|Tyr have become flag-bearers of the Folk Metal genre, even though the band would probably scorn that epithet as a music sub-genre. The band was formed around 1998 in the Faroe Islands, a diminutive archipelago found between the North of Scotland and Iceland and which falls under the partial governance of Denmark. Currently with seven albums under their belt, the band has gone from strength to strength while earning the adulation of both music critics and fans.Having recently nurtured a fascination for the band’s music, I grabbed an opportunity to meet Heri Joensen, the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter.
How has the current tour with Korpiklaani been going?
Heri: It’s been going quite well. Of course we’re on tour with Sabaton too – it’s just at tonight’s gig that Sabaton aren’t playing. We’re seeing quite big crowds and we’ve been received decently well everywhere. I think we’ve been given the opportunity to play for a lot of people who had never heard us before. Which is great.
I’m sure tonight will be similarly great. The last time Korpiklaani come to London was a sold-out event.
Heri: Well I hope tonight will be like that as well.
I’d like to speak about Tyr’s most recent studio album: “Valkyrja”. One of the things which I liked about the album was the use of choirs to create a dramatic effect within the songs. Was this a skill you found particularly challenging to master?
Heri: No. We’ve been doing this since the second album [“Eric The Red”]. Actually there’s a little bit of choirs on the first album [“How Far To Asgaard”] but from the second album we used choirs quite extensively. It’s pretty easy by now. We use fairly uniform arrangements throughout…so it’s another day at work for us.
Out of curiosity I’d like to know if the album is – musically, structurally or otherwise – influenced by the opera of the same name by Classical composer Wagner.
Heri: No, it isn’t. It’s more inspired by the original mythology, the same that inspired Wagner. So it’s the same source of inspiration and not directly inspired by that composer.
And yet I have the feeling that Tyr has always had a fondness for Classical music. What are your thoughts on this?
Heri: That is true. I like arranging things in a Classical way, using counterpoints, choir arrangements and all that. It’s been present throughout our career.
The album has a song called ‘Nation’, which you partly dedicated to the people of Iceland. Home come this acknowledgement?
Heri: Yes, it was partly dedicated to Iceland and partly to a friend of ours who passed away recently. There are some Icelandic traditional features in that song. This friend who passed away gave me this CD compilation of Icelandic traditional songs. I used a few of those songs as an inspiration for our music. Of course I wanted to thank him as well as dedicate a song to the future of the Icelandic nation which was in a bit of a tight spot a few years back.
Before “Valkyrja” Tyr released “The Lay Of Thrym”. Can you tell me something about the lyrical inspirations for that album?
Heri: I was inspired by the events of the Arab Spring. I am a very positive person…well maybe not totally positive, but definitely optimistic. And I was hoping for a better outcome. I found the story about a Tunisian guy who set himself on fire quite moving and it inspired me to write the song ‘Flames Of The Free’. So it’s mostly taken from those events but I drew parallels between mythology and present day events. You have Thor who tries to get his hammer back from the Giant Thrym, symbolising people from contemporary society trying to get their rights back from dictators who took them away from them.
So what you’re suggesting is that the songs of Tyr are not mere narrations but also serve as metaphors and allegories for more contemporary issues…
Heri: Exactly. I think that that’s the most powerful way to use a myth. Also, a Metal album is very short. If you look at how much text you can put on an album, you can only fit in a tiny part of it. So if you want to read up about mythology you shouldn’t get a Tyr album, you should get a history book. With our albums you get more of my own interpretation and political views.
Let’s speak about influences. In the last couple of albums Tyr have recorded 2 covers for special-edition versions of the albums. How do you go about choosing which songs to cover?
Heri: That’s actually very simple. We were on tour in Europe a few years ago in our old van and out of nowhere we came up with this idea to cover each band member’s favourite song ever. So first we did “I” by Black Sabbath and Stargazer [by Rainbow] which were the favourite songs of me and Kári [Streymoy] who was our drummer at that time. And on the latest album [“Valkyrja”] we did Gunnar’s [Thomsen – Tyr bass player] song ‘Where Eagles Dare’ of Iron Maiden and Terji’s [Skibenas – Tyr guitar player] favourite ‘Cemetery Gates’ by Pantera.
Do you plan to continue this tradition on Tyr’s limited edition albums in future?
Heri: Well we were thinking about it but I’m not sure. I think we decided not to make a cover on the next one but to make an original song as bonus material. I think that that’s what we’re going to do.
What about covering something from Black Sabbath’s “Tyr” album?
Heri: Yeah, I thought about that but it would be very difficult to sing in the way Tony Martin does. [pauses to think] ‘Anno Mundi’, for example, would be a great song to cover.
And there are those 3 tracks from that “Tyr” album linked with each other…..the instrumental ‘The Battle Of Tyr’ followed by ‘Odin’s Court’ and ‘Valhalla’…
Heri: Yes, it might be a good idea but I think we’ve decided not to put any covers on the next album.
You’ve hinted at the bands which have influenced Tyr but can you tell me more about the bands and albums which shaped your own passion for music?
Heri: Perhaps I should start by mentioning Mötley Crüe and “Girls, Girls, Girls” [1987 album]…..
That’s a strange album to cite…..
Heri: Yeah, maybe, but it was the album that really got me into Metal in the beginning. Then of course came Iron Maiden – “Piece Of Mind” was probably the album that got me interested in British Metal.
So those albums opened the gates of Metal for you…..
Heri: They did. And then there was Judas Priest…..”Painkiller” and the album before that “Priest…Live!”. I think that that is a greatly underrated album. For example if you take Iron Maiden, everyone was listening to “Live After Death” but if you compare those two albums, “Priest…Live!” and “Live After Death”, “Priest…Live!” is a much better album.
