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When I was introduced to Turisas a few years ago, my first thoughts were "holy crap, this is epic, but it has the potential to be so much more". It was good, don't get me wrong, but it just felt unpolished, like the band wasn't working as, well, a band.
I'm proud to say that "Stand Up and Fight" takes nearly every gripe I had with their early works (particularly certain sections on "Battle Metal" that I still can't quite stomach to this day) and not only gets rid of it, but adds a more polished, mature sound in its place. From the first note of "March of The Varangian Guard" to the final echo of "The Bosphorus Freezes Over", SUaF is everything that Turisas has been trying to be over the years: epic, over the top, and most of all, just plain enjoyable.
The most notable difference is the overall feel of the music. The epic feel is the same as the first album (although again, more polished) and there are no big changes instrumentally (although the orchestrations do FEEL more grand), but everything seems to be completely different and that's because these Finns have something they didn't have back in 2004 or even in 2007: experience.
Yes, it's obvious that Nygård and the gang have gotten a lot of good out of the extensive touring that the last two albums brought on, and rather than ignoring them for their flaws like certain other bands have done in the past (*cough* Pantera *cough*), Turisas has embraced them and taken what they can to create a cohesive sound that works on levels I wouldn't have imagined possible for the band just a short year ago
Overall, this is an outstanding album and a serious contender for best folk metal album of the year.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the best album released so far during 2011, Turisas' "Stand Up and Fight"! Having slowly acquired fame in the folk metal-scene over the years, Turisas is now among the most renowned bands in the genre and not the least because of their concerts. Their energetic live-shows have forced many people who haven't liked their studio-offerings to at least acknowledge their talent in rich and entertaining performance. After the absolutely glorious debut "Battle Metal", they have released one album before Stand Up and Fight. "The Varangian Way" took the symphonic nature of the debut further with orchestral samples and told us a tale of Vikings travelling to Constantinople. Both of those albums are magnificent masterpieces that beat almost any album but the debut is a bit better in all its honesty and young fury. However, with Stand Up and Fight, Turisas learned how to fully master their new, matured sound and produced a spectacle beyond amazing and their best work to date.
On Stand Up and Fight, Turisas have finally got the chance to add something to their music they have probably dreamed of since the beginning of their career: a full-blown orchestra. This new feature enchances Stand Up and Fight's atmosphere to even more gigantic proportions than what it was on the previous albums. Flashy, triumphant symphonics give the album a strongly cinematic feel of adventure and glory. It matches perfectly with the themes of the songs and really makes the band blossom and bathe in divine epicness. The orchestra is the all-embracing core of Stand Up and Fight and Turisas have actually stepped quite a bit away from their folk metal-roots. Besides the symphonic side and folk-elements, the music is characterized by some progressive features, a slight 80's AOR-vibe and power metal-esque feeling. In a way, the lyrics follow the concept of The Varangian Way with focus on Constantinople but this time they also deal with general issues of rise and fall of an empire, heroic acts and such.
Turisas leaves no doubts of what is their aim on Stand Up and Fight: it kicks off with a bombastic tune "The March of the Varangian Guard" which overshadows even "To Holmgard and Beyond" from The Varangian Way. Warlord's voice sounds better than ever as he builds up the intensity before the chorus is unleashed. He has always been one of my favourite vocalists but now his deep, impressive baritone seems to be forged of pure gold. Olli's electric violin is another trademark of Turisas and once again it creates blissful melodies that lift my heart somewhere near my throat. "Take the Day!" is an equal masterpiece that builds steadily into a stadiumrock-influenced anthem. Among the highlights in this song are the breathtaking choir vocal-melodies of the chorus. Awesome stuff to sing along to, which can be said for the whole album though.
The next track, "Hunting Pirates", is the most folkish one on Stand Up and Fight. Musically it's quite close to something you might find on an Alestorm-album but transferred to fit Turisas' style. It's catchy as hell, funny and positive! Strange is the person who doesn't go along with the vibe and start to smile and dance. "Venetoi! - Prasinoi!" follows and behold the glory and majesty! It's near impossible to put into words how triumphant this song is. Imagine the most awaited festival of the olden days with chariot-races, gladiator combats etc. and all that organized to please the most powerful emperor mankind has ever seen. Hundreds of men blasting fanfares and anthems from horns and trumpets, massive crowd cheering wild for the competitors. That is the essence of Venetoi! - Prasinoi!
