The Faroe Islands’ number one export, Folk Metallers Týr (pronounced ‘Twyre’, ‘Twore’ or sort of ‘Thfffthttf’ by Icelanders of the writer’s acquaintance who, inevitably, are cousins of the band) have returned with their eighth studio album ‘Hel’ celebrating twenty years of joyous pillage. What could go wrong? Well, it looks like pretty much everything. In particular lead man Heri Joensen is in trouble again.
Joensen has got himself into pickles before, notably for not being a Nazi, or refusing to admit he is one. Actually he almost certainly isn’t. Naturally that hasn’t stopped supposedly learned academics insisting that he is. Listening to some of the twiddle-de-dee moments on ‘Hel’ that one seems particularly far-fetched. Not exactly Skrewdriver this, is it?
More seriously Joensen’s fingerprints are very definitely all over a fresh controversy, in which he posted a photograph of himself butchering a long-finned pilot whale after a bout of recreational whaling. For good measure he added a Ted Nugent-style caption about “Real men killing their own meat”. BOOM!
Astoundingly, this jolly jape has not gone as anticipated. Faced with intense online barracking, and threats of cancellations, Joensen is frantically back / front pedalling. He has released a potentially counter-productive video in which he pontificated on the virtues of whaling (later also reprising his comments in The Spectator), attacked agriculture in general and blamed the whole fiasco on a peculiar vendetta with the obnoxious Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd.
What do the rest of Týr make of it all? Týr’s previous drummer, Kári Streymoy left in 2013, and the drum stool has been a bit of a revolving cast since then. The band’s long-term axeman Terji Skibenæs appears on the album and accompanying press photographs, but actually left last year as he was ‘no longer enjoying playing with Týr’. With half the band now non-Faroese, one wonders what the new boys make of being branded evil whale killers?
The noises coming from the Týr camp are increasingly negative. Angry responses to mildly critical reviews suggest a growing persecution complex. Joensen, despite acknowledging his luck in sustaining a Metal career for twenty years, refers to “… such misery and abject poverty that this career has led me through …” in the album’s promotional material. Wow! Compare that with the sheer to joie de vivre evidenced on, for example, their 2013 cover of Maiden’s ‘Where Eagles Dare’ and it looks like a band in freefall.
Thankfully this negativity doesn’t seem to be reflected in the album, probably because ‘Hel’ represents several years’ work. The immediate impression on listening is that – Yes – this is the Týr of old, but further evolved. The guitar work between Joensen and Terji Skibenæs is predictably intricate, with continual recourse to Joensen’s trademark continually escalating scales trick. Gunnar Thomsen’s bass thunders along, with some flashes of brilliance, and there is an impressive first studio outing for Tadeusz Rieckmann who has occupied Týr’s drum stool since 2016.
There is so much going on, on ‘Hel’ that it is difficult to summarize. The sound continues the heavier, faster vein on ‘Valkyrja’ each song being a mini-epic, at turns heavy and complex, at times melodic, with uniformly powerful choruses designed to anchor every track (naturally before turning into other equally melodic choruses). On the subject of power, Joensen’s vocals, at times raw, at times heavy, at times uplifting, sound stronger than ever. By Thor! It is impressive stuff – a band with twenty years’ experience at the very top of their game.
Týr have clearly settled on ‘Fire and Flame’ as the big hit single as it is the closest thing on offer to a power ballad. There are many other highlights though, particularly the songs in Faroese, the evocative ‘Ragnar’s Kvæði’, and ‘Alvur Kongur’, a folk tune chosen because it references Odin. Where these tracks showcase everything that makes Týr distinctive, the sheer power and weight of ‘Against the Gods’ or ‘Gates of Hel’ speak the language of Metal, power and glory.
In terms of complaints one could argue that ‘Hel’ is overladen with complexity. Complex riff piles on complex riff. Clever soaring melodies segue into other, entirely distinct melodies. Songs go up, up, up, sideways, then backwards before meandering into uber-twiddle. It is extremely sophisticated Metal, so brilliantly crafted it could be dwarf-made, but these multiple musical dimensions can at times leave the listener wandering bemused in a sonic labyrinth. It is hard to knock a band for evolving, but that still doesn’t stop one hankering a little for the epic simplicity of earlier works like ‘Hail to the Hammer’ or ‘Ormurin Langi’.
To complain too much about either this or the length of the record, though, just seems churlish. With such riches on offer, why would anyone want less?
Viking Metallers continue to impress despite a whale of a setback…
(8/10 Graham Cushway)