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Heri Joensen – Vocal and Guitar
Hans Hammer – Guitar
Gunnar Helmer “Gunz” Thomsen – Bass
Tadeusz “Tad” Rieckmann – Drums

When acclaimed Viking metal band Týr teamed up with the Symphony Orchestra of the Faroe islands on February 8, 2020, to record the double-disc/DVD release A Night at the Nordic House, band founder and frontman Heri Joensen was thrilled to bring together two of the music forms he loves most – folk and classical – into his band’s unorthodox form of music. But at the time, he couldn’t have imagined what a profound impact the collaboration would have on his musical vision, and how much it would influence and inform the album he would write a few years later.

There’s a reason classical music is called classical,” Joensen says. “It’s the classical way of doing it. And it creates these epic sounds that fit in perfectly with the kind of metal we do in Týr. So, there’s full orchestration on all of the new songs.

The follow-up to the band’s 2019′s powerful progressive folk-metal album Hel, the new Battle Ballads is aptly named – a crushing, soaring, batch of classical embellished songs that conjure images of galloping steeds, clashing swords, and hard-fought victories. And, as if it needs to be stated, the title Battle Ballads has nothing in common with the lighter-raising songs so prevalent in the 1980s.

There are definitely two versions of a ballad,” clarifies Joensen. “A lot of people think of hair metal, when they think of ballads. We are looking at ballads here in the Medieval sense. Apart from a couple of softer parts on the album, this is very much straight heavy metal with some folk and classical influences. I’m not sure what exactly one would call it – power metal, Viking metal, folk metal. It still fits in very much with what we do, only it feels bigger and more like these big soundscapes.”

There’s no escaping the masterful blend of melody and savagery on Battle Ballads. The opening track “Hammered” funnels infectious riffs and searing licks through a variety of rhythm and tempo changes, “Unwandered Ways” is a triumphant, upbeat blend of vocal harmonies, joyous folk hooks, and dense, driving guitars, andd features a solo break that demonstrate Hans Hammer’s acrobatic ability to shred. And “Battle Ballad” is a trample to the abyss, fueled by hammering beats, fleet-fingered guitars, orchestral swell and chugging guitar breaks.

I’m very satisfied with the way I put it together,” Joensen says. “It’s not the way I usually work. I had one very basic idea, and I made the whole song out of that. It’s like one continuous melody and I put some breaks into it so there are like eight musical phrases. I used the first of each four phrases for the chorus, and the second half for the lines and the verses. I was fiddling with that for quite some time and I’m very happy with the result. And not many bands, if any, work like this.”

In an effort to make those and other songs, like “Dragons Never Die” and “Hangmen,” as musically diverse as possible, Týr downplayed some of the multifaceted, progressive metal shifts they’ve become known for in favor of sparser, more direct songcraft that lent itself more readily to orchestral embellishments.

We consciously decided to make this a more direct album with songs that are easier for listeners to get right away than some of the stuff on our last album, or maybe even on our 2006 album Ragnarok, which was very progressive,” says Joensen. “With Battle Ballads, there are progressive elements here and there, but we tried to keep the songs based on one or two musical ideas each, and work on everything from there. So, in a way, it’s more concise than our last album, but it’s more epic because of the symphonic elements.

Torkils Døtur” is a yearning ode to loss. Wearing his slashed heart on his bloodied sleeve, Joensen croons a weary melody as the symphony swirls empathetically around him. At the end of the song, the bands pick up the tempo and the metal riffs merge with the beats, conjuring images of a wounded warrior leaving a burned village and sprinting through the woods hellbent on revenge. It’s here that the synergy of folk, classical and metal are at their most potent.

As much as Týr would have liked to write, rehearse, and record with a symphony, schedule conflicts made it impossible to have the band and classical musicians to be in the same place at the same time. So Týr did the next best thing. The band, with Joensen at the helm, wrote ten thunderous songs for Battle Ballads, then the bandleader sent the compositions to a Danish colleague Lars Winther living in England, who added the orchestral samples, paying close attention to the tone and tempo of the songs so the violins, violas, cellos, woodwinds, and horns fit complimented the traditional rock instruments. When the samples were all in place the album sounded impressive, but the tones weren’t perfectly blended. So, Týr sent the album to veteran producer Jacob Hansen in Denmark to put together the final mix.

We actually never worked directly with Lars Winther and Jacob in the studio, we did everything on the Internet,” “Joensen says. “It’s very easy and effortless to work like that. We had all the arrangements the way we wanted them, and they were both very professional people so there were no hiccups along the way.”