Faithful to Turisas' new style, the title-track continues mixing calm, atmospheric parts to intense passages fitting to tell about great deeds. It has a darker undertone than most of the songs on the album but it's still uplifting and pompous and definitely of superb quality. Then comes "The Great Escape". The song starts with a tasty, groovy guitar-riff and continues with progressive touches, evolving into a journey through the most fascinating story on Stand Up and Fight. Following a Viking's quest of escaping from the emperor's service to return to his homeland, it includes a variety of ingenious elements. No matter how surprising it might sound after the descriptions of the majesty of the previous songs, The Great Escape explodes to the most epic passage on the album after the first half of the song. Soaring like best soundtracks from the elite of adventure-movies, it sends chills down my body every time I listen to it. And there's just no way I could do that without turning the volume really loud. After this orgasm-producer, the song fades beautifully and leaves the listener to want more.
The next two songs are, however, the ones that aren't perfect. "Fear the Fear" deals with heroism using modern imagery along with the usual medieval approach. First it was a bit hard to digest this song and it's relationship to Turisas' traditional style to handle themes but then I realized that I was being narrow-minded and that Turisas had broken the chains of predictability while still managing to hold the entirety together. For the most part. I still found myself rating Fear the Fear lower than all the other songs. It is well written, epic and doesn't slip from the mood of the album but it also doesn't have the kind of hooks I was waiting for. It has some changes that don't seem to work so flawlessly and I kinda get the feeling of a song not fully complete. I have to make it clear though that it is only bad compared to most of the songs but it's still kick-ass and certainly nothing to skip over. "End of an Empire" is another song that doesn't quite live up to the standard quality of Stand Up and Fight. It is somewhat long and progressive track that winds up and down presenting us a selection of features. From less over-the-top, though definitely glorious, choirs to fast and badass metalfest, End of an Empire is of quality most symphonic metal-bands can only hope to reach at their best but in comparison to Turisas' works, it lacks some of the top-notch catchyness and consistency they usually master. Great song but, alongside Fear the Fear, one of the two slightly flawed tracks here.
"The Bosphorus Freezes Over" closes the album and returns the level of quality of the six first songs. This wistful song functions as perfect end credits to the album, beginning with Warlord's emotional story-telling, going through a wonderful chorus of Finnish hymn-like singing and ending with mighty symphonic part, a farewell to this adamantium album. The bonus-tracks need to be mentioned here as well. Both "Supernaut" and "Broadsword" are amazing covers of songs made by Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull, respectively. Turisas has stayed faithful to the originals and just morphed the songs to fit their style. As much as I love the original Supernaut and Broadsword, I'm a big enough fan of Turisas to claim that they've surpassed Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull and created something truly memorable in their own class.
All in all, Stand Up and Fight didn't let me down a single bit. On the contrary, it has become one of my favourite albums of all time. It accomplishes numerous feats, not the least being the fact that it contains one of the strongest row of songs I have ever come across with its six first tunes. If you want some triumph and triumph and some more triumph, all of that constructed with admirable skill, grab Stand Up and Fight. As for myself, I'll be ready to jump to the next Viking ship that sails by the coast of Finland and travel to Constantinople to conquer it. Cheers!
(Originally written for http://reflectionsinthousandlakes.blogspot.com/ )
So, here we have the new album of the Finnish viking/symphonic metallers! I had heard "Stand Up And Fight" and I had high expectations from this release. I have already listened to this numerous times, to understand it fully, and to give it a fair review. Some of the songs are really powerful and started to grow on me.
The production is of course very neat and clear, allowing all the instruments to be heard. I'm really glad the mixing doesn't bring the vocals to the front. I'm not really fond of vocal-based albums. What makes this album good is the whole atmosphere created by the theme and lyrics as well as the keyboards and happy-sounding guitars. The lyrics focus on the Byzantine empire, something I find quite interesting. The use of battle sounds is nothing groundbreaking but really adds to the music and helps you create an image of a battlefield in your mind.
