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Friday, January 16, 2009

Take 5 With Heri Joensen of Tyr

The term "Viking metal" carries with it an implied sense of honor even if there's something also carrying a bit of novelty to it as well. Given the fact there are so many Scandinavian metal bands writing thunderous power metal in homage to Viking lore, you have to question the integrity of the label "Viking metal," moreover, what it truly means to the bands performing it.

Tyr are one of the few bands who have legitimate claim to the style as they've been at it before there was such as term. Spin one of their albums, Eric the Red, Ragnarok or their latest epic adventure opus Land, and you will truly feel the cold wind in your hair as you plunge overtop brackish waters. Sharpen your cutlery and wrap yourself warmly. Tyr will have you yelling "Hail to the Hammer" as Manowar and Hammerfall have traditionally done for the metal legion with their strident epics assisted by soaring masculine vocals. A journey with Tyr is a nostalgic ride through pagan mountains and towering bonfires with which to toast yourself as they hoist you by the ears into a farflung yesteryear.

Guitarist Heri Joensen took a few moments in the middle of Tyr's European tour to talk with The Metal Minute...

The Metal Minute: The deity known as Tyr is said to be a one-armed god of war, but also a god of justice that reportedly sought the path of diplomacy before carrying forth hostilities. Doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence that we have a band naming itself after such a god in the political wartime climate we live in, eh?

Heri Joensen: You are right, it's no coincidence. We chose the name because of the story of the chaining of Fenrir the Wolf, in which Týr made a great personal sacrifice for the sake of the common good and to avoid war, and that is also part of our message, that there are some trigger happy lunatics in international politics today which might have done a lot more good for their countries and humanity as a whole had they sought diplomacy first.

MM: Call it “pagan metal” or “folk metal” or “Viking metal,” but this specific style of heraldry in heavy metal is reminiscent of Manowar and Saxon, who could be said to be champions of English or British heraldry. Now with Tyr and many other Euro, Nordic and Scandinavian bands paying tribute to ancient folklore in metal, do you feel what you’re doing is an extension of British and American power metal that celebrates knights, Medieval ages, heraldry and such? “Hail to the Hammer” from Land or “Regin Smiur” from Eric the Red are great indicators!

HJ: There is definitely something of that element in Viking/Pagan/Folk Metal. I have been listening to Manowar and Saxon since for as long as I have been listening to metal, and I would pay tribute to those great bands. But at the same time I think we have added something entirely new and unprecedented into the metal world. I do think you are right that the Viking thing at the moment is partly an extension of the Manowar and Saxon thing, yes.

MM: Tell us about Faroe Islands where you’re from and how it inspires Tyr’s music.

HJ: The Faeroes are 18 rugged stormy cliffs standing out of the north Atlantic Ocean between Scotland and Iceland. They were populated by Norwegian Vikings about 1200 years ago, and we 48,000 who live there now are their descendants. The most obvious inspiration for us is the musical tradition that is present in the Faeroes, dating back to the Vikings.

MM: Land is your latest album, and it’s felt as if Tyr has taken us on a journey from Eric the Red to Ragnarok and now to Land, and the album itself bears a homecoming vibe to it. How have these albums taken the listeners on a journey, and moreover, how have they taken the band itself as each of them have progressed?

HJ: I'm not sure about the "going on a journey" thing. A lot of people say that listening to the albums makes them feel that they go somewhere and that there is a transcendent feel to the music. That was not specifically the intention with the music, but I can see that there is an overall storytelling feel of the lyrics maybe more than is usual with other bands. But don't get me wrong, I'm glad people see it that way because I'm sure it adds to the appeal of Týr. The albums have taken us, the band, on a journey quite literally with the constant touring, and we have been able to pursue a great way of living.

MM: I feel if anyone has a truly authentic Viking sound in metal today, Tyr does, particularly with your uplifting and rousing choruses. Hard to say what anyone would truly do from the point-of-view of a modern human being, but given the opportunity to be a true Viking in their glory days, how would you see your lifestyle being?

HJ: That depends a whole lot on your status. Today all are born free and can choose the path that one desires and can pursue any career. That was not the case in the time of the Vikings, so if one were to go back in time to be a Viking say in the year 950, one would definitely wish to be a free born man. In such case I guess I would do as most did and seek to increase my riches, go abroad to plunder, trade and plot against different royalties. I suppose I have that mindset, because that is practically what I'm doing with the band. Oh, and I'd be a fervent opponent of Christianity!

Copyright 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute


DPTH International said...

Nice interview! I've been a longtime fan of Tyr and I'm looking forward to their headlining Tour in March.

They were awesome last fall on the PaganFest 2008 tour, just not long enough of a set.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thanks, man! I'm glad Heri was able to take a few minutes to do this since they've been trekking pretty hard. That's sometimes the bitch of the festival scene; some bands are relegated to 20 minutes only, which is hardly enough time to leave an impact in some cases, much less appease existing fans.