Nothing Matters, On the Battlefield We Lie (4/4)

The final band I’m going to look at is Týr, who hail from the Faroe Islands.

They’re a much younger band than the others; they only have three albums out, of which I have two. It’s interesting looking at the progress in bands from album to album; it seems to me that bands tend to peak at about album number six or seven. At least, my favorite Blind Guardian album, Nightfall in Middle-Earth, was their sixth; my favorite Kamelot album is a tie between Epica, six, and The Black Halo, seven; my favorite Rhapsody of Fire album is their latest, Triumph or Agony, number seven. I wonder if Týr will continue improving over their next four or so albums…

Anyway, the two Týr albums I have are Eric the Red and Ragnarok. The former’s usually considered the better of the two, but I prefer Ragnarok. Perhaps because I tend to like concept albums, which Ragnarok definitely is.

Now, Týr is different in a few other ways from the other bands I’ve described here. For one, they’re viking metal with folk metal influence (or the other way round depending on who you ask), while the other three were various sub-genres of power metal. For another, while the other three don’t explicitly state their religious beliefs (though you can puzzle out some of them from their songs), Týr is quite clearly pagan in nature.

Their paganism seems to take a few different forms, though. At times, they seem quite fatalistic, nihilistic, and generally hopeless. One of their most powerful songs, the title track of Ragnarok, has these lines:

With heavy hearts we head on towards the end
I’ve done all I can, never will I bend
Battle clad we ride, for we have to try
Nothing matters on the battlefield we lie

I shudder contemplating the despair that could bring one to write those lines. Yet, it seems like a truer expression of paganism (and I have little doubt that Týr considers itself pagan) than that often seen in various neo-pagan, new-agey artificial constructs.

Then there’s the song “Wings of Time”, a few tracks earlier than “Ragnarok”.

One thousand years facing your fears
Hide all your doubt deep in the crowd
Unload the blame cover the shame
Cast it all out try to stand proud

[…]

The great wings of time are still in their prime
Maybe in some age to come we shall see
The talons of time take hold of a tree
Time folding its wings, the end of all things

The world will end, all will be destroyed – but not yet. In the meantime, there is naught to do but try to preserve your dignity by crushing down those around you. Not very hopeful this, either, but it seems to me it isn’t exactly the same as in the previous song.

Then, at other times, Týr sings of the beauty of the ancient tales. Take “Dreams”, from Eric the Red.

I’ve learned all the lore, I’ve been told all the tales
Ancient legends of war are the wind in my sails

The deeds of the brave come alive in the rhyme
And the myth is my ship on the ocean of time

Though at times all they see in the old tales of the Norse is doom and despair, Týr sails the ocean of time back to the realm of myth. This, at least, sees intrinsic value in something – the tales of old seem to be a genuine good.

Finally, there’s the militant paganism found in songs like the title track from Eric the Red. About Christianity, they say,

Like a virus you’ll go on, and when I’m dead and gone
Both sides waging war will be raging in the
name of one true divinity

They are, shall we say, not well disposed to the Christian faith.

All of this reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse, which I recently read. In book III, the Christian King Alfred the Great travels to the Danish camp and, after playing the harp himself, listens to four of the pagan Danes describe their gods. The first, Harold, claims

“For Rome was given to rule the world,
And gat of it little joy–
But we, but we shall enjoy the world,
The whole huge world a toy.”

The second, Elf, sings of the story of Baldr the beautiful. And his story itself is beautiful. He says that

“There is always a thing forgotten
When all the world goes well;
A thing forgotten, as long ago,
When the gods forgot the mistletoe,
And soundless as an arrow of snow
The arrow of anguish fell.

“The thing on the blind side of the heart,
On the wrong side of the door,
The green plant groweth, menacing
Almighty lovers in the spring;
There is always a forgotten thing,
And love is not secure.”

The third, Ogier, that

“There lives one moment for a man
When the door at his shoulder shakes,
When the taut rope parts under the pull,
And the barest branch is beautiful
One moment, while it breaks.

[…]

“And you that sit by the fire are young,
And true love waits for you;
But the king and I grow old, grow old,
And hate alone is true.”

The final, king Guthrum,says that, indeed, man is naught but a beast,

“And a man hopes, being ignorant,
Till in white woods apart
He finds at last the lost bird dead:
And a man may still lift up his head
But never more his heart.

[…]

“Wherefore I am a great king,
And waste the world in vain,
Because man hath not other power,
Save that in dealing death for dower,
He may forget it for an hour
To remember it again.”

These seem to correspond roughly to the various aspects of the paganism Týr embraces. What I find interesting is that, while Alfred and his men kill Harold, Elf and Ogier, Guthrum is converted to Christianity. Does this mean that Týr is closer to redemption when singing Ragnarok than when singing Eric the Red?

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