The instrumentation is really solid, the guitar provides amazing melodies that make you want to hum along while the keyboards and the violin accompany them creating sweet dual melodies. The drums thankfully are not buried in the mix and we can clearly hear them pounding with power providing the needed rhythm for the music, alongside the bass. The bass is also really audible, something I always like in music. The vocals are powerful and have a wide range. Sometimes Warlord utilizes those amazing harsh vocals that add so much to the battlefield effect. His clean vocals are also outstanding and really warm. Take the beginning of the title track for example; that vocal melody "The pouring rain, sticks my hair to my face" just sets the mood so nicely! I also like it when he holds the last syllables of a word for a bit longer, again in the title track, after the part mentioned before, where he sings "the stars that once led my way" is a good example, where he stresses the "led'.
Overall this is a great release, a must-buy for any power/viking/folk/symphonic fan. Sure, you won't find any outstandingly amazing technical abilities but there are many great riffs, decent solos and that amazing epic feeling created by the symphonic elements and the dual melodies. The drumming is good, again nothing outstanding but just what the music needs and the bass playing is nice although most of the time it just follows the guitar. Moreover the album is full of catchy keyboard/synth intros. I'm pretty sure this is going to be the best power/viking/folk/symphonic release of the year. Another strong point are the superb lyrics! Don't miss this! I will buy it as soon as I find it!
Almost four years after their last release, "Turisas" come back with a new record and they have quite changed and evolved since the last record. They have definitely gone away from their folk roots and moved towards a rather symphonic sound that often reminds of historical movie scores and classical music. This development is a mature and logical process. The band sounds more courageous and diversified than ever. Nevertheless, I am missing the power and simplicity of the old days and this record is a perfect example for the fact that less can sometimes be more. That doesn't mean that this isn't a great album and probably even the best and at least most interesting in the band's career but I feel that this step has been a little bit too radical and that they could have kept some of their straighter roots as this new release is sometimes too overwhelming. With "The great escape", there is only one song on the entire record that is a little bit heavier and groovier than the rest even though there are some operatic influences and radio play passages that give this song a progressive touch. This track is a welcome change in style and might please to all fans of the band.
There is a lot of operatic and symphonic score stuff to discover. A perfect example is the entertaining and diversified epic killer “End of an empire”. This song is very much representative for the entire album. It has a big and impressive finale just like a majestic symphony, like a mysterious dark ride or horror movie score. The dark and charismatic clean vocals and the whole song structure remind me a lot of "Kamelot" while the harder passages honour the band's landsmen "Ensiferum". The song has a lot of atmosphere and is surely interesting to get discovered. But the orchestrations overrule the heavier passages. The guitars are not impressive at all, the bass is almost not audible and the drums are quite boring. The song concentrates entirely on the classic orchestrations, the chorals and the vocals. The whole thing sounds like a demo version of a "Therion" or "Nightwish" track. The band doesn't reach the high quality of those two bands yet but I am sure that they might do so in the near future if they continue to develop in this direction for the next two records. Even though there are some flaws in here, the song is highly interesting and entertaining kitsch and I happen to get quite well used to it after a few tries.
In a few cases, the epic sound works even very well. "Take the day" opens like a progressive science-fiction track that could find on an "Ayreon" record before the song gets a rather gothic touch. There are many changes and a lot to discover in this single song but the whole structure is kept together by an amazing and catchy chorus that mixes epic chorals that remind me of "Queen" with energizing death metal growls and those two extreme styles fit surprisingly well together. This catchiness is a thing that misses in a few tracks of the album to be more than just enjoyable and complex. This song is not only easily the best song of the record but probably the most mature and intelligent track the band has ever written. "Fear the fear" is almost as strong with its slight tribal drum and electronic influences while the track is once again kept together by a pumping rhythm and catchy melody.
Some tracks are though too exaggerated. The opener "The march of the Varangian Guard" reminds of the opener of their last record and could easily be a Hollywood score of an epic fantasy movie. But while the opener of the last record still had some power, the orchestrations of this track slow the efficiency a little bit down. The closing "The Bosporus freezes over" could almost be a pure orchestral piece and develops a lot of atmosphere but I feel that this step came a little bit too soon for the band. There is not much metal about it but as I like movie soundtracks I happen to like this tune and it is surely better than the way bands like "Rhapsody of Fire", "Manowar" or "Chritsopher Lee" approach to the topic even though this track reminds a lot of all of them and the path is quite small. A track like "Hunting Pirates" with its stereotypical orchestrations might please to the masses and hit the commercial nerve but we already have a band called "Alestorm" out there and don't need a second one as this genre is quite saturated and popularized in the metal sector nowadays. This song simply goes too far and is covered by kitsch and stereotypes that make this track the worst of the album.
