I hope I’m not the only metalhead that’s only familiar with the Faroe Islands because of Tyr. While the Viking aesthetic is well-trod territory exercised by tons of bands worldwide, Tyr’s incorporation of local culture allows them to stand out. Their progressive folk metal formula has had its share of tweaks since their 1998 formation, but you can find multiple songs sung in the Faroese language on every album they’ve ever put out. Their upcoming full-length, the simply titled Hel, looks to be keeping to this tradition. In anticipation of that album’s release on March 8th, I’ll be looking back on Tyr’s seven releases thus far to examine their evolution.
1) How Far to Asgaard
In the grand tradition of groups like Dream Theater and Symphony X, Tyr’s debut is quite different than what would follow in its wake. Bandleader Heri Joensen is only on guitar duties here, leaving the lead vocals to Pol Arni Holm in his sole full-length appearance, and there’s more doom influence here than the band’s other efforts. Songs like “Ormurin Iangi” show Faroese folk and others like the title track showcase odd prog structuring, but overall it sounds more like the Black Sabbath album that they may or may not have been named after. The band would need more experience for their songwriting skills to match their aspirations but tracks like the opening “Hail to the Hammer” and “God of War” are staples in their own right. Worth checking out for those who don’t mind extra doom in their Viking metal.
Final Grade: B
2) Eric the Red
Tyr broadened their scope considerably on Eric the Red. The tempos are still somewhat sluggish compared to their later efforts, but the prog rhythms are much better timed and folk influences are pushed to the forefront. One can also classic metal guitar gallops taking hold on the group’s riffing style and Joensen’s vocals are more layered than his predecessor, giving the album some extra oomph compared to the debut. The compositions can still feel slightly jumbled at times and the more straightforward tracks like “The Wild Rover” and “Olavur Riddararos” border on folk metal silliness, but this is a much more confident record overall. Definitely, one to reward multiple listens.
Final Grade: B+
Serving as Tyr’s token concept album, Ragnarok sees the band reaching for the loftiest heights they can muster. The guitars get a major overall as the tone is brighter, the riffs are more consistently driving while still keeping that busy prog flavor, and the leads are more triumphant. The vocals are more commanding, seamlessly delivering the narrative in a mix of different languages while still keeping the tone. The concept is also pretty manageable as the individual tracks avoid serious bloat while the numerous interludes serve more as instrumental transitions to the point where the awesomely titled “The Rage of the Skullgaffer” is a two-minute shred-fest. Like Eric the Red, the hour-plus runtime makes for a lot to take in, but this remains Tyr’s crowning achievement.
Final Grade: A
With many of the songs on Land taking inspiration from or outright lifting their melodies from traditional Faroese songs, it’s safe to assume that it would be the band’s most folk-oriented effort. For the most part, this appears to be the case as the guitars and vocals adapt more jovial patterns while the pacing is consistently upbeat. This does admittedly make for a rather niche pick compared to Tyr’s other efforts, but it proves to be an enjoyable listen with songs like “Brennivin” and “Fipan Fagra” making for solid highlights. It’d an album best suited for those already acquainted with Tyr but it manages to be a pretty solid example of folk metal steering clear of its goofy reputation. The sixteen-minute title track might be a bit much though.
Final Grade: B+
5) By the Light of the Northern Star
After four albums of hour-plus folk/prog metal adventures, Tyr streamlined their approach for their fifth full-length. The song lengths are leaner overall and tracks like the blazing “Heed the Heathen Call” demonstrate much more influence from power metal. Thankfully the band didn’t dumb themselves down nor alter their individual characteristics as their folk melodies and multi-lingual lyrics are firmly intact. In fact, the shift may have worked in their favor as the musicianship has more muscle behind it and songs like the opening “Hold the Heathen Hammer High” and “By the Sword in My Hand” are worthy staples. By the Light of the Northern Star may not be as grandiose as Eric the Red or Ragnarok, but the part it played in the band’s development is arguably more significant.
Final Grade: A-
6) The Lay of Thrym
The Lay of Thrym sees Tyr all but fully embracing power metal. The tempos are even more driving than before with a more noticeable guitar crunch and a greater emphasis on catchy songwriting results in vocal layering that’s somehow even more bombarding. Fortunately, the inclusion of more nuanced songs like “Evening Star” and the title track keeps things from getting too abrasive. I must also give props for “Shadow of the Swastika,” which makes for a delightful folk metal version of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” It’s a shame that we’re at a point where heathen-affiliated bands have to specify that they’re NOT white supremacists, but I respect those that take the time to do so.
Final Grade: B
It feels like Tyr is playing things somewhat safe on their seventh album. While the guitar playing is slightly heavier, the power metal style from the last couple efforts has completely settled in on Valkyria. Attempts to expand their sound can be found on the cheeky “Mare of My Night” and the duet with Liv Kristine on “The Lay of our Love,” and it’s fascinating to see Nile’s George Kollias of all people handling the drum duties. However, the album seems less distinctive than previous releases and doesn’t have as much of Tyr’s distinct character. Fortunately, it’s still an enjoyable listen that fans will still enjoy.
Final Grade: B-