HiminbjorgAfter various encounters with Himinbjorg in the past, most of them fleeting, the arrival of Wyrd was a good opportunity for me to get deep down into the French pagan black metal undergrowth, slap on the woad and ready my sword and magic mushrooms. Wyrd was released earlier this year – the first in a decade if you ignore the last outing in 2010 which was a collection of previously unreleased tracks. It’s now getting its second outing, this time with Osmose, presumably after failing to get the recognition it probably deserves.

The real ice breaker for me was last year’s ‘One And All, Together, For Home’ compilation on Season of Mist – all tracks by various artists specifically recorded for the release. Himinbjorg’s track was an addictive pagan black metal blast that reminded me that traditional ‘folk’ instruments can be as effective as any others when used well. No lame or out-of-place flutes for these guys. Wyrd proves once more that Himinbjorg have something compelling to offer.

Past Himinbjorg efforts were much more grim and grainy and perhaps more firmly rooted in a Dark Age atmosphere – 2002’s Haunted Shores probably being a stand out. They certainly weren’t held back by the sparse production values but even so the listening wasn’t always easy. The band almost seems like it had struggled to find its groove. Wyrd strikes harder and faster than ever to correct that. Ok bagpipes – or more accurately the boha – is a brave instrument to throw into the metal mix. But this is clearly not a pagan metal band given to making your, or their own lives, straightforward and boy does Himinbjorg use the haunting and hypnotic sound to good effect.

Wyrd is a mixture of mid-1990s black metal, even throwing in a bit of Immortal at one point (on The Circle of Warriors), the darkness of early Kampfar (tell me the vocals at the end of The Sword of Dignity don’t remind you of Norse), the melody of Falkenbach and sometimes the likes of Månegarm and the drifting climes of Finsterforst (on The Shamanic Whisper). At times each of those influences take hold and the end result is at various points absolutely gripping – in fact some of the best ‘pagan’ metal I’ve heard for a while.

The first half of Wyrd is a sharp shock with excellent growled vocals dominating. The tracks are much more bass heavy and the arrangements show Himinbjorg at its increasingly cinematic, dare I say epic, best – interweaving tremolo riffs and pagan chants to great effect, for example. The Sword of Dignity, the first track proper after the intro, is a darkly rousing anthem that could stand on its own. But it’s followed by the pummelling The World of Men Without Virtue – The Circle of Disillusion which drifts off into a baleful acoustic lament before another blast with The Circle of Warriors. After that the band heads off down a few interesting paths – using the boha to create some mesmerising moments.

After the initial torrent the album becomes more mellow – obviously intended even if I can’t shake the feeling that Wyrd peters out a little during the final two tracks. There’s a nice bit of guitar work as consolation but still the last third of the album lacks the character of the first two. It’s one of the issues with the album for me – that there’s almost too much going on and not enough of a central musical theme.

I’m left with a feeling that all the elements that make up Wyrd are here for the taking and to be enjoyed – even though I’m not sure they’ve hit on that groove which promises to unfold at various times through the album. It feels like there are a lot of ingredients in here that have all been shaken up even though at times that produces something pretty stunning even if at others it feels like it lacks cohesion at others.

Hopefully this album will get more attention with its second release of the year even though the band seems to have been perennially overlooked so far. This is still excellent, dark, blackened folk and I hope a band only just hitting its stride once more and with renewed vigour.

(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)