REVIEW: TYR – Hel (2019)

Official album artwork

It had been quite a while (nearly six years) since TYR blessed our ears with their critically acclaimed album Valkyrja (2013) – but in 2019 they triumphantly returned, with their newest and eighth overall studio album – Hel (2019). This was somewhat of a re-introduction to the band for me, as I think I last purchased The Lay of Thrym (2011), and sort of lost track of the band (I have rectified this since). The long pause for the band could be chalked up to many reasons: Touring schedules as Metalblade Records works its bands pretty hard, a few roster shake-ups with two drummer changes, and a bit of a scandal wherein the band was falsely accused of being white nationalists because they use Runes, which is easily one of the stupidest instances of cancel culture I’ve seen. So how is Hel, was it worth the wait?

For, me very much yes. I know I am in the minority here, but I feel some of TYR’s more popular older songs come across almost like folky Dream Theater songs – not necessarily a bad thing, but not my cup of tea. This usually resulted in long drawn-out and overproduced albums like How Far to Asgard. This got better in the 2000’s when the band settled on the sound that they currently still more-or-less use. Hel, isn’t really a concept album any more than any other album they’ve done, considering all of the TYR albums deal with Norse Lore, but the songs all do have an overlying theme of dealing with heroes deaths, Hel and the underworld.

Hel | Týr

Perhaps there isn’t one BIG classic song like Hold the Heathen Hammer High on this album, but this album is not a one-hit wonder like others – its a competent work from beginning to end. I honestly couldn’t pick one song to say it was “the worst”, and more than one song went into my permanent rotation. Gates of Hel, and Empire of the North are two of my favorites, but I also quite enjoyed the handful of more folky songs sung in Faroese such as Álvur kongur and Ragnars kvæði are awesome, and show how this band surpasses other similar bands of their kind whilst avoiding pretention.

  1. Gates of Hel 06:42
  2. All Heroes Fall 05:16
  3. Ragnars kvæði 04:08
  4. Garmr 04:53
  5. Sunset Shore 04:42
  6. Downhill Drunk 04:27
  7. Empire of the North 05:11
  8. Far from the Worries of the World 05:35
  9. King of Time 04:57
  10. Fire and Flame 05:39
  11. Against the Gods 05:43
  12. Songs of War 05:16
  13. Álvur kongur 07:24

I know the lead singer, Heri Joensen, is a divisive figure for these types of bands. He has come across in interviews, at times, seemingly saying he dismissed some heathens as being “re-enactors” which confused and hurt some of the band’s audience, but that said TYR delivers Pagan music to Pagan fans no matter if they want to do that or not. I believe Heri, is at least, an atheist and he has every right to feel the way he does and it doesn’t detract from the music in any way whatsoever.

If you have yet to purchase this album, please give it a shot, there are few bands that exist to make purely “Viking” music that are as prolific as TYR, and few can continuously make quality music without seeming like they are simply “painting by numbers”. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait a further seven years for the next album, my fingers are crossed that a break in touring may result in some work being done.

REVIEW: Heilung: Futha (2019)

Usually, when people discuss ways that they were brought into paganism, one usually hears stories about being wronged by another group or an experience that brought them in line with the old ways – for me, the path was slightly different. Ever since high school, I have been obsessed with medieval style folk music and folk metal – to such a degree that I sometimes feel as if I’m having a church experience at concerts from time to time. You know, that blissful euphoric feeling that usually is seen as “being endowed with the Holy Spirit” when discussing Christianity? That’s me if I hear bagpipes and see some dudes wearing tunics on stage. For somebody raised Catholic, then being vaguely Gnostic for a number of years as a reaction to becoming anti-Catholic, I realized that my soul was being drawn to the ways of my ancestors through music – and thankfully, in 2019 I have never felt so full as this is a banner year for Pagan folk bands!

There is no other musician or groups of musicians in 2019 that have imparted this feeling on me more than an experimental folk project called Heilung or “healing” in German. I once stumbled on a live performance of theirs that took place at a festival called Castlefest in 2017, the concert itself is both a work of art, and a classic performance that ranks, with me personally, as something as profound as Queen at Live Aid. The Live album itself is also very impressive as a result.

