Tyr - Valkyrja 4.5/5

Reviewed: 11-1-13





Tracklist:

1. Blood of heroes
2. Mare of my night
3. Hel hath no fury
4. The lay of our love
5. Nation
6. Another fallen brother
7. Grindavisan
8. Into the sky
9. Fanar burtur brandaljod
10. Lady of the slain
11. Valkyrja
12. Where eagles dare
13. Cemetery gates


In the 11 years since they burst on the international metal scene with their ‘How far to Asgaard’ debut, Tyr have amassed an impressive body of work. Actually, “impressive” doesn’t really do it justice. Over the course of 7 stellar full-length CDs, Tyr have evolved from Faeroese curiosity to folky progressive mastery to speedy power-metal bombast. Through it all, vocalist/guitarist Heri Joensen, guitarist Terji Skibenaes, and bassist Gunnar Thomsen have demonstrated an unerring penchant for top-shelf songs with sterling melodies, battle-ready choirs and fist-pumping motifs. To be sure, certain detractors have been quick to write off Tyr as trendy folk metal; however, the criticism misses the mark, in that Tyr are a far cry from disposable trendhoppers, featuring a great deal more depth and substance to their compositions than such a limiting, derogatory tag might suggest.

Be that as it may, ‘Valkyrja’ finds our heroes very much treading the same path as their 2 most recent CDs, 2009’s ‘By the light of the northern star’ and 2011’s ‘The lay of Thrym’. What does that mean? Well, Tyr continue to showcase the power metal facet of their sound, emphasizing straightforward uptempo sing-a-long anthems rather than the contemplative epic pieces found on ‘Land’, for example. Joensen’s typically powerful and distinctive clear vocals are in fine form, albeit perhaps a touch raspier than we’ve heard before. And the Joensen/Skibanaes guitar tandem has upped up its game by a notch with the fiery fretwork displayed. Tyr fans will find themselves right at home with material such as the instantly memorable “Blood of heroes”, “Another fallen brother”, and “Lady of the slain”, all of which are guaranteed to go down a storm in the live setting. In keeping with tradition, Tyr offer a pair of foreign-language songs in the form of “Grindavisan” (translation: “The grindballad”) and “Fanar burtur brandaljod” (“Fades the sound of swords”), and several tunes based on traditional Faeroese, Danish, Icelandic and Norwegian melodies. There’s even a longer slightly more progressive track (the awesome “Valkyrja”) that harkens back just a bit to the band’s earlier days. And much like ‘The lay of Thrym’, the limited edition version of this CD closes with a pair of well-known metal covers, most notably a fantastic rendition of Iron Maiden’s “Where eagles dare” (plus a spot-on run through Pantera’s “Cemetery gates”, a predictable selection given Skibanaes’ prominent “Cowboys from hell” tattoo on his right arm).

From the above, the reader might be forgiven for concluding that ‘Valkyrja’ is business as usual in the Tyr camp. Not quite. For starters, ‘Valkyrja’ marks the band’s debut for Metal Blade Records, after many years on Austria’s Napalm Records roster. What’s more, longtime drummer Kari Streymoy, a fixture behind the kit for Tyr since the ‘How far to Asgaard’ days, has stepped down (for health reasons, if I’m not mistaken), with drum parts on ‘Valkyrja’ being ably handled by a death metal drummer, Nile’s George Kollias. (Relax, there are no blastbeats on this CD, and Kollias did a superb job here.) Even more interesting, ‘Valkyrja’ features a loose lyrical concept glorifying women (hey, who could criticize that?) and telling the story of a happily married warrior’s obsession with the Valkyries, the mythical Norse winged women who, as Eric Adams memorably told us 3 decades ago, fly to Asgard. You know, “High overheard, they carry the dead, where the blood of my enemies lie.” But there’s the rub, right? The Valkyries carry the dead, not the living. Predictably, things don’t end particularly well for our protagonist on the battlefield, although he does get his wish. Given this lyrical theme (which is quite well executed save on the rather, ehrrmmm, explicit “Mare of my night”), it would make sense to bring in a female guest vocalist for a duet with Joensen. Sure enough, Tyr thought of that, inviting Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull (Leaves' Eyes) to sit in on the stirring ballad “The lay of our love” to fine effect.

Look, here’s what you need to know. If Tyr has ever floated your boat, errr, I mean, your viking longship, before, and especially if you’ve been known to run around your living room singing “Hold the heathen hammer high” at the top of your lungs with a kitchen pot on your head and a broomstick in your hands (hypothetically speaking, of course), then ‘Valkyrja’ should be at the top of your must-buy list. If you’ve never checked out these warriors from the Faeroese Islands before, then you’ve been missing out on some of the best, coolest melodic heavy metal music from the past decade. Do yourself a favor: Go to your computer, pull up “Blood of heroes” that's currently on YouTube, and give it a listen. You just might find yourself captivated by the magic of Tyr. As for me, I’ll look forward to placing ‘Valkyrja’ in a place of honor amidst my favorites of 2013, and will hope that Metal Blade brings Tyr over to these shores for extensive touring in the coming months. Hail to the hammer, and hail to Tyr.



KIT




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