In the end, there are many ways to describe and categorize this record. There are operatic elements and a lot of classical music influences. Many historical fantasy movie scores seem to have influenced the band as well as a whole spectre of different rock and metal opera bands that I have mentioned in my review. A lot of times, the dark and epic sounds remind me of the early "Pinball" games for my computer that played in haunted mansions. That sounds funny but I think that this description fits quite well.
To keep it short, even though its overwhelming flaws and even though the new "Turisas" take their evident influences from many other bands, this record is my favourite one of them even if it took me some time to accept and appreciate it. Listen to this album as if you would listen to a new band and don't expect this record to be very "metal". The album is epic, diversified and courageous and seems promising to me for the future of the band. The album grows more and more on me and with every new try, the album sound more logical and coherent to me. It's the perfect alternative if you can't decide between a symphonic metal record and a classical movie soundtrack and as I like both genre I give this album a quite good rating.
If you happen to think those two genres are not heavy and powerful enough you won't appreciate this surprising record and you should be warned by my review. The not very well chosen title "Stand up and fight" might create the illusion of a powerful and heavy Viking metal record but you will instead discover epic symphonic metal songs with a lot of classical music influences and some overwhelming kitsch. The album should have rather be called “End of an empire” as the old “Turisas” ends here while a new band with a new sound arises like a sunning phoenix from the ashes.
Turisas is a symphonic/folk metal band from Finland, who are apparently big enough stars to appear on the cover of Terrorizer. I'm still trying to figure out what, exactly, is the appeal.
Stand Up and Fight is the band's third full-length album. Throughout most of it, it's difficult to tell that there's actually any folk influence, though there are accordians on "Hunting Pirates", and a handful of folk melodies here and there. Mostly, it's symphonic metal, with very big orchestral pieces played over some very simple metal. "Venetoi! - Prasinoi!" for example, sounds like an Edvard Grieg piece with some guitars thrown in as an afterthought. The vocals are generally clean, with occasional growls. It has the feel and attitude of a symphonic power metal album, but without the virtuoso guitars or the powerful vocals. In other words, it has all the disadvantages (embarrassingly ridiculous) but none of the advantages of that style.
Now, even that might work if the songs were well-written, and had memorable melodies with great hooks. There are just a couple memorable melodies ("Fear the Fear" has one), and only a few worthwhile hooks (like the title track). But most of the songs are at best pointless, and at worst cringe-inducing awful. The worst of the bunch is "Hunting Pirates", which not only has embarrassing swashbuckling sound, but ridiculous lyrics that sound like they were written before the song and then forced into it regardless of how poorly they fit the timing. And that's not the only time they try to fit square lyrics into a round hole on the album.
The Verdict: If you like the negative aspects of power metal and symphonic metal, but don't care about their positive aspects, you might like this album. As for me, I prefer some meat with my cheese.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
In the folk metal world, Turisas have always been one of the more fun acts to partake in. Both album recordings and live settings have given this reviewer a good dose of sword-swinging, fist-pumping sensations, placing these Finnish fiends in the upper strata of Holmgard and beyond. And while I must shake my fist at them for taking WAY too fucking to record a follow up to the stellar “The Varangian Way”, I still maintained a vigil of patience until the time came when this sucker would come storming down the hills, pelt-clad and painted of the face and ready to beat my head in in the name of heathenry.
