With Hel, the Faroe Islands' Týr provide even more irrefutable evidence that they stand at the vanguard of Scandinavian metal. Their eighth full-length is a collection of ruthlessly melodic and irresistibly compelling progressive folk metal that will immediately resonate with any who have followed the band at any point over the two decades of their storied career. "Being so close to the album, it's almost impossible for us in the band to have an objective opinion about it, but my impression is that it's a more diverse collection that's also more extreme in some ways.
There are more instrumental passages than on 'Valkyrja' (2013), and there are a lot of guitar and bass details," states guitarist/vocalist Heri Joensen. "I really feel we've realized the vision we set out to create all those years ago, and as I listen through the album, I am satisfied with every aspect: the epicness, the intricacy, the melodies and harmonies, and the sheer heaviness of it. I love the whole atmosphere of it."
Known for their prolific nature - dropping their first five full-lengths in the space of just seven years - the six-year gap between Valkyrja and Hel is by far the longest between any two of their records. During that period the band toured hard, taking the album around the world, including a support run with Children Of Bodom in North America and an appearance on the 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise. However, other factors played into this extended break between releases.
"We approached this one differently because I learned that if I continue doing albums in the way we had up to now, I would die from a heart attack before I'm 50!" says Joensen. "That's one of the reasons we changed our method and took such a long time on this one." That this tactic - which also includes more songwriting contributions from bassist/vocalist Gunnar Thomsen and guitarist Terji Skibenæs than on previous releases - has been beneficial is borne out in the finished product, which is perhaps more immersive than those that came before. "Musically it leans a bit towards our album, 'Ragnarok' (2005)," states Thomsen. "It's a bit more epic and also much better worked through than any of our previous albums." It also marks the recording debut of drummer Tadeusz Rieckmann, who has manned the drum throne for Týr's live shows since 2016. "We had some problems finding the right guy some years back, but Tadeusz is the man for the job," says Joensen. "He's a very technically able drummer, but at the same time, he has a very natural old-school heaviness to his style, and he plays with deep emotion, which is just what we need."
Conceptually, the album is informed by a combination of mythology, personal experience and observations of current international events, making for a multifaceted experience that can be processed and understood on many levels. Starting not with a specific story to tell but with an atmosphere in mind, Joensen prefers not to disclose too much detail when it comes to lyrics, keen for listeners to have a chance to take what they want from the songs, though he provides a basic description of that which inspired him. "Hel is the realm of death in Norse mythology, the underworld where those who die a natural death, not in battle, go. A bit confusingly, it is also the name of the goddess who rules over the same realm. She's the daughter of Loki and a terrifying creature to look upon." Two of the songs - "Ragnars Kvæõi" and "Álvur Kongur" - are traditional Faroese ballads and are as such sung in Joensen's native tongue. Followers of Týr will be aware that they have on numerous occasions strayed from English, which Joensen acknowledges as the "language of metal", though this time out it is only the ballads that feature non-English lyrics. "If I have a good folky melody, I always have the thought that I should write the lyrics in Faroese, but I seldom have the time. The traditional songs come with lyrics, so it's just about picking out the verses I want to use." These tracks were in actuality selected even before the release of Valkyrja and have had a long gestation period, Joensen feeling that in adapting them they very much fit with the band's signature sound. "I am always trying out melodies and chose 'Ragnars Kvæ›i' first for the fascinating melody in the chorus, and secondly for the storyline. The other ballad I picked first because of the lyrics, which refer to Odin extensively, and secondly for the melody and chorus. I was very satisfied with the harmonies and epic feel of the arrangements I'd come up with, and to tell you the truth, I wish there were more songs of this kind on the album."
Hel was tracked entirely by Thomsen and Joensen, with sessions split between the latter's studio in Søldarfjør›ur, drums lain down at Jacob Hansen's studio in Denmark, Skibenæs working in his home studio, and some solos and bass details recorded while they were on the road in North America. "The sessions took us a long time because we did it all on our own. But we gathered a lot of knowhow while doing it, so it will be a good reference for the future," states Thomsen.
Joensen concurs, adding, "It was a bit more relaxing than usual, which was good for me. It took some discipline, and creative people are not typically the most disciplined types. I am definitely not, so I guess it could have gone faster with someone else at the whip!" That the delay in getting the record out means it's emerging in the twentieth year of Týr's existence is quite poignant. It has definitely not been an easy road to this point, with several members having come and gone, and those that remain having had to endure some very difficult periods, but despite all of it, they have managed to make it through, and achieved a great deal in the process. "I did dream about becoming an internationally successful professional when I started. It's what I aimed at, but still it's a bit surreal that we've made it this far," Joensen admits. "I didn't in my wildest dreams think I could put survive such misery and abject poverty that this career has lead me through. Still, here I am." Thomsen "could not be prouder" when he looks back at the string of records they have released, also acknowledging the ups and downs experienced along the way, but making an important point: "We've done something nobody from where we're from has done before," he states plainly. "But there's a lot more to come!"