At the stony, windswept crossroads of Viking, folk, power and traditional metal sits Týr on a cottonwood throne bedecked with fishing nets and boat hooks. Hailing from the tiny Faroe Islands that sit between Iceland and Norway, these mysterious descendants of Vikings have impressed with their distinctive brand of genre hopping since their sophomore album Eric the Red came ashore in 2003. They’ve been uncomfortably quiet since 2013s outstanding Valkyrja, making Hel among my most anticipated releases of 2019. Over their career the band has excelled at crafting catchy, fun and trve anthems that reference power and traditional metal while smartly incorporating folksy elements, all while maintaining a backbone of Norse steel. Although they have similarities to acts like Turisas, Falconer and Ensiferum, no one really sounds like these seafaring rapscallions, and I greatly missed hearing new material. There have been shakeups in the lineup since 2013, with a new drummer and guitarist on board, but the trademark sound and style happily remains the same.
In keeping with their tradition of righteously ass walloping openers, “Gates of Hel” wallops righteous ass with its wicked mix of Amon Amarth-style death metal (complete with actual death metal vocals) and power metal tropes. The chorus is ridiculously catchy and there’s no sense in resisting it. It’s just a joyous, satisfying blend of the heavy and light shades of metal. It’s also a refresher on why I love these guys and I’m thrilled they’re still delivering the same kind of rowdy fare. And the goods keep being delivered with gems like “All Heroes Fall,” which marries Viking metal ideas with thrash and another insanely big, chest thumping chorus that will stick in your head like a marauder’s ax. Heri Joensen’s clean, super distinctive vocals are a joy to hear again, and the Týr template sounds as fresh as ever.
Over the next hour and ten minutes (yep, that’s way too long), you’ll be treated to one raucous tale of war, peace and drunkenness after another, as the band serves up over-sized, beer stein swinging choruses, splashing Meade and ale out for the Viking homies who are no longer with us. “Garmr” is an album highlight – aggressive, rabble rousing and chock full of slick, engaging riffs and harmonies, tasty vocal hooks and a chorus roughly the size of Manhattan. “Sunset Shores” is a return to the band’s brooding, semi-epical side, carrying their Viking influence proudly as subtle hints of Borknagar percolate just below the surface. Feisty stompers like “Empire of the North,” “Fire and Flame” and especially the mighty “Against the Gods” bring down the hammer in surprisingly heavy ways, incorporating elements of thrash and death along with traditional and power metal. Things also get surprisingly proggy, with several songs containing quirky Voyager-esque guitar-work. The folk influence is present on the songs sung in their native Faroese, with closer “Alvur Kongur” the best example – a hearty and hale drinking man’s anthem walking the line between Ereb Altor and Korpiklaani.
There are no bad songs, but a few are less enthralling than their burly peers, and at a roly-poly hour and change, Hel is bursting at the seams and runs way too long. Unlike the concise and hard-hitting 3-4 minute chestnuts found on 2013s Valkyrja, most of the songs here run longer and boast more marbling and lard. This often diminishes the catchy punch the songs rely on. Hel sounds great though, with a rich, dynamic mix with great separation. It especially highlights the outstanding guitar-work that cascades through the songs like an icy mountain stream. New slinger Attila Vörös and Heri Joensen outdo themselves with a winning collection of driving riffs, soaring solos and wild harmonies, and every song is full of compelling interplay that touches on numerous genres. As always, Heri’s one-of-a-kind vocals set Týr apart. He’s got a manly bellow and an unusual timbre, imparting a unique, somewhat folksy identity to the songs. The use of death vocals is a welcome addition, and one I wish they’d utilized with greater frequency.
After a long hiatus, Týr reestablishes themselves as genre hoarding mad scientists, capable to fusing myriad styles into a killer sound that makes sense despite a schizoid nature. Hel is loaded with classy, highly enjoyable battle yarns with an amazing amount of technical flair, but it does get undercut by its sheer length. Still, I’ll take a really long album from these Fisher Kings over more modest enterprises from most metal acts. Týr still have that special “it” factor and they’ve done themselves proud once again. Now don’t make us wait another five years for the next installment of music from the lonely islands.