It would seem that others agree, as many of their Youtube videos have garnered millions of views, and they have been played on Sirius XM Liquid Metal, a channel that, as the name would imply, plays metal music. While there is some overlap between the listeners, Heilung have absolutely ZERO metal to their sound (minus throat singing perhaps), so it’s a testament to their unique nature that they are jumping into territory most folk bands never tread.

If not familiar with these guys, Heilung is comprised of members from various countries like Denmark, Norway and Germany, and describe their music as “amplified history from early medieval northern Europe”. Their music is based on texts and artifacts of the Iron Age and the early Viking Age specifically. In the broadest sense, their general “gimmick” for lack of a better term, is that they are shamans using their music, and stage show as rituals to give zeal to warriors or channel spirits depending on the song. The band uses animal skin drums, osteomancy (human and animal bones) and various rattles, whistles, and other implements, some antiques themselves. 

“With the epic new album Futha, the enigmatic HEILUNG return with their signature Amplified History. A counterbalance to their rugged debut Ofnir, Futha reveals a more melodic and beautiful side of the mysterious ensemble. Their primeval musique concrete blends ancient Germanic tongues, lush geophonic recordings (crackling fires, breaking ice), and the percussive thunder of archaic weaponry (swords, shields, arrows) into a reverential ceremonial experience. HEILUNG are in a class all their own, and Futha is an entrancing masterstroke of profound worldly music.”

Heilung’s Bandcamp

In 2019, the band has released their second studio album, called Futha  – These are follow-ups to Ofnir (2015) (self-released, reissued 2018 on Season of Mist) and Lifa (2017) (Season of Mist) the previously mentioned livee album. On the meaning of the album title, HEILUNG explains:

“The majority of full rune set inscriptions start with ‘Futha,’ and is known to us as the first four letters in all runic alphabets. It is considered that our forefathers saw magic potential in engraving the full rune line, but there is also great significance in the beginnings. Science has no key for the meaning of only engraving the first couple of letters yet, but there is, of course, a surplus of theories. One of the theories we found inspiration in, is that ‘Futha’ holds the meaning of fertility and female gender. As ‘Ofnir’ focused on war and masculine notions, the great healing power of female wild strength is evoked in Futha. Those who have been present at a birth or have seen lionesses hunting know the spirit, and we welcome and embrace it in the sounds that were born during the creation of ‘Futha.’”

via Overdrive Mag

1. Galgaldr 10:21    

2. Norupo 04:17      

3. Othan 10:18         

4. Traust 09:48        

5. Vapnatak 04:02   

6. Svanrand 03:36  

7. Elivagar 08:44     

8. Elddansurin 08:05          

9. Hamrer Hippyer 14:16

Much like with Ofnir, the music from Futha is still folk music, but is almost in more of a post-industrial, neo-folk style – meaning that there is a lot of use of electronic instruments and synthesizers rather than the myriad of bones and other instruments a large touring band can provide as heard on Lifa. This might be a turn of for some, as I was made well aware that many in my friends circle thought that Lifa was, in fact, their first album and had no idea that the sound on it was slightly different than the studio album. 

Stand-out tracks are Norupo and Traust which are coincidentally the two singles that have been released as of today. I also enjoyed some of the small interludes quite a bit that pepper the release, usually some type of chanting and and growling that could definitely be envisioned to be coming from a seers tent thousands of years ago. These choices are not to say that the rest of the album is bad, perhaps its 100% the opposite. It’s just that this is more of an “album album” better experienced as a whole rather than in chunks. Those two tracks are just the two that can more easily be tossed onto an iPod and called up at will.

I would say that I like Futha Better than Ofnir as a whole, but absolutely cannot wait for a presumptive live album to come from these tracks. They haven’t announced anything, but I hope they repeat the trend from the last cycle. I also hope that their announced US tour comes somewhere near me, as I would absolutely go insane given the chance to see them in person.

In closing, definitely check this album out if you like Heilung, and do yourself a favor and look at their YouTube page for some live renditions of the songs, you will NOT be disappointed.