|Review: Tyr - Eric The Red|
|Eric The Red|
Label: Tutl Records
Year released: 2003
Genre: Viking Metal
Review online: March 23, 2004
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
for:Eric The Red
After over a year and over 240 reviews for this site, some of them of acknowledged classics of metal such as Fates Warning and Crimson Glory, I have awarded exactly five "5+" scores. This is the sixth, and probably the most deserved. I have given about twenty or so perfect scores, all to worthy albums, but to get that extra "+" an album has to go above and beyond the confines of metal somehow. It has to embody something artistic beyond simple genre. It has to move me in a way no other album does.
Tyr is a band from the tiny, frozen Faroe Islands, and this is their second album of progressive metal heavily layered with traditional folk music. And it is one of the greatest metal albums ever recorded, ever, anywhere. I heard the opening track "The Edge" on their website and was immediately captivated by their unique and epic sound. Now that I have the whole album to listen to, I am even more utterly impressed. Let us be clear: for the majority of my first listen to "Eric The Red" my jaw was on the floor and tears were in my eyes. This is music so magnificent, so original, and so transporting it is literally impossible to really describe it. But I am going to try.
On the surface it would seem that Tyr are playing a doomy style based on older Maiden or Omen, but they have an incredibly intricate rhythm style that has more to do with Dream Theater and elevates their music to levels of complexity undreamed of by most bands. And yet they never lose track of the song, and no matter how insanely they change time signatures the soaring vocal melodies carry the tune and keep everything together. There is an incredible amount of folk influence on this band's music, and they make most "folk-metal" bands look like complete posers. Hell, half the songs here are either based on traditional songs or adapted from traditional lyrics – sung in Faeroese no less. Even the original songs drip with Nordic-inflected melodies and lyrics. Six of the ten songs here are original compositions by lead singer/guitarist/lyricist Heri Joensen, and nothing in metal has ever sounded remotely like them. "The Edge" begins with doomy riffs and then swings into stomping, hypnotic chants. It is impossible to characterize the songs as one thing or another, as these guys switch gears too many times in a song to keep track of – and yet the songs always hang together and are catchy as Hell.
The vocals need special note here, as Joensen is an amazing singer, with grit, power, and style to spare. His voice seems to never run out of room as the vocal lines climb up and up. Every song here, however, makes use of not only Joensen's powerful voice but of the rest of the band to create unmistakable choral effects that sound like Vikings chanting as they pull the oars. They have also mastered the trick of just stopping the music on a dime and letting the vocals hit extra hard for a beat before the instruments slam back into gear. The vocal lines are a joy: haunting and powerful, with innumerable twists and turns that seem to never end. The choruses seem to climb up and up, building cathedrals of sound. I have to single out "Dreams" as not only the best song here, but one of the best five or six metal songs ever fucking written. The chorus is so damned huge, beautiful and moving that I get tears in my eyes every time I listen to it.
The artwork and the design of the package are really good, but it is the lyrics that are the real prize here. Nobody writes lyrics like these anymore. And I mean 'anymore' as in 'not for a thousand years or so'. Joensen is simply amazing, as for many of the lyrical passages he writes in the old prose saga form you will find in the "Tain Bo Cuailnge" or the "Elder Edda". To briefly illustrate:
This is a verse my wife wrote as a reference for the epic form:
"A crow low in the snow
And here is the first verse of "The Edge":
"Nightfall in my Hall
These are lyrics with an erudition and poetry to them that recalls the blank, stark austerity of the Nordic sagas. And on top of that, they actually mean something besides 'Vikings are cool'. Throughout the album the story of Eric The Red (a Viking who settled Greenland while exiled from his homeland) is used in a very sidelong way to comment on modern life and the universality of crisis of the spirit throughout all ages of mankind. Heady and multilayered stuff. As an added nicety, for those songs not in English we are provided with translations.
To say this is the best album of 2003 would be too small an accolade. This is one of the best metal albums ever made, with a degree of innovation and genuine artistry most often unseen in any genre. The performers of Try are all superlative instrumentalists in service to sublime material, and with a great production job to boot, despite what I am sure was a low budget. This is music for the ages, progressive and classic at once. Inimitable, unparalleled, and utterly unexpected. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Do whatever you have to: beg steal or borrow, sell your blood. But you must have this.
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