Review: SIG:AR:TYR – "Northen"

Have you ever thought much about Viking history? Like, really pondered it? One man who has spent a lot of time doing just that is Daemonskald, the man behind Viking pagan metal band SIG:AR:TYR. The band started as a solo project back in 2003, releasing a demo the same year, then an album every few years after. The last release, Godsaga, was back in 2010, so it’s been awhile – but it’s certainly been ‘all change’ in the meantime, with Daemonskald recruiting other musicians and even songwriting partners, as well as performing the band’s first ever live shows with said musicians. Album number four, Northen, sees SIG:AR:TYR continue their evolution from an acoustic ambient sound to a more rounded pagan metal one.

As with prior albums, Northen deals with the Viking era; this time, it’s the end of the Viking era under scrutiny, when journeys were made to find places to live and their pagan bedrock all but crumbled under the weight of Christianity. A read of the lyrics shows an actual story being told, a Viking saga of travel and hope as the men come across a new place their king calls ‘Helluland’, which is also the name of the first track. In keeping with the saga within the lyrics, the music is sweeping and majestic, yet tinged with sadness and a futile anger, a recurring theme throughout. The protagonist seems to be questioning why they tried so hard to find this new land, and why his shipmates were so eager to embrace the new religion. The simple yet poetic lyrics, sung in Daemonskald’s intense, almost whispered vocals – think a more melancholy Dani Filth – paint a rather bleak yet stubbornly optimistic picture.

A change of pace follows next in the surprisingly brisk ‘Crownless’, which races along satisfyingly with lush guitar harmonies and a sense of fury encased in an almost power metal style. Song three ‘Runarmal’ is surely a first: a song written entirely about runes. It has a definite ‘impending doom’ feel, with its tribal intro and forceful beat, and is quite a grand number.

Then it’s back to ‘slow burner’ pace with ‘Markland (The Hammer Fades)’, which tells of the loss of Viking identity and paganism; that resigned anger and sadness is a heavy presence here. Clocking in at an epic eight minutes long, it certainly makes it’s feelings known to the listener. The acoustic intro of ‘Skraeling’ links us back to the original sound of the band, before it launches into full folk metal, describing an epic battle and the tragic outcome. ‘Krosskanes’, ‘Vinland’ and ‘Northen’ tell of the aftermath of the death of their king in true Viking metal style, with talk of going “to Odin’s side” and a fierce determination to never forget the old gods – despite the fact that everyone else is doing just that. Combined, the three are a grandiose and majestic trio.

Album closer ‘Last Ship Sails’ is the undoubted highlight, however. It’s clear feel of yearning and homesickness means one can almost feel the icy air on your neck and the trepidation and sorrow of the men. It’s classic metal feel and regal guitar work, combined with the lyrics which read like an authentic saga, result in a song that is both heartbreaking and yet ultimately uplifting, with the defiant, “They will still remember our names” refrain providing a poignant and powerful ending to this most sumptuous and emotional album.

Make no mistake: this is an album that is ‘epic’ in every sense of the word. At over an hour long, it requires concentration and focus, otherwise you will miss the many subtleties and riches present. The dutiful listener will be rewarded with an album that is both a lesson in Viking history and a lesson in superb Viking metal. Now that’s something to ponder.

Review by Melanie Brehaut

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