Týr - Hel - (10/10)
Published on August 18, 2019
Label:Metal Blade Records
Far from the worries of the world.
Viking metallers Týr stand out among their peers for a variety of reasons. Not only are they the only well-known metal band from the otherwise desolate Faroe Islands, but they are totally inimitable. Literally, no other band sounds like them. From humble beginnings as a bizarre amalgamation of folk, prog and doom metal; to the multi-faceted pseudo-power metal machine they are today – Heri Joensen and co. truly are unique in the metal community. One thing is clear throughout all their records: you can absolutely tell when you’re listening to a Týr album. Their weird-ass guitar harmonies and silky smooth vocals combined with a devotion to traditional Faroese folk music and a penchant for progressive songwriting are what make this band so instantly recognizable. What makes 2019’s Hel so special is that it almost wasn’t instantly recognizable. Yet this may be the quartet’s best album to date.
Hel is a colossal effort. Ambitious and huge in scope, with 13 full-length tracks all between 4 and 8 minutes long. This will take patience and repeated listens, but it is so rewarding when you become familiar with its enormous framework. The song titles, album title and fantastic artwork (see that giant snake in the background? Took me a while too!) all betray the inherent darkness of this LP. After all, Hel is the underworld of Norse mythology. But after a minute or so into the opening semi-title-track “Gates Of Hel”, I had to stop the disc and verify it really was Týr I was listening to. Not only is there a pervading atmosphere of dread and some pummeling riffage, but…harsh vocals! And this is no guest appearance, those hellish roars belong to Heri himself. I actually did a double-take because, not only is that the last thing I expected from this band, but they sound fantastic! The only problem? Not enough of them.
Speaking of pummeling riffs previously unheard of in Týr’s catalogue: check out the opening to “Empire Of The North” and the chugging that happens underneath the verses. That’s some pounding stuff! The massive production quality is probably the best the band have had to date and it inflates the sound to epic proportions. This only enhances the many layers their music has anyway. It really is a ‘big’ album in the true sense of the word. Song structures are expansive, vocals are frequently layered, and guitar solos are always extended. Solo sections are hardly ever a focal point for me, but Hel‘s solos are always multi-sectioned, incredibly well-composed and utterly resplendent with virtuosic talent. The 1:44 mark in “All Heroes Fall” is the perfect example. Some seriously athletic fretwork, mind-blowing sweeps, and a crunchy riff to underly it all. Possibly my favourite solo section in recent memory. The same can almost be said for the furious “Fire & Flame” too.
The Faroe Islanders’ flirtations with power metal since 2009 have resulted in a style which briefly favoured catchiness over substance. On Hel, the guys seem to have found the perfect balance between the speedy infectiousness of By The Light Of The Northern Star and the progressive oddities of the groundbreaking Eric The Red. These are memorable melodies with grandiose refrains, all set to more expansive structures. I cannot exaggerate just how great some of these choruses are. Written so as not to treat the listener as if they’re stupid. The triumphant folk melodies of “King Of Time” and “Far From The Worries Of The World” are two such examples, but also the wonderfully mellow “Downhill Drunk” which bears no resemblance to the clumsiness of its title, and the furious-yet-smooth tribute to the guardian dog in “Garmr”.
I won’t say that any track feels like it belongs on *insert previous album here* because every single one of these gems is unique to the dark world of Hel; completely absorbed in the doom-laden atmosphere, yet remaining strangely optimistic. It’s a peculiar vibe, but utterly irresistible once it engulfs you. Of course, I cannot top off a review of a Týr album without mentioning Heri Joensen’s incredible vocal performance. In the gap between Valkyrja and this record, he’s obtained a peculiar gruffness which pervades much of the LP. It’s a wonderful new timbre but doesn’t interfere with his usual smoothness. He really shines on the opening track; jumping between all sorts of styles and a massive range of pitch. He also has an insanely eloquent grasp of the English language, turning possible lyrical cringe into majestic quotations. These are some of Týr’s best lyrics and turns of phrase ever – most notably, the chorus to the gorgeous “Sunset Shore”.
I really cannot praise this album enough. After about 15 listens from start to finish, the CD has quickly made it to the top of my 2019 pile. Hel is the gift that keeps giving. Not an easy listen, I’ll grant you. One simply can’t put it on in the background and expect to absorb everything. It’s a demanding journey which requires full attention. But if you’re tapped into that mythological darkness that I find so appealing, once those eerie opening clean guitars haunt your ears, you’re in for one hell of a voyage. An excursion through the underworld. Bravo, Týr! You’ve been one of my top 10 favourite bands for years, but you’ve really outdone yourselves on this one. Utterly spellbinding.
Lore of the lost, beacons of fire.
Wretched we, borne in rhyme,
Far from the worries of the world.”