Wednesday 1 May 2024

Týr - Battle Ballads (2024)

Country: Faroe Islands
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Apr 2024
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It's been five years since a Týr album and they're touring again. My son got to see them recently in Mesa and he thought they were solid, even though he was personally there to see Trollfest again, who were one of their support bands. Now, five years may not seem like a long time but that's the beforetimes on the other side of COVID, so it's a long time indeed. The only time they've taken as long between albums before was the previous gap, between 2013's Valkyrja and 2019's Hel, which was twice as long as any gap before it, so this may be the new normal.

If so, then material needs to be pretty strong and, while this is certainly a reliable and enjoyable album, it rarely seems to ache to knock my socks off, unlike Hel, which was infused with energy to do precisely that. This feels a little more relaxed to me, but it's slowly building on me. Hammered is a decent opener, but Unwandered Ways is better still, nailing the melody and the bounce, and Dragons Never Die almost matches it. Row has a tasty rhythm, which it really ought to have given that it's a rowing song. Given that, I'm not sure that it should speed up at the end, but maybe this is competitive rowing rather than raiding foreign shores.

And that's the first chunk of the album, because this doesn't break naturally into two sides. These first four songs are all sung in English and they all do much the same thing in different ways with varying degrees of success. Later on, skipping over two tracks for now, the third chunk features a set of three more of these. These seven tracks comprise the core of this album, even if they fall on either side of its heart.

After them is the closer, Causa Latronum Normannorum, which stands pretty much on its own. It's an interesting song, because it's slower than those seven default mode tracks, the fast drumming of Tadeusz Rieckmann aside. It's initially sung in what I presume is Faroese, then shifts to Latin, so it definitely takes a different approach there. And it flaunts itself, building more sedately with an effortless ease, as if it's impressing on us how powerful it is so that we don't try anything. I like it.

However, I like the two tracks in the very middle of the album even more. They're notably different from each other but they sit well together because they're both sung in Faroese (or is it Icelandic, as Google Translate seems to think?) and, maybe in part because of that, they feel more authentic. However, I have a feeling that they'd feel more authentic even if they weren't. The other songs are new, of course, and they feel like they're new songs. I don't know for a fact that these are new too, but I have no reason to believe that they aren't, other than they feel timeless, like they could be a pair of five hundred year old classics given a modern day Týr treatment.

Torkils døtur (Torkil's Daughter) is a ballad, though it does bulk up late on, but there's a real power to it. The guitars are acoustic for the longest time and they're delightfully delicate in comparison to to the rest of the album. However, the vocals quickly take over and everything feels naturally harmonised, like it's not one voice but thirty singing so closely in unison that it becomes a single enhanced one. It's also orchestrated, in ways it certainly wouldn't be in a Faroese inn, but the approach works. I find it an impossible song to resist, even if I have no idea what they're telling me.

Vælkomnir føroyingar isn't a ballad, but it carries the same sort of heritage to it, just translated a lot deeper into modern day folk metal. Maybe Torkils døtur is an actual Faroese folk song whereas Vælkomnir føroyingar is merely the most successful new song here at tapping into that tradition. It's easily my favourite track, that harmonised vocal approach continuing but with a more obvious merger of clean voice over harsh voice, singing the same words. The melodies are more effortless than even Unwandered Ways and the whole thing is always over far too quickly for me. I feel like I could be carried along by this one forever. Given that it translates to Welcome Guests, that seems rather appropriate.

Where this leaves me is that my favourite two songs are the ones not sung in English. Lead singer Heri Joensen is clearly fluent and he delivers very well indeed in English, but there's an element here in the Faroese songs that simply isn't there in the English language ones, one that's typical for folk metal, of course. If there's a subgenre of metal that values native language more, then I don't know what it is. I like everything on this album, but I like some of it a lot more than the rest and the rest means the majority.

Are Týr trying too hard to find a more mainstream sound and losing a little of themselves in the process? Let's see how the next album turns out in what I'm now guessing will be five or six years from now.

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