to go. But it’s unmistakably Einherjer. In fact it’s Einherjer magnified at times. Lump hammer rhythms (perfect for sharp, maniacal jerks of the head rather than outright head banging) and ominous tones mixed with triumphant guitar solos and glorious strings. At first, it’s difficult to crack the surface of Av Oss, and that, I think, is perhaps because of the sweetened, heady mead of Nidstong and of the title track (the latter reaching dizzy new heights of fist-pumping accessibility). They stand out so prominently that they’re almost a distraction. Most of the other tracks require a little more attention and that undoubtedly makes the album feel – initially at least – like it is suffering from a split personality between the utterly dark shades and the blindingly bright.
But each of the tracks gradually reveals itself as a standard bearer of the Einherjer sound in its own right. Each could stand alone sinking its roots into you like the world tree itself and encapsulating what Einherjer does best – a fine balance between a bit of rousing folk metal like Månegarm (probably the closest comparison I can come up with) and Tyr, then edging towards the blacker pagan bands like label-mates Kampfar. Nord og Ner, for example – a bleak stomper which has a slow, jagged riff eventually gives way to one of Einherjer’s irresistible hooks and a crescendo that should be enough to remind anyone that we’re in the hands of well-drilled veterans here. And so the parts all begin to move into place like the ice-flows parting to make a path to the shore. Darkened star-lit skies slowly giving way to the pre-battle glow of dawn and something momentous.
There will always be those that have placed Blot on such a pedestal that they find it difficult to move on and leave Einherjer to do the same. And, arguably, this band is potentially capable of something truly epic and on an entirely different scale. Av Oss, For Oss has all the ingredients for that – theatrics combined with expert song crafting. Perhaps it’s just a matter of duration (this, minus the bonus track, and Norrøn were both sub-45 minutes compared with Blot which was over an hour long). But if you’re going to base your disappointment on that, you may never be happy. So, for now, let’s just enjoy it for what it is. An intensely well executed set of atmosphere-soaked tracks that gives you a chance to sit back and wonder at the blood and magic of the dark ages with the knowledge that glory in battle always came at a price – mainly your own death. Einherjer has returned and its sword still looks very sharp indeed.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)