Týr wrote most of the songs on Battle Ballads over the last two years, but one song, “Vælkomnir Føroyingar,” dates back to 2016 and was slated for Hel, but Joensen wasn’t completely happy with it by the time the deadline for that album hit. With the luxury of time, he was able to craft passages he liked much better, including a majestic arrangement that set the tone for the rest of Battle Ballads.

Each band member, bassist Gunnar H. Thomsen, drummer Tadeusz Rieckmann and guitarist Hans Hammer came into the writing sessions with one song each and provided additional ideas here and there, but the lion’s share of the heavy lifting was done by Joensen, as always.

While he was musically inclined as a child and formed his first local band at 17, he impacted on a seismic scale globally with the Pagan folk metal of Týr, which formed in 1998 and whose first album How Far to Asgaard was released in 2002. To date, the band has released nine full-length albums, including Battle Ballads. While Týr have been compared to other popular Viking metal bands, Joensen has a deeper knowledge of music writing and theory than most, having studied classical composition, modern rhythmic composition, jazz, and traditional folk music. In short, Joensen is obsessive about music, and a perfectionist when it comes to writing, another thing that separates him from the Viking metal hordes.

Usually, I’ll have a basic musical idea for a song and then I make a lot of variations over those ideas to fit into the different sections of the song: An intro, verse, chorus and whatnot,” he says. “Then I’ll switch parts around and go, ‘Well, what if this riff went in a different place in the song.’ I’ll try all these combinations until I like something. So, I would say it takes me a couple weeks minimum to write a song.”

Joensen’s work process is thorough and exhaustive. When he’s not on tour and he has a long time to write, he can pace himself. For Battle Ballads, however, he found himself bouncing from one obstacle to the next when he had to relocate from his home from Prague back to the Faroese islands. The tight deadline that ensued left Týr toiling like a blacksmith guild forging weapons before a major campaign.

Very rarely can I sit down and work non-stop for weeks, but at the end of the making of this album I simply had to because it took time to move and set everything up. That was the only real challenge I faced making this album. I saw I was running out of time, and I just had to finish recording and producing everything.”

While Týr have experienced various lineup shifts over the past 25 years, Joensen and Thomsen have weathered all the storms since the beginning of the band, and Rieckmann has played with them since 2016. However, between Hel and Battle Ballads, guitarist Attila Vörös quit and was replaced in 2021 by Hammer.

He’s added a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the band. He made the first song, ‘Hammered,’ so we named it after him,” Joensen says then laughs. “But it’s great having him with us and the funny thing is, he’s much younger than us, and he was kind of looking up to us when he was younger, so he was very nervous when he joined the band. We welcomed him and now we all work together really well.”

Needless to say, Týr rose to the challenge of tight deadlines, a lineup shift, and physical relocation. From the choral chants, chant-along vocals, stop-start riffing and neo-classical chord structure of “Hangman” to the folk guitars, orchestral swells, and melodic baritone vocals on the elegiac “Torkils Døtur,” Battle Ballads marks an ambitious new chapter for Týr.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the album closer “Causa Latronum Normannorum,” a dynamic, multi-faceted track that pulls all the stops, building from a stoic march to an aggressive double-bass enhanced riff accompanied with an elongated guitar solo and choir-like vocals. In just over five-and-a-half minutes, Týr take us on a musical journey through dense, cold forests and into battle before setting up camp at the ocean as the glimmering sunsets and the troops celebrate their triumph before starting up again the next day.

I was trying to imitate a Gregorian style with that to give it a certain feel,” Joensen says. “I made the melody very repetitive. The same note repeats many times in the chorus And that’s unusual for us, but it really works for the song. There’s not a lot of written melody in there so the folk parts and the solo just moving along with the chords and just build and build, which I really like.”

With Battle Ballads, Týr have created an album that resounds with their trademark Viking metal sound. At the same time, the band has experimented with new writing styles and musical techniques and created songs that are structurally simpler, yet musically more variegated. For Joensen it’s a clear illustration of how he plans to continue exploring different approaches in the future while staying true to the spirit of thunderous Viking metal.

I always like to present myself with new challenges in our metal music,” Joensen says. “I find metal to be really inspiring in a personal way. It inspires me emotionally and makes me happy that I’m alive. And to know we may have the kind of effect on people that bands like Savatage and Blind Guardian have had on me, then I feel like we have been successful, and I remain inspired to keep going and try even more things with our music. But I just don’t want to have to take another six years until our next album comes out.”

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