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: HEL – The Sun Facing Goddess (2019)

A book by Bryan Wilton

Hel is perhaps one of the more unfortunately maligned deities in the entirety of the Germanic pantheon. Misunderstood due to her conflation with Christian ideas of “Hell” and what the afterlife is in general, a lot of people look at her the same way we look at Satan in the Christian myths – a malevolent punisher god. Nothing in any of the many accounts of the Gods really paint this picture aside from one part of the Eddas, and this is perhaps due to Snorri Sturluson writing the Eddas from a Christian viewpoint. Ancient Germanic peoples did not see their afterlife in this manner, so attributing Christian notions to them is careless, but sadly the norm. There has been a serious lack of scholarship (that I have found at least), whether it be detailed monographs or journal articles on Hel, so when I saw this book I got pretty excited. Was this the sort of piece I was looking for? Sadly… it was not.

This book starts out okay, Bryan Wilton lays out his thesis for the book – Hel is misunderstood, and maligned by Christians. Sounds good; this could be interesting – right? Problem is, I had to read the first few pages a few times because the grammar was hard to understand or was organized in a weird manner. I figured I was tired and had misread some paragraphs, but sadly it wasn’t me. It was as if Mr. Wilton had composed this book using a text-to-speech program, and did minimal editing to finish it. There are some sections worse than others, and it largely does make sense, but its hard to read.

This is an example:

Not so long ago I was enjoying a profound discussion with a good friend of mine. His analogy of all roads lead to Rome really meaning that all roads lead to the door of death has stuck with me. Largely because it means we are going to need to discuss an ancient Goddess. Hel. Who, as she is described in the lore is most difficult to understand. But it is entirely in line with what a Christian would need people to think. For it was the promise of Jesus that there would be life everlasting. The first thing you need to do is to vilify death and make it a scary place.

This book is an attempt to rectify that. One based upon that conversation, an understanding of the lore and one magnificent idea which will shake the foundations of the world In those gray areas of change, those areas where we have been taught to fear the chaos held at bay by the constructs of our minds, we will find the truth.

-First page

Maybe it’s just not a writing style I like and I’m in the minority, but something seems off. For example, you have a one word sentence up there, with the rest of the sentence left as some weird fragment. (Largely because it means we are going to need to discuss an ancient Goddess. Hel. Who, as she is described in the lore is most difficult to understand.) We see Some sentences that seem out of place and a spoonful of gratuitous self-congratulatory nonsense are all in one page – This is also the Amazon blurb chosen to represent the book. I should have looked closer when I downloaded this.

My biggest issue isn’t the grammar, I’m not a giant grammar Nazi and it’s at least readable. I’ve seen far worse things on Amazon sadly. However, what we do have meanders a LOT. The entire book is basically a rambling essay that stops talking about Hel, herself, pretty early on, detours into the author’s opinion of modern politics (THE DREADED SJWs OHHHH NOOOO), swooped into a large section on why Loki is a bad guy (rambling about Lokean Heathenism as well) while supposedly talking about the death of Baldr to half-ass talk about Hel again- it’s a really garbled mess of a book considering what the topic allegedly was.

I mention the political thing because that really is a bugbear of mine – when discussing historical Germanic religion, I have come across a ton of authors that feel the need to go on lengthy asides about how much they hate liberal politics, usually bringing up “SJWs” and talking about weakening of male roles or some-such. This is always shoe-horned into a book where it has no business being present, like a translation of the Eddas, to fit their agenda. These authors will constantly mention how much they feel that left-leaning politics has poisoned Heathenry, then inject an equal amount of right-leaning politics into whatever they write. While, I’m honestly not a liberal and I find this nauseating. One of the many reasons I left Christianity was its political aspect, I don’t need that here as well.

Halloween Countdown:Goddess Hel of Norse Mythology

The only tidbit I thought was interesting was the challenging of the typical appearance of Hel that we see in most art (and the actual lore, but okay) in that she is represented with a face split in half, one side shown very beautiful and the other very grotesque, perhaps with bones protruding. Mr. Wilton proposes that her divide is actually in such a way that her entire face is beautiful so you are invited into Helheim by a fair motherly figure to comfort you. I presume her whole back is a skeleton or something? This isn’t elaborated on. While this theory is interesting, it seems to fly in the face of the actual source material completely, and is not backed up by any citations. Thus the whole thing sounds like the sort of philosophy you hear at a bar at 3 A.M. This is why the book is subtitled “The Sun Facing Goddess” and his idea is represented by the books cover. Really this is the only “challenge” to our perceptions of Hel in this entire book.

It was not until later that I realized Mr. Wilton was known to be allegedly somewhat racist, and was noteworthy in my area for being ran out of town, that it all came together. I try hard to stay away from material like this for many reasons, most notably because its almost always very poorly made, and exists solely to drive the above agenda. For me, I’m looking a historical look at a Norse Goddess not a sneaky way to malign a political ideology the author doesn’t believe in.

As a book alleging to “rectify the image of Hel for modern readers” it fails in almost every regard, this book is definitely not recommended.

To check this book out CLICK HERE If this hasn’t scared you off.