Týr - By the Light of the Northern Star
Napalm Records
Folk/Viking Metal
9 songs (43:17)
Release year: 2009
Týr, Napalm Records
Reviewed by Charles
Those of you paying attention in January may remember that I ranked Tyr’s last effort, Land, high among my top albums of 2008. This is a band that negotiates the minefield that is fist-pumping singalong-folk metal, effortlessly avoiding the fate of so many others in that genre. They aren’t cheesy (usually), they aren’t superficial, they have (almost) never come across as a plastic battleaxe-waving novelty band. Plenty of other bands (that will remain nameless) should take note.

They have always had the touch of class that comes from mastering the craft of songwriting; they’ve never released simple folk metal anthems. Instead, their songs are crafted very cleverly, managing to fit complicated rhythmic ideas into seemingly simplistic rockers (e.g. Hail to the Hammer) and constructing ambitious epics out of euphorically catchy constituent parts (e.g. The Edge). Land, excluding the title track, was probably a simpler record than its predecessors, concentrating on more concise tunes, but did not suffer for that.

In that sense, By the Light of the Northern Star is a further step in the same direction. This may be their most straightforward album; it’s about energy and anthems, with the range of rhythmic ideas pared down to centre in on a rapid dugadugaduga that makes Tyr sound more like a power metal band than at any point in the past. It’s worth talking about opener, Hold the Heathen Hammer High, as it is not only the best song here, but also encapsulates the overall sound of the record. A fast, urgent and totally knuckledragging lead melody sears itself into your memory pretty much after the very first listen, and the gang chorus is a glorious paradox: indescribably catchy but almost impossible to sing along with, given the tongue twisting repetition of the letter “h”. Then there are small touches of innovation that bring the record to life; as the song opens, for example, the drum pattern enters at half the speed you expect it to, throwing your ears slightly off balance. This is a neat trick and, bizarrely enough, reminds me of Entombed’s song, Wolverine Blues (although I’d be amazed if that’s what the band were thinking of at the time).

And we continue in this vein. There isn’t really anything here comparable to the beautiful Grieg-derived ballad, Valkyrian from Land, or the atmospheric, time-shifting folk of Torsteins Kvaedi. I have to say, this is a more more one-dimensional than that. That said, there is the reverential choral buildup of Turið Torkilsdóttir, although that too turns into a Sonata Artica-style galloper.

Instead of looking for depth, then, the album’s high points come when this simpler formula is perfected. By the Sword in my Hand is as foot-tapping a tribute to imperialist violence as you could ever wish to hear, turning seemingly unpoetic words like “decapitate” and “decimate” into a chorus to be raped and pillaged for. The Anglo-Saxon in me wants to take this cd and cast it into the near York. Another peak is the chorus of Hear the Heathen Call, slow and majestic, like a Bon Jovi power ballad. The worst moments are when this disturbing likeness is taken too far, as with the “Woah woah woahing” in Northern Gate.

The fact that nearly all the points in this review relate to a tune’s chorus should tell you something about By the Light of the Northern Star. It’s only on the closing title track, with its hypnotic and turbulent melodies, that there is real complexity on display. This is unashamedly an “anthems” album, and for the most part this is pulled off with flair, as you would expect from Tyr. It’s not as deep and durable as something like Ragnarok, but then it clearly seems to be aiming at something different.

Killing Songs :
Hold the Heathen Hammer High, By the Light of the Northern Star
Charles quoted 75 / 100
Alex quoted 82 / 100
Other albums by Týr that we have reviewed:
Týr - Valkyrja reviewed by Jared and quoted 100 / 100
Týr - The Lay of Thrym reviewed by Alex and quoted 95 / 100
Týr - Land reviewed by Alex and quoted 82 / 100
Týr - Ragnarok reviewed by Alex and quoted 85 / 100
Týr - How Far to Asgaard reviewed by Alex and quoted 82 / 100
To see all 7 reviews click here
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