Despite its critical acclaim, “Live After Death” was never one of my favourite live albums either.
Heri: I don’t know why people love it so much…maybe because of the artwork. It’s a great release as a package but as such the band’s performance is not very good compared to Judas Priest’s, for example. “Priest…Live!” was a great great album for me. And then there were others…Metallica’s black album is just priceless. “Dr Feelgood” by Mötley Crüe…..there are so many…..Black Sabbath’s old albums and some of the newer ones…..everything by Dio…..Rainbow…..
Your mentioning of Judas Priest reminds me…..Tyr has a song called ‘The Rune’ in your debut album “How Far To Asgaard” which reminds me of Judas Priest’s ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’.
Heri: ‘The Rune’? Well, that might be…sort of progressive’ish, very harmonised.
A bit melancholic…
Heri: Yeah. Well I didn’t think about that when I wrote the song but now that you mention it, it might be.
Maybe on a subconscious level.
Heri: Yes, it sometimes happens.
Skyforger speak about Latvian myths, Cruacian and Primordial are inspired by Celtic mythology, Tyr, of course, focus on Scandinavian myths, and so on. Why do you think it’s important to keep these stories alive today?
Heri: I’m not really sure. I’ve been thinking a lot about that because people ask me about it. When we started doing this I had no idea the other [Folklore/Mythology inspired] bands even existed. I had no access to the Scandinavian scene and all the Metal I listened to was American [U.S.A.] and British. After we released our first album we noticed reviews were comparing us to all these other bands we had never heard of, like Bathory, Einherjer, even Amon Amarth. So I started to get into those bands and some of them have even become my favourite bands.
Why did all this happen? I think there must be a reason that makes this happen at once. I only have theories, I don’t really know for sure. My theory is that we’re in a post-Christian era and the once strong influence of Christianity has diminished. People are looking back in time and asking ‘What did we have before Christianity?’ And they try to connect to their roots. At least that’s my idea.
Well in all honesty a similar theory did cross my own mind before speaking to you. After all it’s well known that Christianity censored a lot folklore in the Middle Ages.
Heri: Yes, and when I saw that Canadian guy’s documentary I realised that the same thing might be happening all over the world, that Metal bands are taking ancient mythology into their music. So it’s not just a European phenomenon, apparently.
[Heri is referring to Sam Dunn’s documentaries “A Headbanger’s Journey” and its sequel “Global Metal”.]
Let’s face it, Metal has always had a strong affinity with all things epic and mythological. Manowar, Dio, Iron Maiden…these are just a few examples. You also have authors such as Tolkien and Michael Moorcock, known for their epic and intricate narratives and who have been hugely influential on the Metal scene.
Heri: Yes…it’s true. I did think of that. In fact if you look at, for example, early Uriah Heep you already find an inspiration from Tolkien. So mythological stories were there in Metal long before Tyr came around.
How do you explain this relationship between Metal and epic drama/folklore?
Heri: In all honesty, I don’t know. Epicness blends itself very beautifully into Heavy Metal, the way it’s arranged, the way it sounds and the emotions it conjures. It’s very easy to put epicness into all that. So I think that the combination of an epic tale and that kind of music comes about quite easily.
Do you really think there is a huge difference between, say, Norse mythology and religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism? After all they’re all concerned about the fight between good and evil…..
Heri: Yes, I think there is a huge difference. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are totalitarian. There’s one being that has all the power and that is not the case with Nordic mythology, or even if you take Greek, Roman or all the other mythologies. In these no one has all the power, deities are fallacious, you can battle them, you can slay them or try to punish them. That is out of the question in Christianity. You know what they say…’the Lord works in mysterious ways.’ [laughs] There’s no complaining [allowed]. There’s no complaints office. With Nordic mythology at least you have a place where you can go and complain and threaten the gods with this and that.
So no, it really isn’t the same. However, if Nordic mythology would have been transposed to our times it probably would have been more organised and we probably would have had the same problems that we have with other religions today. I don’t think that that would have made a difference. But as the Nordic mythology has been preserved, it’s not very organised.
On to something else…if I’m not mistaken all of Tyr’s albums have been recorded in Jacob Hansen’s studios in Denmark. How important has Hansen been in shaping Tyr’s sound?
Heri: We owe him our sound completely. We had recorded our first album in a different studio in Copenhagen and we produced “By The Light Of The Northern Star” ourselves but it was mixed by Jacob Hansen. All our other albums have been recorded and mixed by Jacob Hansen and our 2 most recent albums have been mastered there as well. He makes very high quality work. We know him very well now so we like to go back there and we see a quality improvement every time. We’ve become very good friends. He’s very relaxed and a nice bloke to work with. We keep going back because it’s a co-operation that works for us.
It has been over 1 year since the release of “Valkyrja”. Are there any songs or ideas Tyr is currently working on?
Heri: Oh yes. Yes.
Can you give me some more information on that?
Heri: I can tell you that we have a tentative studio time already booked. And we have plenty of material to work on, which we are in fact working on at the moment. We want to be very prepared when we enter a recording studio this time and we usually are. And that’s about as much as I’m going to say on that. I could give you more details but they’re likely to change anyway.
What about the thematic side of the forthcoming album…can you tell me something about that?
Heri: That is likely to change too, so it wouldn’t make sense if I told you now. We have a name and the overall picture but I didn’t get into the details yet.
“Valkyrja” was very well received so topping that might represent a challenge.
Heri: Yes but we always try to do better and doing better mean being better prepared, having more time to work on the material, working harder and faster. The worst thing that can happen is that you’re not done when your studio time is running out and you have to rush through the final details. That’s what we’re trying to avoid this time.
Heri, thank you very much and best wishes for the next Tyr album.
Heri: Thank you.
© 2015 Chris Galea