Týr - ValkyrjaAs an Angry Metal Guy, I have truly been off my game this year. In fact, having become an Angry Sociology PhD Student™ has taken away precious time from my blogging gig. As the one is—and will hopefully lead to—gainful employment, and the other is an avocation, you can probably understand that I have been working hard at the former. But, unfortunately, this means that some big records I stepped up to review never got reviewed. Possibly the greatest of these oversights this year was Týr‘s Valkyrja, which was so good that I made it a Record o’ the Month for September. “Watch this space,” I said. Well, those of you who watched are going to finally get your review.

Týr is a band that has been getting better with every record. While they’re unfortunately clueless about issues of privilege and racism, which caused me to feel a bit of a negative crankiness in their direction (Angry Sociology PhD Student™ and all—[See a big, important edit in footnote 2. – AMG])12, I have still had a hard time ignoring their incredible growth as a band. While I found their earlier material to be a bit underwhelming, The Lay of Thrym started to change my mind about these Faroese Viking types. And that cautious optimism was turned into real fandom when Týr pumped out some of the best songs of their career on Valkyrja, with driving drums and slick riffs, they make the power metal geek in me jump for joy.

What’s cool about Týr is that while you can dump them in “power metal,” they have the Viking metal undertones and, maybe most importantly, one of the most non-cliché metal vocalists in the genre today. He has none of the baggage of David Coverdale worship or German thrash that so horribly mars the performance of tons of what would be otherwise excellent bands and that is so avidly worshiped by tasteless power metal fans everywhere. Instead, his voice is powerful and clean like the Gjallarhorn signalling the end of days. Heri Joensen lifts what is great writing and ties the very manly, metal bow on an addictive and enjoyable record.

Tyr - 2013 Web

Though, of course, the vocalist shouldn’t get all the credit here. Tracks like “Blood of Heroes,” “Mare of My Night,” and “Grindavísan” all show the interested listener what’s good about these guys. The writing is slick, professional and heavy. It’s chorus loaded, but the verses do a great job of getting you want to go (see: chorus-loaded), with the occasional bursts of brilliance from the guitarists—who actually seem to prefer an Iron Maiden kind of two guitar approach rather than a Malmsteenian guitar solo orgy like a lot of modern power metal bands. This is all to their benefit. Valkyrja is not only a triumph of writing, but of taste and performance. It’s not easy to do power metal in 2013 and make it sound interesting and original.

If you haven’t checked out Valkyrja, you definitely need to. It will not only give you your Viking metal fix, but it’ll be one of the most addictive records you hear this year. Hell, even the cover art ranks among my favorites of the year. No pooches were screwn in the making of this record.

Tracks to Check: “Mare of My Night,” “Grindavísan,” and “Fánar Burtur Brandaljóð” are my favorites. But the whole damn thing is triumphant.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Hey you, yeah, you. Don’t come in and argue about ‘white guilt’ with me. I will drop the hammer.
  2. Apparently there was a lot more to “Shadow of the Swastika” than I realized. The German Berliner Institut für Faschismus Forschung (Berlin Institute of Fascism Research) had apparently been circulating information about the bands on the Heathenfest tour as fascists. To this, Týr and Moonsorrow released a video rebuking the claims of fascism. I was unfortunately “clueless” about the situation myself. That said, I still think that one needs to be very careful when claiming that one’s political position as “apolitical,” particularly when one’s culture is used to support claims of “biological race,” which much of the nation-state in Europe has been supported by. Further, we should all be careful about claiming that racism is a thing of the past, or implying that racism was born or died with Nazi Germany. Racism is rooted in deep, cultural constructions of race that do not and have not simply dissipated and that are currently used by anti-immigration parties. A final note is that fascism has a definition, and that definition is not “racist.” It strikes me as very weird that researchers (from Europe no less) would conflate the two. However, I still maintain that Týr is wrong to imply that anti-racists who are aware of the de facto racial structures and speak to them are the same as neo-Nazis. That is also a position of ignorance. White dudes cannot magically claim to be ahistorical and non-racial, because we’re not. Understanding that is important, and that means accepting that things you love (pagan symbols and Scandinavian history) are misappropriated and understanding that people react badly to that because those misappropriations have real power still. – h/t to euthanatos and themetalpigeon for a good discussion below.
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  • Juan Esteban Mendoza

    Oh man this album is amazing, my favorite tracks are the first two, but the whole thing is great. I didn’t really started liking Tyr until I saw them live with Korpiklaani and Moonsorrow two years ago. They kicked ass

    • The record starts out with such an immense opening. It does feel a tad draggy at the back end because of just that, I think.

