Týr are one of the most underrated metal bands currently playing today. Their level of fame is certainly not where it deserves to be in the United States at least. It is difficult to judge their level of acclaim in places like Germany and Russia, but they do not appear to be packing stadiums in those trad-metal friendly nations like they should be. Since 2003’s minor classic Eric the Red, Týr have been building a very distinctive sound that draws on classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal, power metal, folk metal, as well as pretty much every other kind of melodic metal that you can think of.
Most significantly, Týr seamlessly incorporate the rhythmic, chanting-based folk music traditions of their native Faroe Islands into their sound giving their music a powerful, emotional, very unique quality. With all questions of genre and musical tradition aside, what makes Týr so much better than most of the bands that they share stages with at places like Wacken and Paganfest is their superlative songwriting. Týr write some of the most moving choruses, catchy riffs, and thought provoking lyrics in all of contemporary metal, and their new record Valkyrja is another example of their greatness.
There have been many, many metal bands who have jumped on the ‘Viking metal’ and/or ‘folk metal’ bandwagon in the last ten years. Týr are certainly not the only band from Northern Europe to explore themes concerning Norse mythology and pre-Christian Nordic culture; however, the fact of the matter is that Týr simply do it better and smarter than about 95% of them. On Valkyrja Týr sing partially in English and partially in their native Faroese which is a dialect of Icelandic and very similar to the language that was spoken throughout the Nordic countries during the Viking Age. They find the balance between languages more perfectly on Valkyrja than on any previous release, but for my money it does not really matter which language they are singing in (and yes they do actually sing; Týr do not traffic in harsh vocals). Their Faroese songs are beautiful and haunting; I dare you to listen to a song like ‘Grindavísan’ and not get goosebumps.
At the same time, Týr write some of the best English language lyrics in the game that actually provoke thought, refection, and reverie. The over-riding theme on Valkyrja is, as the name suggests, the Valkyries, the winged female guardian beings of Old Norse Mythology. But when Týr sing about the stories and beliefs of their ancestors they are not just conjuring up dramatic, fantastical images for the sake of entertaining metal. Týr invite the listener, regardless of their ethnic background or familiarity with Norse mythology, to meditate on the philosophical significance of these stores. Týr keep these stories and concepts alive in a way that makes them far more than just dusty artifacts or ridiculous, romantic 19th Century symbols of nationalism.
Valkyrja is certainly dramatic, but it is not melodramatic. Týr’s music is epic and moving, without devolving into self-parody or the goofy ‘let’s get drunk and go to the Renaissance Faire’ tendency of so many folk metal and power metal bands. I am sure there are cretinous hipsters living in places like Brooklyn or Los Angeles who will listen to Týr, giggling obscenely into their clove cigarettes, and mewling to one another, “Isn’t heavy metal hilarious?!” But Týr’s music isn’t hilarious; it asks us to take its subject and ourselves seriously. These songs are wonderfully crafted, skillfully composed, and lyrically profound. Valkyrja is not a huge departure from their earlier records, although it is superior to some of their more recent material that sometimes veered too far into the folk metal style of tour mates like Korpiklaani and Alestorm. With luck, and their Valkyries watching their backs, Valkyrja will bring Týr the audience and acclaim they deserve.
// Notes from the Road
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