Written by Dungeon Shaker
|Genre||Progressive Folk Metal|
|Release Date||8 March 2019|
|Record Label||Metal Blade|
Tyr is a band I have long held in high regard. The sound Heri Joensen has developed over the last twenty years has been flirting with perfection for a decade now. Valkyrja, released in 2013, has rightfully earned the lauded and elusive title of a masterpiece. Hel has the unfortunate distinction of following up that modern classic. The laborious six-year gap between releases feels almost strategic as Hel has a bit of a dark side: its length. Regardless, the important thing is that there is finally another Tyr record, and that is worth celebrating.
The Heri Joensen-led act from the far-flung Faroese Islands expertly molds elements of progressive, folk, and traditional metal with viking metal themes. Heri’s approach to composing viking metal is far subtler and tactful than many of his contemporaries. Traditional Faroese folk melodies are adopted as a melodic base, revised, and deeply interwoven into the songs. A welcome and unique coloring of melody. The result is a sound which is extremely distinctive and comfortably familiar.
Hel’s highlight is the ‘Ragnar Kvæði’ and ‘Garmr’ duplet; each showcases Heri’s brilliant use of melody in two distinct manners. ‘Ragnar Kvæði’s’ beautiful choral opening introduces the track’s dominant musical theme: variations on the vocal arrangement heard in those opening moments. A somewhat somber and epic mood is created as its instrumentation plays around Heri’s layered vocal work, itself a brilliant example of how a relatively standard-structured song can be transcended.
‘Garmr’, on the other hand, is entirely structured around its arrangement; numerous tempo changes allow Heri’s vocal lines to essentially dual with the numerous lead guitar breaks throughout the track. ‘Garmr’ does follow a pretty standard structure but the back and forth tempo changes create a sense of urgency, especially as the recurring lead breaks are all rooted in a similar and often the same melody. A shining example of that lead guitar parts can and should be used to accent thematic elements, without having to rely on virtuosic showmanship.
‘Ragnar Kvæði’ and ‘Garmr’ are both two of the finest tracks Heri has penned for Tyr, and both are serious contenders for the best song of 2019. Yet Hel, an overall good release, is lacking in great tracks. Apart from the aforementioned, ‘Empire of the North’ and ‘Sunset Shore’ are the only other songs that flirt with greatness. Moments of brilliance are of course littered throughout the album’s massive seventy-minute runtime, namely ‘Fire and Flame’s’ flamboyantly Iron Maiden-inspired solo section. The task of having to labor through numerous good, albeit unmemorable songs can be rather off-putting, especially once the hour mark is reached.
Hel is a very good album, but it is hampered by its excessive run time. The die-hard Tyr fan will find much to dissect and enjoy. I’ve lived with it for almost six months now and I am still unpacking it. Hel is simply a record with too many ideas spread across too many songs. Still, if you listen to only two new songs this year, make sure those are ‘Ragnar Kvæði’ and ‘Garmr’.
Dungeon Shaker has been an avid fan of the metal for almost two decades now. A simple journey that began with a cassette of The Black Album, has blossomed into a lifelong obsession. A lover of all genres of metal, collector of vintage (metal) vinyl, and a soon to be historian by trade. Dungeon Shaker runs his own personal blog, thunderousvoices.com, itself a menagerie of heavy metal writing.
St. Paul, Minnesota
Favorite Bands: Blue Oyster Cult, Iron Maiden, King Diamond, Tyr, Running Wild, Moonsorrow
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