Týr, Ragnarok (Napalm Records, 2006)

Originally settled by Vikings, the Faroe Islands are located roughly halfway between Iceland and the northern tip of Scotland. The islands, although mostly autonomous, are still formally considered part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Culturally speaking, the Faroese people are essentially Nordic, and their language is very similar to Norwegian and Danish. The nearest land to the Faroe Islands are the Shetland Islands, though, and as a result there is a bit of a Celtic imprint on the Faroese culture and traditions as well. The economy revolves around fishing, but recently the islands have begun exporting something else entirely -- heavy metal with pagan undertones, most notably in the form of a quartet called Týr.

Týr are led by Heri Joensen on vocals and guitar. Terji Skibenæs provides a second lead guitar, Gunnar H. Thomsen plays bass, and Kári Streymoy does the drumming. They specialize in making concept albums based on Nordic mythology, and their third album Ragnarok came out in 2006. In Norse legend, Ragnarok is an apocalyptic battle that concludes a cascading civil war that involves all the Norse gods and humanity. No gods survive, and only two humans are left to start over. It's a bleak topic to be sure, but this is heavy metal after all, and Týr presents the story in a way that gives the myths some modern relevance.

Ragnarok the album begins with an overture, followed by an opening scene featuring the most famous of the Norse gods. Thor captures somebody who had snuck in and cut off his wife's hair, but the intruder spares himself by offering Thor something he can't refuse. "Out of the fire of freedom, and out of the forge of dwarves, to hold in your hand now and forever more, I give you the hammer of Thor." As any veteran player of Dungeons & Dragons can tell you, you never thumb your nose at somebody offering you a weapon of the finest dwarven craftsmanship. And when the presentation of said weapon is accompanied by music that rocks, well hey, that's an added bonus. Predictably, things spiral out of control from there. Deceit leads to treachery, which leads to betrayal, which leads to revenge. The gods stop getting along, and willingly or not, all humanity becomes entangled in the conflict. The people persevere, knowing that they have to keep fighting in order to save something in the end, but also fully cognizant that "this war will throw us corpses in a heap."

Týr describe their music as "folk metal," and while the metal clearly dominates the folk, the traditional musical elements that do get incorporated into Ragnarok help to make the album very interesting and compelling. On "Wings of Time," a Faroese chant from a field recording is turned into a fiercely potent chorus. "Lord of Lies" is introduced with a Celtic-flavored traditional Faroese tune played by a folk band -- and then the melody becomes the guitar riff that kicks in the song. It sounds like a very strange combination, yet Tyr make it work.

The other compelling aspect of Ragnarok is that it is ultimately an anti-war album. For all the depictions of warriors and battles in the songs, Týr present the myth in a way that doesn't glorify war at all. Rather, the band combines respect and honor for the warriors with a healthy contempt for those whose deceit put them into their desperate predicament. The album's payoff comes in the epilogue "Valkyries Flight/Valhalla." An inspired conversion of an Irish reel into a metal riff leads into an angry dismissal of people who "pretend they have the answers to all. In awe they'll defend fictional visions of mist. I never believed in their stories, I never saw sense in their speech. All they ever taught me was hatred."

I can't really say I'm much of a metal fan, and the first time I played Ragnarok I didn't quite know what to make of it. By the third or fourth listen, though, I was totally digging it. People who simply don't like any heavy metal won't embrace Týr, and you could certainly argue that some of the album is hokey in a Spinal Tap "Stonehenge" sort of way. But there's something to be said for any record that rocks hard and has depth at the same time. And besides, if you find the combination of epic mythology and epic heavy metal in any way appealing, Ragnarok might be just the kind of hokey you're looking for. Týr already has a brand new album out called Land, so I'm going to try to review more from these guys soon.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

Heri Joensen leads Týr into battle

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