Hel by TýrRelease date: March 8, 2019
Label: Metal Blade Records
The fact that this is a band named after the Norse god of war tells you a lot of what you need to know about Týr before you even listen to them. The four-piece from the Faroe Islands are unapologetically folk metal through and through, and have been since their inception in 1998; with the distinct melodies and instrumentation, as well as the mythological and historical lyrical themes that categorise the genre. Since their formation, they have released seven studio albums and become firm favourites in the folk metal. The dedicated fan-base that they have managed to build in this time and the fact that those fans have endured a six year wait since their last album Valkyrja, means that their upcoming eighth release Hel is one that is being met with a fair amount of anticipation. The album is also Týr’s first release with drummer Tadeusz Rieckmann and one-time Nevermore guitarist Attila Vörös, following the departure of Terji Skibenæs after seventeen years in the band. Although you know what you’re going to get with Týr to a large extent therefore, the fact that the band took their time with this new release and had two member changes to contend with brings yet more intrigue from fans and the metal media alike.
The album kicks off with ‘Gates of Hel’ which, after a wailing guitar intro, lives up to what that title of the song and album suggest by taking things in a darker direction that we are used to with Týr. This includes a fantastic hefty riff and the unusual use of guttural vocals from singer Heri Joensen. The departure from Týr’s usual sound should not be overstated however, as after the first minute it once again becomes very recognisably a Týr song, with a fantastic soaring chorus which is every bit as memorable as it is reminiscent of what makes the band so admired by their fans. The admiration continues into ‘All Heroes Fall’, which boasts an incredible guitar solo from Joensen, more big choruses and another example of the darker and more aggressive edge to the music, which already clearly separates much of Hel from the band’s back catalogue. One of two songs on the album in Faroese, ‘Ragnars Kvæði’ provides a change of tact, with soulful vocals and still heavy, yet somewhat muted, guitars. This culminates in a much more mellow, yet by no means unsuccessful track, which demonstrates some degree of versatility.
This desire to fully flex their creativity and musicianship continues throughout the album, as Týr regularly mix things up and keep the music interesting. Songs like ‘Garmr’ and ‘Fire and Flame’ conjure images of mosh pits at sunny festivals with their fast-paced verses and catchy choruses which people will surely be crying out at the tops of their voices. As per the beginning of the album, tracks such as ‘Empire of the North’ and ‘King of Time’ contain both wonderfully meaty riffs, but also transition terrifically into orchestrated guitar sections. This is where the fact that the band have taken so much time in getting this album right really comes to fruition, as the songs benefit tremendously from the precision of the bass and drums alongside the distinctive guitars. Meanwhile the first single to be released ahead of time, ‘Sunset Shore’ shows Týr at their most accessible as they provide not quite a ballad, much a much slower and more thoughtful and balanced approach to their sound than many fans will be used to seeing from them (as well as a music video with typical folk metal glorious landscapes to match).
The fact that the album is 13 songs long and clocks in at over an hour is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the sense that it allows Týr to make the absolute most out of their creative process, leaving you with the sense that they have extracted all potential out of every idea on the album. The downside however, is that despite the variation in the songs, the fact that they are still ultimately under the folk metal umbrella means that it is easy to lose some interest in the album towards the end. In this sense Týr are victims of their own success, as it is difficult to pinpoint any specific songs which need to be cut, as they are all of a similar quality. Again, this is likely the result of a much longer writing and recording process for the band. The similar quality of the songs also means there is potentially the lack of a clear stand-out that will be remembered after the album itself has stopped being listened to, though only time will tell in this regard. Overall though, Hel is an incredibly solid album by a band who know exactly what they are doing. At this stage of their career, they are unlikely to win hordes of new fans any time, but what they can do is keep their music fresh and interesting for those who have supported the band this far; and Hel does just that. It is one of the band’s finest and most consistent releases and is certainly worth multiple listens.