Album Review: Týr - Battle Ballads

Album Review: Týr - Battle Ballads

Týr has carved out a niche in the modern folk metal scene over their 22-year career, even though singer/guitarist Heri Joensen and bassist Gunnar Thomsen started the band in 1998. Hailing from the Faroe Islands, an archipelago between Scotland and Iceland with a population of under 55,000, yet boasting a strong national identity, Týr has championed Faroese culture, language, and traditions for decades.

The band’s career and profile have ebbed and flowed like the stormy northern seas they evoke during songs about fighting, heathenry, Norse gods and myths. Underneath the hooks and riffs, a sharp songwriting wit lies in Joensen along with a style all of their own, a satisfying fusion of folk songs from the Faroes and modern, blistering metal combine to fill 9 albums with journeys, ballads, anthems and messages.

Battle Ballads comes 5 years after Hel, itself the first in 6 years and a reflection of the care that the band wanted to put into the lyrics and composition. The departure of long-term guitarist Terji Skibenæs caused this reviewer to wonder if the band had perhaps lost some of itself as the riffs in 2019s Hel were a little chaotic and hard to pull out from the songs themselves, the riffs a little lost in the wall of noise. I am delighted to announce that this is not the case with this latest offering.

Battle Ballads kicks off with 'Hammered,' as strong an album opener as Tŷr have ever produced and clean cut on riffs, setting the tone of the tracks to follow. Rapid, relentless drums from Tadeusz Rieckmann underline the clean singing from Joensen heading towards a pre-chorus guitar section and bringing the song to a close.

The album's second track, 'Unwandered Ways,' is classic Tŷr. This means the whirling, cyclical riff is joined with an often rapidly sang collection of words that cause you to forget sometimes that this is sung in the bands second language. A constant pace, pleasing beat and head bobbing chorus improves on the opening track and will sit well on any of the bands live set lists as well as fans playlists.

'Dragons Never Die' is a belter. That’s a Scottish word that means it’s a brilliant song, a real cracker/corker/insert local term of awesomeness here. The riff is similar to 'Uwandered Ways' but the chorus is accessible, fun and catchy. This song is begging to be enjoyed live and the prevalence of the other band members singing backing vocals alongside Joensen’s lead during the chorus is another trademark of a band in their absolute prime. If you listen to one song from this album, make it this one. Then listen to the rest.

Following on such a strong song as 'Dragons' may seem like an arduous task but 'Row' is not a mere album track. A slight shift in style from the previous few songs, 'Row' gives not a flying fox about it’s riffs, the main star of the track is the two part chorus, moving between  and choral to sharp and hard. I found myself listening to this song often, enjoying from the guttural, brief opening to the guitar solo through to the end.

Yet ANOTHER feature of Tŷr as a band is their inclusion of (normally) two songs in Faroese on every album. Some of these have hit the mark as classics like 'Trondur I Gotu' and 'Turið Torkilsdottir' and some simply don’t knit together as well. The two on this album, 'Torkils Døtur' and 'Vælkomnir Føroyingar,' on average sit somewhere in the middle. The slow build up to the guitars and drums kicking in on 'Torkils Døtur' is paid off by the inclusion of strings to bring a fabulous, dramatic flavour to the song. 'Vælkomnir Føroyingar' is a faster song right off the mark and is not a bad song in itself but pales in comparison to it’s predecessor on the album.

'Hangman' kicks off with multiple vocals and includes high-pitched backings, bring some of the previous drama from 'Torkils Døtur' until the track kicks in properly with it’s faster pace, slow but deliberate hook and speed shifts. Týr have always been a tight band and the style that was lost on Hel has been found here and then some. The vocals and instruments have been blended together seamlessly, creating music that is a genuine joy to listen to and let’s you discover more on each listen.

'Axes' is a brutal, bloody song of a warrior who is most likely a berserker on a bloodlust-fuelled rampage. Týr albums often include references to heathens and a swipe at Christianity but this is one for the few mentions, in the chorus. I doubt it is a mellowing of their message on the evils of religion and more that the lyrics or songs didnt match up. Joensen believes it is the role of educated and sensible people everywhere to resist the hypocrisy or religion and while that message isn’t as prevalent here, it will never be far away. 'Axes' is a good song, on a par with 'Unwandered Ways' and a sure fire crowd pleaser for live shows.

The title track, 'Battle Ballad,' is on the more so-so side of their songs and one of the weaker songs on the album in truth, never quite finding the catchiness of a hook or satisfaction of a riff to hang its horned hat on (yes, I know Vikings didn't wear horned hats but it was too good not to use.)

The same definitely cannot be said for the album closer, 'Causa Latronum Normannorum.' My Latin is a little rusty (as in ‘non existent’) but I am sure it translates as something about Norman invaders. I always applaud people who are bilingual, probably because I live in a country where it is exceedingly rare (is English language privilege a thing?) so set out to learn another language 20 years ago, which I have managed to do through many headache inducing sessions. Here, Heri adds Latin to his fluency in Faroese, English, Danish and by association and familial relationship with those other languages, undoubted proficiency in Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish. So, a singer in a heavy metal band and conversing in multiple languages at once. As if I didnt feel inadequate already.

This song is a perfect album closer, I will die on this hill. It’s sweeping, orchestral, catchy and excellently put together.

Battle Ballads doesn’t always hit the high expectations I know that the band will place on it but the misses are far outweighed by the hits. This is a band who know what they are doing, corrected course when it was needed and have churned out what should be on everyone’s album of the year list, if they are into that sort of thing. For clean vocals in so-called Viking metal, you only really have Grand Magus and Týr and this album is a worthy addition to the catalogue of a band who are smashing it out of the park right now. Do yourself a lesson and give it a few listens as some of them are growers but once they are in there they are there to stay. See them live, feel the energy and I’ll see you in Valhalla. (I’ll most likely not get there but I’ll hopefully be allowed to visit).

Rating: 8.5/10
Release Date: April 12th 2024
Released By: Metal Blade Records
FFO: Grand Magus, Amon Amarth, Falkenbach, Enslaved, Tourists

Track List

01 - Hammered
02 - Unwandered Ways
03 - Dragons Never Die
04 - Row
05 - Torkils Døtur
06 - Vælkomnir Føroyingar
07 - Hangman
08 - Axes
09 - Battle Ballad
10 - Causa Latronum Normannorum

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