Album Title: North Star
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 26 February 2021
Judging by the number of big names and big albums that are coming from the Napalm Records stable, they must be considered one of the biggest players in the metal world these days. The next in a seemingly endless stream is the latest full-length from Einherjer, a well-known name in the extreme metal world since their formation in the early 90s.
Over the course of the past twenty-five years plus, the Norwegian quartet have released seven albums, with ‘North Star’ being the eighth. They have been pigeonholed many times over the years, and I’m not generally a fan of being too regimented when putting labels on bands. But in the pursuit of offering a helpful descriptor, I’d most likely describe the Norwegians as Viking metal, with an emphasis on blending black metal elements with folk ingredients. I’ll be honest and say that Einherjer have never been my favourite band within these circles. However, given that they were one of the central bands inhelping to create and shape the movement, their name still carries enough weight to pique my interest and take a listen.
Comprised of Gerhard Storesund (Drums, Keyboards), Frode Glesnes (Vocals, Guitar & Bass), Ole Sønstabø (Lead Guitars), and Tom Enge (Guitars, Backing Vocals), Einherjer have, with ‘North Star’, created something that I have found surprisingly entertaining and rather strangely addictive.
What’s immediately apparent is that speed is not a key ingredient within the Einherjer sound. Despite the black metal elements, you don’t get too much in the way of blastbeats, or fast-picked riffs of a cold and frosty nature. There are a few littered across the record but more often, the approach from the band is a much more measured, generally mid-tempo form of attack. This creates a different kind of heaviness, as the riffs throughout feel meatier and more muscular than some of their counterparts, whilst the drumming is punchy and authoritative and the bass playing is more integral to the compositions, sitting front and centre, highly audible and effective throughout. I also love the fact that here is a Viking metal band that isn’t afraid to indulge themselves with lead guitar solos. Just about every track contains some virtuosity, lending a playful edge as well as a fair amount of swagger.
And ‘swagger’ is a good descriptor for a lot of the music on ‘North Star’. Frequently, the songs strut with purpose as if the quartet know that they are delivering quality music. To be honest, had the entire Einherjer back catalogue been as good as ‘North Star’, I’d be a much bigger fan of the Norwegians than I currently am. I’ll leave it to those with a better grasp of their background to be the final arbiters on this point, but I’d humbly suggest that ‘North Star’ could represent their most accomplished work to date.
Without a shadow of doubt, my favourite track on this album is second up, in the form of ‘Stars’. It has a presence about it that is undeniable, as well as a clever, hypnotic quality too. The bass is one of the stand-out instruments as it literally throbs and pulsates throughout the song, particularly in the relatively minimalist verses that are punctuated by guitars rather than led by them. I find myself nodding and swaying in trance-like appreciation as the song develops, caught up in its simple but hugely effective delivery, capped by Frode Glesnes’ gruff rasp and some prominent keys in places. The marching pace has an inexorable quality to it, whilst the wailing lead guitar break comes out of nowhere to add a brief moment of hedonism within the otherwise structured composition.
The opening track, mind you, is different but no less effective, signalling Einherjer’s intent with a fiery, brisk opening that does offer a much more pronounced black metal vibe complete with cold riffing and slightly faster tempo that’s more the exception than the rule. It feels organic too, with a live feel, full of energy and intent, especially in the wanton exuberance of the solo from lead guitarist Ole Sønstabø. In many ways, the opening one-two on this album, offer the two sides to Einherjer perfectly, between the more measured and the more carefree.
At around the 44-minute mark, spread across eight tracks, ‘North Star’ is what I’d consider to be the perfect length for a record of this type as well. It isn’t too brief, but neither does it belabour the point or outstay its welcome.
‘West Coast Groove’ as the name might suggest, does have a groovy quality to it, as well as a more old-school heavy rock/metal vibe. It’s incredibly catchy but doesn’t feel at all out of place. The lead solo is a thing of beauty, whilst the lyrics, which include ‘we’re the Norsemen, marching on’ underline the Viking metal credentials perfectly.
The quality doesn’t stop there either, with each song offering something that becomes ever-more enjoyable with repeated listens. ‘Ascension’, in particular is worthy of mention. It is not only the longest track on ‘North Star’, but it is probably the most diverse and, thanks in part to the cleaner layered vocals that sing the title of the song at points, it feels like it’s the most epic. The pace alternates nicely between a mid-tempo stomp and something slightly speedier, emphasised by the more aggressive drumming when the need arises. The Maiden-esque lead guitar line late on within ‘Echoes In Blood’ that seamlessly morphes into yet another arresting solo is another high point on an album with many, including the darker, moodier, more atmospheric ‘Listen To The Graves’ late on in proceedings.
I have listened to this album about four or five times through today alone and even now, I find myself beguiled by the content. I’m only becoming fonder of the music, as it works its Norse magic on me, taking me on an enjoyable and rewarding journey into their Nordic world. As I remarked earlier, I truly believe that ‘North Star’ could well be Einherjer’s best yet given its consistent quality, authenticity and professional delivery. But I’ll let you be the ultimate judge of that.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: