Ten Years #28: Týr

Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
28. Týr (1,101 plays)
Top track (75 plays): Hail to the Hammer, from various albums
Featured track: Regin Smiður, from Eric the Red (2003)

Viking metal, pagan metal, folk metal, call it what you will–it’s pretty impressive that Týr have managed to capture an extraordinary vision of the Norse past with absolutely no traditional instrumentation or synth choruses to speak of save the human voice. Since their second album, Eric the Red, Týr have revolved around Heri Joensen’s breathtaking vocals. Their unique brand of progressive rock instrumentation is heavy enough to blast out your stereo and yet entirely subservient to the driving vocal anthems. I would be very interested to gain a better understanding of where Joensen’s dedication to tradition gives way to his unique creativity as one of the most innovative musicians making music today–of the extent to which his vocals are derived from Faroese tradition. With an educational background in both vocals and Indo-European linguistics, he probably has a better idea than most of how traditional Germanic and Norse singing must have sounded, and I feel a sense of solidarity between the band and other students of folk vocalization such as Latvia’s Skyforger. At the same time, I gather that Norse musical tradition is a far more elusive beast than its eastern counterparts.

As a modern band, Týr seem to me the most central act of the whole “viking metal” scene. The term is a bit of a ruse, in so far as it lacks both the stylistic conformity of most genre labels and the acknowledged generality of catch-alls like “folk metal”. Whether a band might garner the label depends upon so many nuance factors that it is much easier to agree upon which acts ought to receive it than to discuss why. Attempts to properly define it are few and far between. The Wikipedia article on “viking metal”, for instance, is largely substantiated by a thesis on folk metal submitted by Aaron Patrick Mulvany in 2000. That is only 12 years removed from Bathory’s Blood Fire Death–now a quarter of a century behind us–and two years prior to one of the most significant bands of the “genre”‘s debut. With the utmost respect for anyone who acknowledges folk metal as a legitimate subject for scholarship (I’m looking forward to reading Mulvany’s thesis, available online, over the next few days), I would ascribe to him the gift of prophecy were it not hopelessly dated. But while I would say that Bathory was fundamentally black metal, Amon Amarth death metal at their core, Falkenbach hopelessly under-appreciated, and Thyrfing given to fantasy, the inherent catch-all-ism of progressive metal (not the Dream Theater worship standardized derivative) lends to Týr a sense of authentic originality. As a metal act they do their own thing, and that makes their tradition-influenced vocals and lyrics emerge with no strings attached.

Týr’s music is neither too confrontational nor too fanciful to be generally accessible. They are, in the very least, the first band I would recommend to an inexperienced listener who asked me what specifically Norse-derived folk metal sounded like. Their sound bleeds an authentic scholarly interest in Norse culture and plugs the myriad gaps with progressive rock that is both down to earth and impressively original. You’ll find no fallback to Tolkien here (album cover aside), and no hell-raising or Transylvanian hunger either; it’s something a bit more Apollonian, and exciting all the same. If I could pick any one artist to spend an evening in a pub with, Heri Joensen may very well top my list.

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