Call them viking metal, call them folk metal, but labels are frequently useless. Týr is quite simply one of the most distinctive bands around. No other band on the scene sounds quite like them. And while Týr is easy to identify, none of their albums have suffered from the repetition and sameness which can plague even the best of musicians. One of many things which set the band apart is that their lyrics and songwriting have always been superior to just about any other peer they are frequently compared to.
Some years back, this Faroe Islands band became a bit more refined, as the songs gradually became less progressive and more to-the-point. With this in mind, part of the fanbase may opt to believe that the magic is gone, and the assumption could be that the "epic" (a really overused word) feelings are no longer present in the band's music. However, Týr proves with their seventh full-length album Valkyrja that exceptionally strong songwriting is still the defining aspect of their sound. Lead vocalist/guitarist Heri Joensen is effortlessly dynamic and captivating, and the band's sound is consistently engaging, melodic, and thoroughly powerful.
The theme of Valkyrja is of a viking warrior and his Valkyrie-related adventures; therefore, many of the song topics are largely focused on women. The remarkable journey of Valkyrja initiates with "Blood of Heroes", which pairs Terji Skibenæs' frenetic guitar riffing with an unforgettable, anthemic chorus. For this album, Týr enlisted the help of Nile drummer George Kollias, due to the departure of Kári Streymoy in the spring; Kollias' performance is quite impressive, to say the least, contributing an untouchable energy and massive sound to an already fantastic structure. "Mare of my Night" is similarly straightforward, with intense erotic imagery and riveting vocals from Joensen. Among Valkyrja's highlights is "Hel Hath No Fury", a wondrously catchy offering with a galloping pace, Gunnar Thomsen's unique bass sound, and a nice balance of aggression and melody.
"The Lay of Our Love" is an emotionally charged, beautiful, melancholic duet featuring haunting guest vocals from the wondrously talented Liv Kristine (Leaves' Eyes; ex-Theatre of Tragedy). Liv sounds brilliant in combination with the stunning vocal range of Heri Joensen, delivering the chilling line, "Remember a distant day / for even memories may fade away," and the guitar work is particularly exceptional here. "Nation" and "Into the Sky" continue with the fast-paced, grittier mood of the album, with Joensen even incorporating some extraordinary, Hetfield-like, menacing vocals into the latter song.
Valkyrja also features two cover songs, "Where Eagles Dare" (Iron Maiden) and "Cemetery Gates" (Pantera). Both are very well done, both from an instrumental and vocal aspect. Týr's take on "Cemetery Gates" is especially remarkable and emotional, and it allows Joensen to demonstrate his vocal versatility and tremendous range during the song's final moments.
From start to finish, Valkyrja is truly one of the musical highlights of 2013, in addition to being the most enjoyable Týr album since 2008's Land. It would be wise for fans of melodic metal to look into this one as soon as possible, and longtime fans of the band should not be disappointed at all.