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A Tough Nut Worth Cracking - 85%

lonerider, September 13th, 2021

Folk metal? Progressive metal? Melodic power/heavy metal? Well, Týr are all three at once, their stylistic emphasis shifting over time, from album to album or even from song to song. That being said, those who got to know the band with one of their later, more easily accessible releases such as By the Light of the Northern Star or Valkyrja might be in for a surprise when spinning Týr’s third full-length studio record, the somewhat predictably titled Ragnarok.

Achieving worldwide recognition and success in the music business is never easy and it certainly isn’t any easier for a band hailing from the weather-beaten, wind-swept shores of the tiny Faroese Islands. Listening to Ragnarok, however, it quickly becomes obvious Týr are not your average, paint-by-numbers metal Joes. The level of talent within this band is indeed staggering, with the remarkable pipes of Heri Joensen leading the way. This guy is simply a pleasure to listen to, his immaculate and imaginative vocal lines serving as the proverbial icing on the cake in Týr’s adventurous sonic landscape. Joensen won’t dazzle you with high-pitched screams but his voice is full of emotion, he is always firmly in control and his medium pitch is both incredibly powerful and varied. Kári Streymoy also deserves some acknowledgement for his inventive and constantly shifting drum patterns.

The drumming is where some of Ragnarok’s distinctly progressive flavor stems from, but the ambitious songwriting and the band’s seemingly unscripted, free-styling performance—at least that’s the impression it often evokes—is what really makes this a rather unique and demanding musical journey. Now, how could music this melodic and uplifting possibly be so challenging? First of all, even though Ragnarok serves us rousing melodies by the boatload, those melodies are never repeated too often, and even when they turn up again, they are rarely repeated in exactly the same way. The slight but constant alteration of integral parts of these songs is almost elevated to an art form here, and the song structures themselves are quite unpredictable and anything but your standard folk/power metal fare.

Even the choruses aren’t instant ear catchers and mostly take a little time to breed familiarity. With a name like “The Hammer of Thor,” the corresponding song can only be an instant crowd pleaser with a chorus urging you to raise your drinking horn and sing the praises of the mighty pagan gods, right? Well, think again as “The Hammer of Thor” displays a surprisingly pensive mood belying its warlike title. At the same time, the choruses serve as obvious starting points for those embarking on a journey to unveil the secrets and unearth the hidden treasures of Ragnarok. Standout tracks such as the opener “The Beginning” (even though it’s strictly an instrumental), “Brother's Bane,” “The Hunt” or the downright brilliant “The Ride to Hel” are the most accessible of the bunch and once you’ve become familiar with these, the rest of the album will gradually reveal itself and unlock its huge potential.

Further enhancing the complexity of this record is the fact that it’s a concept album divided into several chapters, with short interludes coming after almost every “proper” song. In a nice artistic twist, the musical themes of these interludes are often woven into the proper tracks immediately following them, preventing Ragnarok from feeling like a somewhat random assortment of various bits and pieces. Another asset working in Ragnarok’s—and generally in Týr’s—favor is the way traditional Faroese folk melodies are incorporated without actually resorting to traditional folk instruments. However, there’s only one more or less pure folk track sung entirely in Faroese this time around (not counting the interlude “Grímur á Miðalnesi”), and needless to say, “Torsteins kvæði” is another standout track on an album with lots of memorable moments.

There definitely is a lot of stuff to digest here, but once you get the hang of it you’ll realize Ragnarok is an—expertly produced, no less—album full of great, well-conceived tunes flawlessly executed by masterful musicians at the top of their craft. As far as progressive folk/power metal with Viking-themed lyrics goes, this is a very fine example fans of that subgenre and of this particular band will not want to miss. It’s a rather tough nut to crack at first, but it’s well worth trying until you succeed.

Choicest cuts: The Beginning, Brother's Bane, The Ride to Hel, Wings of Time, The Hunt, Ragnarok

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points