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Cute Viking rock - 70%

UCTYKAH, May 7th, 2009

Never bothered to check them out until I ended up at the Pagan Fest last year and they were there. Pagan Fest's highlight: why it's TURISAS' cover of BONEY M's "Rasputin" of course, which might have been lost on quite a few fellow Americans, but is always good clean fun either way, even if you missed the heyday of Euro-disco. I also took note of "Hail to the Hammer" - hell of a catchy tune, great for pumping thy fist in the air and easy to understand. Hail the hammer, hail the great hunter, hail the forces of nature that keep us warm in the winter. Some of TYR's other pieces made me raise an eyebrow, though. What is up with all the mainstream rock passages? - I thought during one of their songs. But hey, I figured, this must have been some of their later material, when they grew-up, matured, evolved, crapped-out and all that jazz. Happens to a lot of bands, no surprise there. Their first album is probably decent, I speculated and proceeded to "How Far To Asgaard". Wrong! TYR were like that from the get go. The fact (according to MA's additional notes on the band) that they gained initial recognition by participating in a Danish contest and scoring a hit says a little something about them. I do not really mean to accuse them of being sell-outs. I am sure they mean well, love their culture, want to be different and so on and so forth. It's just that the music lags somewhat, from the metal standpoint that is. TYR make very nice Viking rock with shitload of mass-appeal. Combination of strong clean singing and great musicianship, plentiful lead work and clear cut accessible riffs with more complex than usual time signatures create a winning combination indeed. Hell, I wish they go multiplatinum, win a Grammy, become a household name. Sincerely. But no, they claim (are described as, fall into the category of etc.) to be metal, and progressive to boot, so let it be.

The progressive part is relatively easy to pick out for a blockhead like me. Refined, technical heavy metal sound is filtered through a slow to mid-paced Viking prism. Classical flair in many passages and chord progressions point to the same direction. Guitar roulades and solos are present in spades. Here they are on "The Rune" or "Ten Wild Dogs" or the title track, all over the place. What other Viking band does so many solos? Or, hey, check out those modulating lead lines on "Ten Wild Dogs". Progressive it is. Or, better yet, look at the song structures. Sure, the band are not above using simple verse/chorus set up, often merely repeating a quadrant or two with solos tucked in-between serving as bridges, but they are always sure to masquerade it with syncopated tempos or off-kilter rhythms, a little prog wankery in other words. If the band is not progressive, then they at the very least exhibit serious progressive aspirations. At the same time, these aspirations are kept tightly under control. The band guard their mass appeal like the most pious nun and make sure that their musical language is easily understood. No one will ever accuse them of being primitive, but calling their music complicated would be a bit far-fetched. It's progressive but never truly complex, refined but never too high-minded, never wondering too far off into the thicket, so no one will ever confuse them with SPIRAL ARCHITECT. The same goes for the metal part of the equation. Actual metal in TYR's music seems to be more of an appendage rather than a major factor, hence the Viking rock tag. Metallic riffs are there, but on the grand scheme of things they play a supporting role or just plain sit on the backburner, readily diluted by many a major rock chord and riff. Certain segments on tracks such as "The Rune" and "Sand in the Wind" still make me cringe. Their contemporary rock sound and guitar chords are exactly what I was complaining in the paragraph above. These mainstream flirtations water down both metal and the Viking feel in the band's music, but it's also exactly what contributes to the band's success. By always playing the middle-of-the-road position and by keeping their influences perfectly leveled, TYR certainly stand out among their peers, and their sound is easily recognizable. Even the album's atmosphere exhibits the same level-headed traits. Heroic and optimistic, or at least content, and never aggressive, much less dark. But then Viking metal is not the darkest music there is. Either way, if anyone will bring Viking metal into the mainstream, it would be TYR. Wait, haven't they already done that? Maybe not. Actually, I have no idea. All I know is that they are not coming back to the US with this year's Pagan Fest.

This review turned out to be more of a critique rather than a compliment, but I guess you should not let that dissuade you. If you are in the mood for something light, this will do the trick just fine. True and false lines have long been blurred. Hardcore metal-heads who profess their unadulterated love for, say, THE GATHERING (I know you are out there in droves) still manage to retain their credibility, right? Same can go for TYR. Just make sure to wear a pair of dark shades during the initial contact, else the smooth and tender sunny light emanating from this recording might burn thy dark soul.