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Tyr - Land 4/5

Reviewed: 12-5-08


1. Gandkvaeio trondar
2. Sinklars visa
3. Gatu rima
4. Brennivin
5. Ocean
6. Fipan fagra
7. Valkyrjan
8. Lokka tattur
9. Land
10. Hail to the hammer

It must be an exciting time for the members of Tyr. Just 6 years ago, the barechested warriors from the Faeroe Islands were unknowns playing an esoteric blend of traditional metal and Faeroese, Danish, and Irish folk music, utilizing a variety of languages and recording CDs for an obscure Faeroese record label. Today, Tyr are an internationally acclaimed touring juggernaut, celebrating the release of their 4th CD on the widely-distributed Napalm Records, reissuing their back catalogue, hitting all the major summer festivals, and gearing up for a headlining tour of North America on the Pagan Knights Tour in the spring of 2009. Although they have always been hugely talented, it helps that Tyr have been able to ride the wave of popularity enjoyed by the burgeoning folk metal genre, but let's get something straight: Tyr were innovators and leaders playing this style of music long before it became a trend. Besides, Tyr's brand of folk/viking/pagan metal is distinctly different from its peers, thanks to the unique Faeroese melodies, the immediately recognizable clear and expressive vocals of Heri Joensen, the doomy slow tempos, the virtually exclusive reliance on traditional metal instrumentation (without the gimmicky baggage of tin whistles, bagpipes, flutes, accordions, harpsichords, keyboards or any of that other crap) and the layered vocal choirs that are a trademark of Tyr's sound.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that 'Land' was one of my most eagerly anticipated new releases of 2008. I was captivated by each of Tyr's first 3 releases and have been a dedicated fan since the beginning. 'Ragnarok' was featured prominently in my Top 10 list for 2006, and I still spin the entire Tyr discography regularly. With 'Land', the band sought to advance their signature sound and style a step further. While their CDs have typically featured both original compositions and traditional music from their homeland, Denmark and Ireland, with most of the lyrics in English, 'Land' was conceived as a full CD of Faeroese, Icelandic and Norwegian traditionals, rearranged into heavy metal, with most of the lyrics in Faeroese. As an added challenge, Tyr arranged 2 songs for 'Land' that exceed 10 minutes, with the title track clocking in at a whopping 16 minutes. Would Tyr be able to sustain the listener's interest with predominantly foreign-language lyrics and a renewed emphasis on extended song forms?

I've spent a great deal of time with 'Land' in an attempt to let these songs seep under my skin before writing a kneejerk review. After extensive study, I've concluded that the glass can be viewed as either half-full or half-empty. Let's start with the half-full perspective. Tyr are still an amazing band, and 'Land' should not disappoint any of their growing legions of followers. Everything I loved about their prior releases is here, from the signature Faeroese melodies to the heavy but catchy guitar riffs to the awesome vocals, including both the lead vocals of Joensen and the choirs of Joensen, bassist Gunnar Thomsen, and guitarist Terji Skibenaes. Tracks such as "Sinklars Visa" ("The ballad of sinclair") and the 2 sprawling epics, "Ocean" and "Land", are triumphant peaks for the folk metal genre, representing all that is vibrant and powerful and majestic and great about this style of music. "Brennevin" ("Booze") also captures the brilliance of Tyr, and is a most worthy song. And the remake of live favorite "Hail to the hammer" (which was first recorded with a different vocalist on Tyr's 'How far to Asgaard' debut CD) is a splendid closer that will enthrall both old and new fans alike, not only because of the inclusion of Joensen's vocals but because they've altered the arrangement to fit how they play the song live today, including the breakdown for the singalong part near the end. This re-recorded version of "Hail to the hammer" is fitting, worthwhile, and unquestionably adds value.

So where does the half-empty aspect come into play? The biggest problem is that perhaps the novelty is wearing off and Tyr are beginning to chafe against the narrow confines of the sound into which they've boxed themselves. Stated differently, maybe they've already used the best and most metal of these traditional Faeroese compositions that they thrive on adapting to distorted twin guitars, crashing drums and heavy metal vocals. In a number of spots, I get the distinct impression that Tyr are recycling a melody that they've already used on a previous CD. What's worse, a number of the songs in the middle of the CD just lack that extra spark, that special magical ingredient that renders Tyr songs so endearing and unique. Don't misunderstand me: There are no bad songs on 'Land' and nothing that I would call filler. It's just that a few of the songs don't grab me as much as the Tyr of old, and sound like they could have been B-sides or leftovers from the 'Eric the Red' or 'Ragnarok' sessions. If this were the first Tyr CD I had ever heard, I bet my praise would be boundless, because I'd have no meaningful basis of comparison for the songs on 'Land'. But I know the Tyr discography well, and they've done as well or better than most of this stuff on previous releases.

None of the above should be construed as a recommendation that either Tyr devotees or Tyr neophytes should skip 'Land'. It's a very strong CD and a highly enjoyable listen. It has at least 3 marvelous songs (4, if you count the remake of "Hail to the hammer"), and several others that are quite good. But it isn't as magnificent as 'Ragnarok' and it probably is not quite as good as 'Eric the Red'. Still, a slightly underachieving CD from Tyr is better than 80% of the CDs released in the metal world, so I'll accept 'Land' with gratitude and thanksgiving. Besides, the 'Land' package is further sweetened by the inclusion of an outstanding 47-minute live DVD of Tyr's spellbinding performance at the 2007 Wacken Open Air Festival, which would be worth the price of admission even if 'Land' were strictly frisbee material. Save us, oh lord, from the wrath of the Faeroese.




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