Review Summary: The very first Falkenbach album appears as a traditional yet inspiring record for the Viking Metal genre, and should be accepted by those who have an interest in the foundations of Folk and Viking Metal.
The year is 1989. Bathory's fourth and very inspiring album “Blood Fire Death” had already been made, and Enslaved and Amon Amarth were yet to be formed. However, one gallant group of musicians extremely influenced by Old Norse literature and Viking themes were just about to form arguably one of the most underrated extreme metal bands of the last two decades, and it's certainly clear that they were heading in the same direction as their Scandinavian peers, because Falkenbach's excellent debut, released seven years after their formation, could well be one of the best examples of “True” Viking Metal. “En Their Medh Riki fara” is one of those albums that is so ambitious and creative with its sound, that it's hard to think of any other band that could do it any better. By 1996 Folk Metal and Black Metal were yet to be combined into one flowing sound, but with Viking Metal it seemed so much easier and more expressive in terms of lyrical content and imagery.
The idea that Falkenbach were founded in Iceland is something special in itself, as some of the band's lyrical content is taken from Old Norse literature and Icelandic poetry, not to mention language taken from Old German, something that has remained a tradition within Viking Metal itself. However, a lot of the band's lyrics are indeed in purely comprehensible English, and instead of writing rhyming couplets or standard, predictably bland poetry, Vratyas Vakyas, the band's only long-standing member, uses his creativity to tell a story with each song, rather than mindlessly sing each lyric as if at a Karaoke contest. It's something that Falkenbach excels at, as the words strongly complement the music itself. On the sprawling, magnificent 'Heathenpride' Vakyas screams his heart and soul out with cries of “REVENGE!” before harmonically singing like an angel that “The Stars were shining on a dark, black Sky/ their swords reflected the light of the moon/their torches burned red,the flames blazed up high”. In contrast, on the repetitive but somewhat hypnotizing 'Laeknishendr', a title taken from an Old Norse poem, Vakyas proves that less is more by using the 13-line poem itself for lyrical inspiration, the English translation itself being a homage to the fictional gods and goddesses of Viking lore. Put simply, poetic and well written lyrics are indeed a tradition deeply found within Viking Metal, but Falkenbach still manage to make it work.
Musically everything is as well performed and epic as it could ever be. The guitar work in particular is something noticeable on “En Their...”, as constant tempo and rhythm changes interest the listener and keep the music from becoming overly repetitive or tedious. The more aggressive nature of the static opener 'Galdralag' and the chilling yet menacing 'Winternight' are particularly dominated by strong guitar work and sweeping, epic soundscapes, as Vakyas' vocal transition from a harmonic, clean style to a harsher, throat-ripping sound strongly support the furious nature of each respective instrument. Even when the guitars and vocals come together, for instance in the anthemic 'Laeknishendr', which features Vakyas' clean and harsh vocals combined together for one final chant, there is still a sense of unity and magic amongst the band's performance, giving way to stellar musicianship and an excellent performance. The acoustic guitar interludes in “Ultima Thule” offer a bit of change in the sound yet don't seemd to offer melody, but a softer, tenser approach to the song, before returning to a more Black metal inspired sound.
The bass and drums here aren't anything special but they still manage to keep up with the ever-changing guitar work and Vakyas' excellent vocal work. The bass offers a doomier, slightly heavier layer to the production of the guitars, whereas the drums, when in a rare moment are performed solo, give extra power and more of an epic feel to the album's overall production, something that also strongly complements the other instruments.
However, what is most interesting here within the sound is the folk instrumentation itself. It may be the only thing that distinguishes “En their Medh Riki fara” from being just another hybrid of Black and Viking Metal, but it is also like the other instruments, performed in a very subtle way. The flute work on 'Asum Ok Alfum Naer...' and 'Heathenpride' offers various types of melodic sound but also seems to end or continue the respective songs in quite an interesting and engaging way. There are also quite a few instances where the folk instrumentation is used to run alongside the rhythmic guitar work and drums, yet again giving each and every song an epic feel.
“En Their Medh Riki fara” is an excellent album, but it does have some things that other listeners would call a flaw. The production here is perfect for its time and sound, but some may be slightly irritated by the fact that sometimes Vakyas' vocals are inaudible due to the guitar work appearing too high in the mix, or perhaps the bass work simply appearing as a background effect rather than an actual instrument itself. The only other thing that may be considered a flaw is the album's shortest song 'Ultima Thule', which for its well structured sound and orchestrated instrumentation, appears a little too short.
Even if these are minor annoyances though, they still don't take away from the fact that “En Their Medh Riki Fara” is an inspiring album for both its genre and its time. A shame that it has never really been noticed as a staple with the Viking Metal or Black Metal genre, but sometimes the most underrated bands and albums are indeed the best, whatever the genre. With its epic soundscapes, intelligent source material and well written song structures, Falkenbach's debut album is something that aims to please, and that it certainly has done. 16 years it has existed, and it still sounds every bit as ambitious as it's very first release date.