Soaring, epic, majestic progressive Viking metal from the Faroe Islands – how come they're not on top of the charts already? Actually, TYR have been raising quite a ruckus with their "Eric the Red" album, properly released worldwide this year after initially seeing the light of day in 2003 on a tiny Faroese label. It may be because this kind of charismatic, stirring songcraft — particularly the vocal work — has been a "hit" since before hits were measured, passing the ultimate test of being remembered and handed down for generations. And it could also be because, while they tangentially bump up against a number of styles, there's no one out there quite like TYR, as "Ragnarok" amply demonstrates.Listen to "Grímur Á Midalnesi" — it begins with nothing but vocals and stomping, sounding like it could have been chronicled with a tape recorder and a time machine. Then the guitars kick in, slithering over the same vocal lines and accenting them with metal flourishes, and you're simultaneously back in familiar metal turf, and still on that windswept battlefield of a millennium ago. Many of these melody lines actually come from traditional old songs, updated by the band and made into somewhat-less-obscure heavy metal anthems for a new age. Not every moment on "Ragnarok" seems channeled through Norse lore — the instrumental "The Rage of the Skullgaffer" is pure '80s shred guitar mania, two unaccompanied axes basically going apeshit, and it segues into "The Hunt", a song rife with as many echoes of classic 1980s metal as of ancient times (perhaps TYR, the band, being influenced by "Tyr", the underrated Tony Martin-sung BLACK SABBATH album of 1989). But the mists of times past are never far off on "Ragnarok", and nearly every moment evokes this exuberant, proud and slightly insane warrior vibe, the soundtrack for drinking lots of mead, getting in random fights in the mud around a bonfire, and collaring the nearest comely wench — sex, drugs and rock and roll, ninth-century style. There's definitely a proggy side to TYR, too — arrangements are long and flowing, the musicianship is top-notch, and there's little in the way of "hit singles" or short, catchy songs. But just by their nature, these melodies are hooks in their own right, haunting and infectious enough to last a few hundred years and seamlessly translated to the realm of multitracked vocals and distorted electric guitars. The melody line that defines "Lord of Lies", for example, seems to slither directly down the buttons of your spine — in "Victory", the song's intro, we hear the song being played as if in a raucous pub, before again getting treated to the fully metalized version — it's a meandering, wandering tune, sounding more at home on a wind instrument, but that just gives it a mystical, otherworldly yet joyful air, tapping into a basic positive emotion that rings true no matter what era you're slaying (literal or figurative) beasts in. Though their vocals are all strident, clear and melodic, some of the more historically-minded black metal types may get into TYR, as will anyone into the folk-tinged ways of SKYCLAD, ELVENKING, FALKENBACH or CRUACHAN. Like I said, though, don't go into "Ragnarok" expecting TYR to sound like anyone else but their delightfully off-the-rails, battle-bloodied, uncannily evocative selves. If you've been yearning for something off the beaten path, these guys are miles — and aeons — away from the flavor of the week.
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