Heljareyga - s/t 4.5/5
This is a very cool CD. Long-time readers may be familiar with my obsession with Faroese melodic folk metal kings, Tyr. Heljareyga is essentially the side project of Tyr singer/guitarist Heri Joensen. In the last couple of years, Tyr have been moving away from the sprawling epics that characterized their earlier work, instead offering up concise (dare I say accessible?) 4-minute numbers. But Joensen’s heart still yearns for those breathtaking 10-minute soundscapes he once crafted for Tyr. So Heljareyga is his vehicle for exploring that side of his writing. The band’s debut CD was released last year in Europe (released in the Faroe Islands through the tiny Tutl Records and licensed by Germany’s Black Bards label) to little fanfare, so unfortunately most people have not heard it. That’s a pity.
There are undeniable similarities between Heljareyga and Tyr. Joensen’s magnificent distinctive clean voice, for starters. And the melodic sensibilities of the 2 acts are not markedly different. Sure, Tyr favors melodies taken from traditional Faroes, Scandinavian and even Irish folk music, whereas Joensen writes all new melodies for Heljareyga, but the divergence is subtle. Another point of comparison is the lyrics, with Heljareyga sharing Tyr’s penchant for penning texts in the Faroese tongue. The bands are stylistically close enough that if you were to hear a Heljareyga song on the radio (hah!), without knowing who it was, you’d swear it must be a new Tyr track. These many overlapping characteristics have led some to question the need for Heljareyga’s existence at all, since that band essentially sounds like Joensen’s day-job gig.
But the differences between Tyr and Heljareyga are pretty profound too. Most notably, Heljareyga stay in all-epic mode all the time. The shortest song on display on this debut CD is 8 minutes long and the longest exceeds 11 minutes. Heljareyga use none of those crazy multi-part vocal harmonies that are a Tyr hallmark, with Joensen apparently supplying all the vocals. And unlike Tyr, who seamlessly switch between Faroese and English lyrics, Heljareyga’s songs are written exclusively in the Faroese language, ensuring that you and I will not understand a word of it. A number of reviews on the Net describe Heljareyga as a more “progressive” version of Tyr. I disagree. In fact, I don’t hear any progressive metal in Heljareyga at all. Sure, the songs are long, but that doesn’t mean they are progressive. A wise friend of mine put his finger on something when he said that Heljareyga are actually a more power-metal version of Tyr. He’s right. There’s way more double-bass drumming and speedy riffing on this Heljareyga CD than almost anything in Tyr’s catalog. There are no doomy parts or unconventional/experimental parts like the ones that crop up in Tyr’s longer songs. Instead, Heljareyga offer 48 minutes of inspired folky guitar melodies that will dance in your head all day long, laid over the top of a pummeling power-metal rhythm section, with Joensen’s magical voice and a crushing production holding it all together.
Some people will probably dismiss Heljareyga out of hand as unnecessary or superfluous. We’ve still got Tyr, right? And they’re reliably releasing killer new CDs every couple of years. (Public service announcement: New Tyr, ‘The lay of Thrym’, will see the light of day on Napalm Records in May.) So who needs Heljareyga? The fallacy in that reasoning is that Heljareyga’s CD is every bit as good as the best material that Tyr have ever written. This isn’t some mere throwaway vanity side project for Heri Joensen to kill time while Tyr are recharging batteries. This is the real deal. Heljareyga is a dream come true for fans of uptempo, hugely melodic, guitar-driven heavy metal sung in an obscure foreign language. Maybe Tyr’s new CD can top this. But, honestly, I doubt it.
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