Faroese Viking hammer-fanciers Týr have ventured forth again from their frozen islands to slay and conquer, this time brandishing a new and mighty weapon – the magic disc Valkyrja. The new creation – forged by Svartelves at Metal Blade following their major league switch from Týr’s previous Dwarvish warlords at Napalm Records, focuses on that staple of Norse mythology and notoriously large female opera singers, the Valkyrie – the lissome / massive maidens who carry metal fans who expire in the moshpit to the halls of the brave – Valhalla, where Judas Priest plays forever.
For those unfamiliar with Týr, they remain the most innovative and authentic of the Viking bands. They are serial armour-wearers whose roots are firmly entrenched in Faroese folk music in terms of song-writing and were also one of the earliest adopters of the use of their native language on some songs. The folk-metal song-structures meant that some of their earlier efforts, such as ‘Eric the Red’ and ‘Land’ could be described in places as ponderous. With recent efforts from 2009’s ‘By The Light Of The Northern Star’ through 2011’s ‘The Lay of Thrym’ the band has increasingly sharpened their song-writing to produce shorter, snappier, faster numbers without sacrificing their signature sound.
‘Valkyrja’ finds the Vikings marching steadfastly on in the same direction. The unfortunate loss of husky tub-thumper Kári Streymoy to a long-term injury has seen his replacement by George Kollias of Nile and Nightfall fame. This has compromised the distinctive nature of Týr’s sound to an extent, but the more straightforward Kollias has added immense heaviness which is likely to find favour amongst Thrash fans.
‘Valkyrja’ is accordingly much Thrashier than earlier efforts. Songs such as ‘Another Fallen Brother’ abound with long sections which could be described entirely as ‘Thrash’. Despite this the record continues to rely on Heri Joensen’s increasingly strong vocal, and distinctive solo work. They also continue to deploy those trademark four-part vocal harmonies and twin lead guitars, thus blending their signature sound with music likely to be more accessible to the majority of metal fans.
In terms of the songs, ‘Blood of Heroes’ is an immediate statement of intent, bristling with metal brio and heavier and quicker than most work on the earlier albums. ‘Mare of My Night’ uses Joensen’s oft-repeated escalating scales trick before settling into a heavier stomp to portray a peculiarly erotic encounter, the whole being shot through with Megadeth-ish guitar riffery.
‘Hell Hath No Fury’ crushes in typically Týr-ish fashion, all backwards and forwards riffing, 4-part choruses and clever arrangement, while ‘Lay of Our Love’, a well-wrought duet between Joensen and Liv Kristine from former label mates, Leaves Eyes, sees the first major departure from Týr’s well tried and tested formats. It also demonstrates the increasing strength of Joensen’s vocals, proving as he does more than a match even for La Christine.
‘Nation’ again manages to be fast and heavy, without compromising Joensen’s lyrical ability. It also showcases Týr’s increasing skill at writing uncomplicated, catchy choruses. The aforementioned ‘Another Fallen Brother’ meanwhile, is Thrashy without interrupting an unhurried vocal from Joensen. ‘Grindavi’san’ meanwhile is very much more in the vein of older Týr albums, but at once heavier and faster, while ‘Fa’nar Burtur Brandaljo’d’ is another Faroese track with a folkish feel.
‘Into the Sky’, ‘Lady of the Slain’ and ‘Valkyrja’ are three beautifully-written tracks around the theme of Valkyries. ‘Into the Sky’ is inspiring stuff, all soaring vocals and big choruses containing Joensen’s best lyrical work to date. ‘Lady of the Slain’ is superb galloping metal, boasting an excellent chorus and some great guitar work. The more sombre ‘Valkyrja’ contains some of Joensen’s most thoughtful lyrics. The three Valkyrie-themed songs stand out and would have made a great concept EP.
For a band with as distinctive a sound as Týr to attempt ‘Where Eagles Dare’ is a masterstroke and somewhat brave on Joensen’s part considering the youthful Dickensonian high notes in the original (carefully tackled with a bit of down-tuning). However where it scores is as a love letter to the wider Metal audience the band are courting on this album. As Maiden’s most obvious drum showcase, it also provides a good opportunity for Kollias to show off his skills.
Perhaps an even greater surprise is revealed with their second choice of a cover. A heartfelt rendition of Pantera’s ‘Cemetary Gates’ gives Joensen and guitarist Terji Skibenæs the chance to showcase their guitar work, again underlining Týr’s commitment to, and love of, metal outside of the narrow confines of the Viking Metal genre.
All in all, ‘Valkyrja’ is a clear departure from Týr’s earlier work, which places them much more firmly in the metal mainstream and gives them a far heavier, thrashier sound. To a certain extent, as with the loss of Streymoy, this is a source of regret as the band have lost some of the eccentricities and naivety that characterized their earlier work. They have also (mostly) ironed out unintentionally amusing tics such as Heri Joensen’s reliance on crassly rhyming lyrics.
That is not to say that ‘Valkyrja’ is in any way a bad album – far from it. The switch to the Thrashier sound on some tracks is likely to imbue them with new appeal, and finally claim the centre stage from some of their less capable competitors. However the album still retains enough of the band’s earlier sound, mostly packaged in more accessible form, to appeal to long-term fans. Clever touches such as the Iron Maiden and Pantera covers show a willingness to embrace a greater role in the Metal world. There are also signs of considerable progress. ‘Valkyrja’ contains what is easily Joensen’s best vocal and lyrical work and some of the best soloing, song structures and choruses on any Týr album.
All in all this is an excellent album. Perhaps ‘Valkyrja’ will finally allow Týr achieve the recognition that this great band deserves.
(9/10 Graham Cushway)