Thursday, September 26, 2013

Viking Love Triangle: Tyr's Valkyrja Reviewed

A couple of years ago, I blogged about stumbling across a Viking-metal band from the Faroe Islands called Tyr. A lot of water has passed beneath the neck of my longship since then, Tyr now has a place amongst my favourite bands (not just Viking-metal, of which they are the sole representative) and I have picked up much of their back catalog, as well as their newest release, Valkyrja.

Being a middle-aged guy who doesn't listen to much radio any more means I spend very little time anticipating the release of new music. There are a few exceptions (Muse, Corb Lund and recently Arcade Fire), so waiting since the spring for Valkyrja to drop has been exciting but a bit maddening, as it was initially scheduled for a late May release. I can't remember the last time I bought a recording the day it was released (probably Muse's The Second Law, but before that, I couldn't say), but I made a trip to HMV two Tuesdays ago to do exactly that, and am glad I did.

Valkyrja, like most Tyr albums, has a strong theme running through most, if not all of its songs. For 2011's The Lay of Thrym, it was all about freedom and the overthrow of tyranny, drawing inspiration from (surprisingly enough) that year's Arab Spring. This time around, it is the story of a man torn between two women: his earthly wife, and the 'Chooser of the Slain' of Norse mythology, the Valkyrie.

In the legends of the north, the bravest warriors to fall in battle are selected by Odin's Valkyries, descending from Asgard on their winged steeds to give passage to the most valorous of the fallen, that they may enter into the legendary Valhalla. Those whose courage fails them might end up in the chilly fields of Niflheim, while victims of the 'straw death', who fall outside of battle, are condemned to the shadowy eternity of Hel. It is hard for us modern folk to imagine, but facing a violent death willingly and bravely was an aspirational goal without peer amongst the Vikings.

The arc of the album runs from a young Viking glorifying past legends (Blood of Heroes), to the fight he anticipates when he makes his choice known (Hel Hath No Fury), through possible regret while with his woman (The Lay of Our Love), and from his pride and jealousy at watching others die in battle before him (Another Fallen Brother) to his meeting at long last with his ultimate desire (Valkyrja).

Musically it is a solid album, as Tyr's musicianship and songwriting improves with every release. The lead single, Mare of my Night, is certainly the most explicit thing Heri Joensen has ever written without descending into Nickleback single-entendre territory, but is also an immensely catchy track I often curse myself for singing along to.

There are not nearly enough harmonies to make Audrey happy, although the traditional song Grindavisan begins with an example to make most choirs blush, and the choruses of most songs still make it abundantly clear that these Faroese boys can sing. Given the theme, it makes immense sense to hear a woman's voice on Valkyrja, and The Lay of Our Love features a tremendously powerful duet with Liv Kristine, lead singer of German-Norwegian symphonic metal band Leaves Eyes. Coming as it does on the heels of the relentlessly uptempo Hel Hath No Fury, I've had to resist the urge to skip the track from time to time, but when I don't, I am rewarded with a touching, powerful ballad that serves as a brilliant counterpoint to the rest of the album, and which in many ways is the standout,or perhaps more accurately, the keystone track.

It took about four listens to really grow on me, but Valkryja is just as strong an album as The Lay of Thrym, perhaps not quite as catchy or as bombastic, but with just as much variety and vitality.

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