Saturday, September 14, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1299: Tyr

Given my busy job and other commitments I am often asked where I find the time to write all these reviews. On busy weekends like this one, where I’m juggling multiple deadlines and activities, I’m tempted to ask myself the same thing.

Motivationally it helps that the CD Odyssey also serves as the pilot light for my creative writing when I don’t have time for a longer writing session. But the truth is, I love music and writing about it only deepens my appreciation for each record in my collection. If something is important to you, you make the time.

Disc 1299 is… Ragnarok
Artist: Tyr

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover? Will you look at this place? Just look at the blood you've left on your sword and helmet! If this battlefield isn’t tidied up by the time I get back then Ragnarok is cancelled!

What's that? This is after Ragnarok? Well, you still better clean it up before the All-Father gets home!

How I Came to Know It: I had heard about Tyr in passing over the years but never had taken the time to check them out. Then my friend Nick went to the Faroe Islands and came back talking about Tyr, which is that country’s most famous metal band. He played a few tracks for me and I liked what I heard. I dug through their discography, and while not everything made the grade, a couple of albums appealed to me, including “Ragnarok.”

How It Stacks Up:  Tyr has eight studio albums, but I only have two. Of the two, “Ragnarok” comes in at #2.

Ratings: 3 stars

With an album titled “Ragnarok” it should come as no surprise that Tyr loves Norse (Scandinavian) mythology. Fortunately, I’m also a huge fan of Norse mythology, which was likely one of the deciding factors in my purchasing this album.

It also helped that Tyr plays a sub-genre of metal– folk metal – that I’ve only recently discovered, and there is no fervor like the fervor of the recently converted. As the name suggests, this genre combines folk and metal. It has the power chords and soaring melodies first popularized by Iron Maiden, matched with the melodic structures of local folk music. Sometimes bands incorporate traditional folk instruments as well.

Tyr aren’t big on the original instruments side of the equation, but they definitely borrow from old Viking song structures. Half the songs on “Ragnarok” either being traditional songs or containing lyrics or melodies from them. The first music I explored when I began looking outside of metal and hard rock was traditional folk music, so hearing these structures in a metal song is like introducing my two oldest friends to each other and finding out they get along great.

On “Ragnarok” Tyr also throw in some progressive elements, with changes in tempo and some mysterious atmospheric guitar work. There’s also a bit of the double-bass drum which is commonplace to most metal music from the mid-oughts on. I don’t think the progressive flourishes add a lot to the songs, but they aren’t offensive either. As for the double-bass all I ask is that bands not overuse it, and Tyr is appropriately restrained.

A great example of this is “Torsteins Kvaedi” a traditional Faroese song with a rhythmic unison singing. It sounds like something Viking raiders would chant while pulling at the oars of their longships a thousand years ago. Tyr then adds the wail of electric guitar and modern production. I’m not saying this makes it more heroic, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

The songs on the record are principally about ancient myth. Ragnarok is the ancient final battle of the gods in Norse mythology, and features prominently in the lyrics. Other songs cover famous legends such as the forging of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, and other fun-filled (and sometimes tragic) tales of adventure.

At its best, “Ragnarok” delivers some serious fist-pumping, hair-swinging crunch, such as on “The Hunt” which drops into an early groove and then climbs out one thump at a time, helped along the way by a pretty sweet guitar solo shared between Heri Joensen and Terji Skibenaes.

At its worst, songs like “Lord of Lies” plod a bit, particularly where the folk lyric structures fail to find a good fit with the modern elements. There are also guitar solos that make a common mistake in metal music, which is to focus on being fast over being interesting.

The album also has a host of little instrumentals strewn throughout. There are six of these tracks, ranging in length from 27 seconds to just under two minutes. The intent of these seems to be to glue the record into a cohesive whole, but they didn’t add a lot to my listening experience. Also, they collectively push the album to 16 tracks and 60 minutes long. Not uncommon for a modern metal record, but that extra content has to be uncuttable, and that wasn’t always the case here.

Overall, “Ragnarok” is a mixed bag and on my first couple of listens I was inclined to part company with it. However, it grew on me as I developed a better feel for what the band was trying to accomplish. Also, there are songs on here (“Torsteins Kvaedi” and “The Hunt” in particular) which are just too damned good not to grace my CD collection.

Best tracks: Hammer of Thor, Torsteins Kvaedi, Grimur A Midalnesi, Wings of Time, The Hunt

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