Album Review: Tyr - Valkyrja

I'm often confused by the things that become popular. My mind and my aesthetic aren't compatible with common wisdom, so I'm often at a loss when it comes to understanding how certain elements become wildly popular, while others that may have more obvious merit are left by the wayside. Tyr brings this to mind, here presenting us a concept album about the voyage of a Viking warrior riding off into battle to impress the Gods. Viking mythology is certainly interesting, but it baffles me how Viking -themed metal has become such a large part of what we hear every year. It's one thing for the band from the area to embrace their heritage, but why audiences around the world are so eager to eat it up is the question I can't answer.

Playing a style not unlike Grand Magus, Tyr tries to anchor their music in a solid traditional metal framework, but they miss some of the elements needed. They have the massive wall of guitars, and the solos filled with sweeping and tapping licks, but the songs themselves are almost relegated to the background. The songs tend to build upon one or two solid but unspectacular riffs, with a flashy bit of lead work thrown in, capped off with a vocal and melody that leave me wanting more. The problem is that every element of the songs are so standard that there's no way to make the whole more than the sum of the parts.

Over the course of the record, there are few, if any, guitar riffs that stand out and can be sung back later. And I say this as a guitar player. Try falls into the trouble of many modern bands, who build every song from rhythmic riffs that fail to garner any identity of their own. Move riffs from song to song, and I doubt anyone would notice. That can be a benefit at time, especially in a concept album, but instead of giving the album a unifying feel, this homogeneity makes “Valkyrja” come across as less than inspired.

Not helping matters is the band's honesty in the press release. When you say “the band began writing guitars and drums for “Valkyrja” over a year ago with melody lines and arrangements being handled in the studio,” it gives me cause for concern. Philosophically, I reject the idea that any part of the songs should be relegated for writing once the band is already in the studio, especially when it shows as badly as it does this time. “Valkyrja” lacks strong hooks throughout, which I'm inclined to think is because the band was rushing through that part of the writing process to get the record finished. Even worse, the admission that “only very late, maybe almost too late, did I write the actual lyrics.” How that can be said about a concept album is utterly incomprehensible.

Staying on that course, if “Valkyrja” was built as a showcase for guitars and drums, I might be inclined to judge it even more harshly. As I said before, these songs are bereft of riffs that are truly memorable. If an entire year was spent writing these songs, and these riffs are what the band felt were the best representation of where they are, I'm troubled. If all you focused on for that long were guitar parts, and they fail to live up to expectations, how am I supposed to be lenient?

Maybe “Valkyrja” isn't as bad an album as I make it sound, but the philosophical issues I have with the record are so much in the forefront of my mind that I can't shake them. Every step of the way, Tyr makes the record harder to enjoy because of their choices. There is certainly a way to take the concept behind this record and make a great record out of it, but this is nowhere near that.

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