Týr: The One-Armed God of War
interviewed by Octavio Ramos Jr
According to Norse myth, the Aesir one day decided to shackle the dangerous wolf Fenrisulfr, but there was no chain strong enough to bind the beast. The Aesir called upon the dwarves to make them a magical ribbon called Gleipnir, but Fenrisulfr learned of their plan and thus forged a scheme of his own. The great wolf agreed to wear the trinket, but only if one of the Aesir placed a hand inside his massive maw. It was Tyr, known for his great courage, who agreed to this bargain. When Fenrisulfr learned that the Gleipnir was an enchanted shackle meant to bind him until the time of 'Ragnarok', he bit off Tyr's hand.
This is but one of the myths explored by the folk-metal band Tyr, which hails from the Faroese Islands. I recently had an opportunity to speak with vocalist and guitarist Heri Joensen, who discussed his musical influences, described the Faroe Islands, and gave some insight into the inner workings of the band's latest effort, the epic Ragnarok.
Tell me about your homeland, the Faroe Islands.
HJ: Eighteen windswept islands in the North Atlantic, covering a measly 1,400 square kilometers, inhabited by 48,000 people living mainly off the fishing industry and related industries. The climate is Arctic. We are a self-governing part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The lifestyle and standards are like any part of Scandinavia, only on a much smaller scale.
Why did you pick the name Tyr? Explain its personal significance to you and the music you play.
HJ: We knew that we wanted a name out of Norse mythology. What caught my attention about Týr was the story of him chaining Fenris the wolf. Týr is the bravest of all the gods and he is the god of [strategy], warfare, and diplomacy. To chain the wolf, he had to give his right hand, and so he made a great personal sacrifice for the sake of the common good. This says very much about the nature of war, when a general god would go to such lengths to avoid it.
My first exposure to Tyr was with Eric The Red. It is unlike any type of Viking metal I have ever heard. How would you explain your musical approach to someone who has never heard it before?
HJ: Progressive folk Viking metal, based on Faeroese and Scandinavian music traditions, arranged in a classical and dramatic way, with texts set in the Norse pantheon. We are generally told that we have a style of our own and there is no real comparison, so to get the real idea you probably would have to buy the album.
Each song you compose is an epic, in terms of sound, length, and concept. Is this deliberate on the band's part?
HJ: Yes. We go for the big impression, as it suits us best. This style comes very naturally to us and we feel very honest musically towards ourselves. We grew up listening to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, so that ideal is in our blood. The Faeroese traditionals that we base our music on are often several hundred verses long, so that also has given us some lengthy ideals.
Tell me about your latest effort, Ragnarok.
HJ: It is a concept album. The subject is Ragnarok, of course, the Norse tale of the end of the world. We have put special emphasis on the conflict between Odin and Loki, starting from the killing of Baldur and ending with the end of the world. The style is more progressive and darker than on the predecessor, Eric The Red, and maybe not as catchy at first listen, but the melodies are stronger in the long run and the production is many times better, so needless to say we think it is our best album so far.
You write lyrics in both English and your home tongue. Which to you feel is the more expressive and why?
HJ: It is always a joy to sing in Faeroese, but when we play in Europe we feel we lose a bit of the contact [with] the audience because they cannot understand what we are saying. It is easier for me to express myself in Faeroese, but it is also much harder to write lyrics in Faeroese that I am [confortable] with, so the majority of our lyrics are in English.
What types of music do you like to listen to? What bands have influenced your musical style?
HJ: I like all types of music. Black Sabbath, Blind Guardian, Dio, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Savatage, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, System Of A Down, and too many more bands to mention here. I like composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Grieg, and the like. So, generally, I like all good music and it inspires me regardless of style.