      • Juan Esteban Mendoza

        I feel the same way, I feel that it is a common thing in albums that are not part of the extreme subgenres. Specially in power metal, bands seem to choose the most powerful tracks for the opening of the album and leave the rest at the end. Still, this album is definitely one of my favorites this year

  • Feytalist

    Being the Viking metal junkie that I am, I certainly didn’t miss this one.

    It’s certainly a good *power* metal album, but when I think Viking, I heard Windir or Einherjer or Bathory’s Nordland. Not that that undercuts Tyr at all. Probably just the compulsive labeller in me.

    Henri does have great vocals though, doesn’t he?

  • Oberon

    Did you get to review the album with the Maiden cover of “Where Eagles Dare” and the Pantera cover of “Cemetery Gates”?

    • Kryopsis

      Tyr’s cover of “Cemetary Gates” made me see the song in a new light and really appreciate it.

    • Nope. Promo versions never come with extras.

      • Mike Eckman

        I think you’ve earned enough positive karma by reviewing these albums that your conscience would be clear by downloading it from Usenet to hear the extra tracks! :)

        • I think labels should give me free copies of shit I review.

    • The Metal Pigeon

      The Maiden cover was okay but I really enjoy the hell out of that Pantera cover. Second only to their Sabbath cover on the last record.

      • Oberon

        Which Sabbath song did they cover?

      • Disagree, the Maiden cover kicks major ass. Cemetery Gates was solid as well, they definitely brought their own voice into those songs.

  • Kryopsis

    This is actually the first Tyr album that I have enjoyed from beginning to end. I feel that the previous albums were disjointed and while they had the obligatory catchy Power Metal anthems, the rest of the songs weren’t particularly memorable. Valkyrja is the exception and I can’t wait to see if the band can maintain this quality. Also, it’s always a nice surprise when a Power Metal album doesn’t have embarrassingly bad lyrics.

  • Piet

    The Lay of our Love is a fucking beautiful song. And showcases both Liv and Heri’s vocals really well. My vote for ballad of the year (yes I’m a sucker for ballads!)

    • The Metal Pigeon

      Completely agree, one of the best songs of the year in fact. When her vocals are utilized well, she is one of the best out there in the genre. Leaves Eyes never did much for me but she’s got a nice delivery.

  • Sui

    While it’s not a bad album, I have to admit that I like the previous two albums more…so much hooks on Thrym and Northern Star, this one feels a bit plain in comparison…

    • MeatWolf

      In short, that’s my thoughts as well. It’s pretty much the same thing with less spark to it. Some songs are ok but nothing really stands out like Evening Star, Flames of the Free, By the Sword in My Hand or Hold the Heathen Hammer High. And the ballad, it’s horrible to my liking.

      • I feel like they’re going in the opposite direction. Lots of great hooks here.

  • kelbyfetter

    This album was going good, and then “The Mare of My Night” came on and ruined my perception of Tyr forever.

  • sathriel

    The cover is great but the promo shot has so much Photoshop it hurts the eyes. Will give a listen to the music tho and see what is all the fuss about. However having seen the attached video I doubt their “triump of writing”.

  • Helicase

    I thought that “Another Fallen Brother” was totally the best track on the album. Guess you disagreed.

  • Nice review and great album. Tyr has always been a fun listen. The covers are worth checking out if you haven’t heard them. (Also the cover of Stargazer on the last album is kind of nice.)

    Album art of the year?

  • Mattias Niklasson

    Wait, what do you mean by Týr being clueless about racism and privilege and linking to shadow of the swastika?

