Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why Eric the Red is my favorite Tyr album.

I never have an easy time answering the question: "what's your favorite..." I can never decide, especially when it comes to my favorite something in metal. My favorite band of all time is easy--that's Blind Guardian for a few reasons, mostly on account of the entire year I spent listening to them in high school...but beyond that, I don't know. Favorite folk metal band? Pfft, best I can do is top three. Favorite song? How about top ten--but I digress. The issue at hand is my recent decision that Eric the Red is my favorite Tyr album.

This epiphany occurred recently when "Sand in the Wind," off of How Far to Asgaard, came on in my car. It had been a long time since I'd listened to this masterpiece--and a master piece it is, in my opinion--and I rocked out in a way that I haven't in a while. Since that fateful day, I have listened to "Sand in the Wind" more than a few times. The more I listened to this song, and others from How Far to Asgaard, the more I came to realize the virtues of Tyr's first album. There is a certain purity to it, a raw brilliance, an innocence almost. The vocals are light and clear, sung beautifully by Pol, while the guitar solos are strong and pure, masterfully performed by Heri. "Sand in the Wind," as I mentioned before, is particularly masterful to me. The symmetry in the notes that begin and end the song, the brilliant, ambling solo in the middle is almost mesmerizing and Pol's singing is emotional and thought provoking. It really does paint the picture of wind, of time, of the pointlessness of it all, of fate; everything is like sand in the wind. "How Far to Asgaard" itself is epic and grand, while "Ormurin Langi" is slow and moving, the perfect balance of metal excellence and sophisticated folk music. As far as first albums go, How Far to Asgaard is no doubt exemplary.

Some of the purity, in the sense that I mean, has gone from Tyr since How Far to Asgaard. That is not to say that every release from the Faroese folk metal artists is less a perfect mix of pure folk tradition and groundbreaking metal, but that the band has refined its sound and become heavier and more epic. The power of Tyr's more recent work, the pure power of Heri's voice and the massive guitars riffs that strike through the songs, have evolved from the purity and raw beauty of How Far to Asgaard.
Don't get me wrong, I think that each of Tyr's releases is beautiful and masterful in its own way. Ragnarok, for instance, is one of, if not the best concept albums ever made; not to take away from By the Light of the Northern Star, the heroic telling of a dark and desperate time in Faroese history. Land is epic in every sense of the word: long songs, massive songs, booming vocals, and powerful guitar work made it so. The Lay of Thrym is a call for freedom and is as powerful, emotional, and heroic as such a call always should be. It is certainly hard to find things to complain about from Tyr. Yes, their most recent album could be seen as a little too political, but not so much as to take away from the album. And yes, some might not think of Tyr as "brutal" or "metal" enough, in the sense of Slayer or Cannibal Corpse. Tyr requires a more refined metal pallet to enjoy, and looking beyond their few faults reveals masterpieces almost beyond count. Emotion and meaning pump through Tyr's lyrics, telling stories centuries old, bringing back to life a heroic past still alive in few people. The intricate, powerful guitar work of Heri and Terji is overlooked by most, I think, for its excellence in any genre.

What about Eric the Red? What was Tyr's second release like, after line-up changes and six years without a release? Why is it TJ's favorite Tyr album? A simple answer is that the first track is that track that really sucked me into Tyr. But the real answer, the answer that inspired all of this, is that it is as follows.

After How Far to Asgaard, Pol left the band and Heri, already lead guitarist, took up the responsibility of lead vocalist. The purity of How Far to Asgaard, the raw and pure sound that was refined in further albums, is still there in Eric the Red. The biggest difference, the deciding factor for me, is Heri. I will always love Pol and his beautiful voice, but nothing beats the power and majesty of Heri's. Eric the Red is a mixture of How Far to Asgaard and the albums that followed. It brings together the epic power and exemplary folk metal that Tyr has become known for and the purity and innocence of their first album.

Already with "The Edge," more power can instantly be heard in the deeper, slightly darker almost opening riff. It then moves into a powerful melody soon to be embraced by the lyrics. Then comes Heri's voice, his powerful and epic voice, beginning a heartfelt story from the past of his people. This is one of the most important things to understand about Tyr. What they sing about is their people, the people of the Faroe Islands, the descendants of Vikings who were converted away from their traditions by the sword in 999 CE. A tradition whose remnants are threatened even today by modernization and a select few who view their customs as evil. "The Edge," getting back on topic, is a beautiful, meaningful song. It is the story of a man sentenced to death for his staunch resistance to Christianity. He tells his people not to cry for him. Not to cry at his funeral. What he did was selfish, he did it for himself; for the sake of his family he should have "lied and played their game." Now I hope you can see why this meaningful and emotional, epic song drew me in to become a huge fan of these masters of folk metal.

"The Edge" is followed by one of the best examples of a folk song, straight from a Faroese line dance, made into an epic metal song: "Regin Smidur." It is is in Faroese, so I cannot particularly say what it is about, just that is about a legendary blacksmith and it is one my favorite songs of all time. The way it opens with a growing, distant hum, with Heri's voice beginning the first verse, followed closely by a key aspect of Tyr's music: the chorus. Faroese folk tradition is told by voices, by words not notes, by singers not instrumentalists. It is the power of this tradition that lends power to Heri's voice, indeed to the voices of the band as a whole. This song is one among many that exemplifies this tradition and its life within Tyr (see the song "Ormurin Langi," off of How Far to Asgaard for a great example of this tradition). This song moves swiftly between slow, repetitive chorus' and the quick, melodic verses brought forth by Heri, punctuated as ever with powerful guitar work.

"Dreams"....what could possibly be said about "Dreams" that “Dreams” doesn't say about itself? Anyone with any sympathy for myth, legend, folk tales, heroic stories, or even bedtime stories will love and appreciate this song. Tales of faraway lands, tales of long ago are evoked in this song about the power of myth, about the life that can be brought forth with words alone. This is a beautiful, slow, and meaningful song, that I think speaks for itself.

I will not bore you with long-winded descriptions of every song on this, my favorite Tyr album. There are fun songs about drinking and the dangers that it can bring, about dancing in the woods with mystical creatures, and meaningful legends of giants. Current events are blended with tales from the past, as Eric the Red questions new religions and the Rainbow Warrior questions old ones.

I want to thank you for reading my pedantic and long-winded discussion on one of my favorite bands and my recently determined favorite album of theirs. I have a passion for culture and history, and of course for metal. Tyr blends all of this and more together perfectly. If you have not listened to much Tyr, do not be scared away by my over analysis of their work. Just sit back and listen. Let the guitars rock you and the words move you, and hopefully you might come to love this band as I do.