"By the Light of the Northern Star" is such a grand declaration of the melodic and, dare I say, uplifting end of Viking/Pagan metal. I just can't seem to get enough of it lately. TYR is a band that has taken its often proggy and lengthy approach to composition and condensed it into a more immediately accessible folk-based, power metal-driven, and infinitely catchy style that retains that uniquely Faeroese touch.
I might have skipped right past this album if it weren't for my good fortune to catch the band's headlining spot on the Pagan Knights tour, a performance that blew me away. Prior to that time I'd only given TYR's discography a cursory listen, paying far more attention to the live renditions from those albums during that evening's raucous set. Even from listening to the unveiling of new track "Hold the Heathen Hammer High" compared to the older material it became obvious that the band had developed a songwriting approach that is, in some ways, more firmly rooted in the heavy metal tradition and incredibly tuneful. On "By the Light of the Northern Star" you've got an album's worth of melodious compositions that are stoutly built, full of mid-paced driving rhythms, fantastic lead guitar playing, and stunning vocal performances, whether sung in English or Faeroese.
Pagan/folk melodies aside, this is an album of shining heavy metal anthems, beginning with "Hold the Heathen Hammer High", a hands-down classic with a quick, precision chorus that is so dangerously addictive that an intervention organized by your closest friends may be necessary. "By the Sword in my Hand" has that same kind of triumphant chorus; TYR can pull off this kind of fist-pumping, drunken bar patron thing without it seeming cheesy or insincere. Interestingly enough, the music of said song is credited in the booklet as being penned by guitarist/vocalist Heri Joensen, followed by a notation of "Swedish/Finnish traditional melody." You'll find similar notation in the writing credits for songs like "Ride" (Faeroese and Irish) and "Into the Storm" (Faeroese and Norwegian).
The two tracks with lyrics in Faeroese, "Trondur I Gotu" and "Turid Torkilsdottir", feature soaring choruses that transcend the language barrier. The former is more of an upbeat number with a Faeroese traditional melody and lyrics "loosely based on the Faeroese ballad 'Geyti Aslaksson'," while the more subdued "Turid Torkilsdottir" comes with sections of acapella singing that are breathtakingly beautiful.
There isn't a bad apple in the bushel, although the last three cuts — "Ride", "Hear the Heathen Call", and the title track — don't quite reach the same heights as the first six, yet are good nonetheless. Subjective quality categorization notwithstanding, each of the nine songs on "By the Light of the Northern Star" has a story to tell and a kind of heavy metal spirituality that is both refreshing and energizing. Where I had once been merely convinced, I am now wholly converted. Let's hear it for pagan pride!