    • The Metal Pigeon

      I’m curious as to what AMG meant by that as well. The way I see that song its the band condemning some allegations made by someone in the German government some years back due to the band’s use of either ancient Norse or Germanic imagery. Also I suppose its attacking the idea of persisting German (or I suppose Germanic) guilt. Maybe I’m just taking them at face value though. Its hard for me as an American to really have a take on that, but I didn’t see it as the band condoning things like National Socialism for example.

      • I posted a fairly long response above.

        • euthanatos

          I’m not sure I agree with you there. I think The Metal Pigeon is closer to the point; I think this song was aimed at German authorities for some accusations of racism on Tyr’s part (and Moonsorrow and other bands at a certain festival, as can be read on the pagan metal wiki page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagan_metal), which was obviously unfounded. I don’t think the songs implies that racism is dead, that nazism is dead and buried in the past, so on.

          The song seems to try and distance Tyr from Germany’s past, regardless of whether racism still exists (obviously, as you well pointed out, it does). Roughly, I’ve always interpreted the song as “I’m not racist just because I’m a white northern european. Your racist past is your racist past, and how you deal with it is your issue, don’t force it on me”.

          Obviously it’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s a prickly issue. You may be right about the difficulty in grasping all of racism’s problems from a position of privelege in Tyr’s case, but not that they’re implying that things are fine and dandy.

          This is way longer than I intended it to be.

          Final addendum: while I did like the album, I thought it was lacking when compared to the previous two. Still great band, though.

          • If that’s the case, then I stand corrected on the meaning. The context helps to better explain the issue. I know that Germany is skeptical of pagan metal. I also know that a lot of bands in pagan metal are racists, which is why I am always very careful with the ones that I listen to.

            The irony, of course, is that banning pagan symbols doesn’t seem to have fixed racism in Germany, which is actually still a very real problem there, as well.

            It is also true that Scandinavia does have real problems with racism as well. I’m not sure about how many people emigrate to the Faroe Islands, however, so it’s tough to know how things are there.

    • “The Shadow of the Swastika” is a particularly clumsy attempt to equate so called “white guilt” with Nazism. There are several problems with this, so let me start with the first one: 1) Racism did not start with the Nazis and neither did it end with the fall of the Third Reich. Racism is a culturally located problem that is still reflected in all major societies in the West, including Scandinavia. Racism is (are) not “pages of the past,” but unfortunately, a “page of the present.”

      2) Equating people who talk about skin color and the power that is part of being white with white power neo-nazi types misconstrues not only the aims of the groups, but also ignores the fact that we in the West have developed a norm of equality that dictates that “racism” is wrong. Racists rarely sound racist, instead they couch racist thoughts in languages of color-blindness while racism is seen as a thing of the past. But racism is NOT a thing of the past. Proof of that final point can be found in statistics and studies about race and employment, about racialized policing, and so forth in both the United States and Europe (ett bra exempel från Sverige är REVA exemplet—hur skulle man vetat att någon var invandrare? Ja just det… hudfärgen).

      3) Therefore, writing off the “guilt of our forefathers” implies that there is no guilt today when white people are complicit in systems that are still repressive, even when that repression is comparatively subtle in the grand scheme of things. The consequences are not subtle, however, even if the oppression is. If the problem of racism were fixed, the song would be more appropriate. But the problem is not fixed, and it will not be fixed by pretending that constructed races and ethnicities don’t have real social consequences and that the oppression that results from that are things that white people are often unintentionally complicit in OR by pretending that the “racist” is the other guy (som görs ofta i Sverige där “lantisar” anses vara rasister medan Stockholmare som inte ger jobb till icke-vita inte är det då dem inte använder ordet “neger” eller röstar för SD.)

      That is why I say it is a misunderstanding of privilege: it is a privileged position to imply that racism is dead because Jim Crow is dead or Apartheid fell. It is a privileged position to imply that your country is “color blind” when brown immigrants are consistently passed over for jobs regardless of education. It is the result of not having been on the other side of the problem.

  • It’s odd that I never heard anything about this. Anyway, I see what their point is. Though, I think that many would argue that even dipping into the well of nationalism brings with it a lot of baggage. I will do some editing above.

  • RU63