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Tyr - Ragnarok 4.5/5

Reviewed: 12-15-06


1. The beginning
2. The hammer of Thor
3. Envy
4. Brother bane
5. The burning
6. The ride to hell
7. Torsteins kvaeoi
8. Grimus a mioalnesi
9. Wings of time
10. The rage of the skullgaffer
11. The hunt
12. Victory
13. Lord of lies
14. Gjallarhorni
15. Ragnarok
16. The end

I've got to level with you. Until a couple of years ago, I never knew that there were metal bands on the Faeroe Islands. I didn't even know what the Faeroe Islands were. After a quick trip to the library (or its cyberspace equivalent), I now know that the Faeroe Islands are a group of 21 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean between Scotland and Iceland, belonging to Denmark but with extensive home rule. From this isolated corner of the Northern Hemisphere hail Tyr, an innovative quartet fusing traditional Faeroese melodies with elements of power metal, doom, traditional, and progressive metal, with all of these elements simmering into a delightful stew that is uniquely Tyr and no one else.

In 2003, I purchased both Tyr's debut CD, 'How far to Asgaard' (2002), and its follow-up, 'Eric the Red' (2003), on a whim after becoming intrigued by their catalog description in Sentinel Steel, which aptly described them as a mix of Falconer and Candlemass. It didn't take long for me to be captivated by the marvelous traditional melodies (not only Faeroese, but also Danish and Irish), the folklore-drenched lyrics, and the juxtaposition of clear English lead vocals with Faeroese chanting. (Yes, Faeroese is its own language, North Germanic in lineage.) Despite their limited distribution, these CDs eventually caught the attention of Austria's Napalm Records. The resulting collaboration spawned a deluxe reissue of 'Eric the Red' (replete with new cover art and I think bonus tracks, although I've not replaced my Tutl Records edition), and a brand-new CD, 'Ragnarok'.

Based on the label identity, the wrath-of-the-Norsemen cover art, and the Viking-horde-run-amok band photograph on the back cover, I feared that Tyr might have gone death metal on us. My worries were compounded when I learned that Tyr have embarked on their first-ever European tour in support of Amon Amarth. Don't get me wrong, I love Johan Hegg and his band of pasty-white-bellied, mead-swilling, forked-beard pillagers, but I don't want Tyr's sound to be sullied or corrupted by those influences. I needn't have worried. This sprawling 18-track CD remains true to the band's style and sound, while stepping up the production and vastly improving the integration of traditional folk melodies with metal arrangements. The result is Tyr's finest effort to date, a stunning jewel of a CD that belongs in the collection of every die-hard metalhead who can be open-minded about the inclusion of traditional European melodies and (occasional) vocal arrangements, including a sprinkling of Faroese lyrics. Cuts like "The hammer of Thor", "Wings of time", and "The hunt" are exceptional works that rank among the best songs of 2006.

Describing the music of 'Ragnarok' with any more precision is a notoriously difficult endeavor, because Tyr's sound defies categorization. This is not dance-a-jig folk music a la Skyclad or Mago de Oz or Korpiklaani, but there are elements of it here. This is not Viking music a la Bathory or Moonsorrow, but there are elements of it here too. The vocals of Heri Joensen are high, clear, and instantly identifiable, and he transitions confidently between English and Faroese as the material demands. There are no growls, grunts or screams. Joensen's range is limited, but his timbre is pleasing and he falls into that laid-back style often used to describe Falconer's Mathias Blad (although that comparison would be misleading here). Although there are a few guest musicians, the vast majority of the music is played by the standard 2 guitars, bass and drums set-up, without flutes, fiddles, accordions, didgeridoos, or anything else. And the guitar work of Joensen and Torji Skibenaes is tasteful and skilled. Despite the extreme 18-track length, there are actually only 10 proper songs, with the remainder consisting of short musical interludes that add to the ambience and often connect pieces of music together to allow for seamless transitions. Tempos tend to the middle of the road, with occasional doomy parts and the occasional speed and something packed with compelling songs and lyrics. If you do take the plunge, be sure and seek out the limited edition, as it includes 2 outstanding bonus tracks ("Valhalla" easily ranks among the highlights of the CD) from traditional Irish melodies, neither of which is found on the regular edition.




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