So let’s see if time and tours have been nice to these guys…
Well…what can I say? At first listen, I was not quite sure what to make of “Stand Up and Fight”. It’s not a bad album. It’s just confusing. And very ambitious. I’m sure it would’ve been far easier on the group to play it safe and try to repeat the successive formula of “Battle Metal” and “The Varangian Way”, but instead this listener is treated with a Hollywood-style orchestral soundtrack, replete with swaths of strings, brass, and woodwinds cascading all around like proverbial waterfalls, with occasional moments where they remember that they’re a metal band and act accordingly. The orchestral maneuvers (in the dark) are very rich and well-arranged, easily taking the listener into a mental journey of Middle-Earthian proportions replete with vast wildernesses, shining armor, and romanticized notions of land-and-sea-faring battle superiority, and the heavier, more distorted moments cause a collective fist to rise, readying the armies of listeners at hand to prepare for further fights to come. There are times where this new direction is REALLY cool and a suitable soundtrack to those long, weapons-clad romps through the forest, but there are also moments where you just want to rock out with your knife out (yeah, I got the analogy wrong; keep your mind out the gutter, you crazy, you!) and could do without the at-times overwhelming epic feel the album shoves out. It’s all in how ones looks at it, and it took me a few listens to get a full grasp of what “Stand Up and Fight” had to offer me in order to ensure proper enjoyment, which ended up coming to pass in spades, and even then it’s still something that didn’t/doesn’t strike me as fast as their first two masterworks. Nevertheless, a fun excursion into symphonic folk/power metal is still to be had, where songs like “Take the Day!”, “Hunting Pirates” (SHAME ON YOU! Barbarians, Vikings, and pirates should get along, dammit! We have common foes, after all.) and the title track would send your heathen souls aflame with dreams of conquest, Samhain bonfires and all the grog you can handle.
In the end, “Stand Up and Fight” is a confusing number that took a while to grow on me, but it’s still a part of my record collection I wouldn’t part with for anything. A recommended album to play during for your battle plan writing pleasures, one that will ensure your eventual victory. Blast it and prepare to hail.
The late 90s created a number of genuine curiosities, as the lines that separated extreme metal and mainline heavy metal influenced music became blurred while also venturing into outside territory. In the midst of this is Turisas, a band that by all accounts merges together some of the most over-the-top imagery and Hollywood fanfare inspired imagery imaginable since Manowar first began sporting their biceps of steel. Forget about any notion of deep philosophical meaning or justification of human strife, this is where you stop asking what the purpose of battle is, for the battle is its own purpose. And like with all celebrations of triumph, the mood is always upbeat and glorious, and the musical risks taken are few, apart from maybe some quirky instrumentation such as electric violins and accordions.
“Stand Up And Fight” can be summed up as the most concentrated, most uninhibited version of Manowar battle glory meets Rhapsody Of Fire sounding symphonic majesty that this outfit has put out, slamming down the giant choruses and bombastic orchestral sounds to the point of making Metallica’s “S&M” sound like a small chamber music affair. The songs follow the predictable regiment of catchy verse hooks and even catchier refrains, and most of the metallic elements are put into a simplistic, almost support role box amidst all of the other stuff going on. Unlike Suidakra or Ensiferum, this is a band that doesn’t really get to heavy on the aggression. Vocalist Mathias Nygård is somewhat atypical of a power metal band in that his husky baritone rivals the depth of Matt Barlow, minus the melodramatic operatic element, but otherwise this is a safer version of what was presented on “Warriors Of The World”.
Despite the fact that from the standpoint of depth and stylistic relevance this album is pretty plain, it’s a barrel ride of a good time. Listening to catchy, almost pop-like anthems out the Sabaton format such as “The March Of The Varangian Guard” and “Stand Up And Fight” even once will find the average power metal enthusiast raising his fist in the air, though like with said Swedish outfit, these songs may get repetitive after several listens. The riffs are few, the melodies abound and any emphasis on lead guitar is brief, though occasionally borrowing from the Luca Turilli model of sweep picking and occasional singing slower points. There’s also room made for novelty songs such as the orchestrated trip back to the Renaissance faire with an emphasis on swashbuckler tall tales in “Hunting Pirates” with accordions and folksy clichés aplenty, and also a Greek war anthem in “Venetoi! – Prasinoi!” that brings up some equivalent vernacular sounds along with a heavy enough dose of symphonic pomp to make Wagner blush. And for those who want their music to be kept simple, fear not, for even the longer winded epics in “Fear The Fear” and “End Of An Empire” are simply extended versions of the same format meshed with the Manowar practice of lengthy narrated portions.
This is the sort of album where you can pretty much guess where every chord is going to be struck, and can have a small margin of error with regards to what the lyrics will read, but it’s still a fun experience simply for how well it’s executed. There might be something to the assertion that this doesn’t quite qualify as metal in the purist sense because of all the other, outside influences diluting the riff work, but that alone doesn’t necessitate this being a bad album. Anybody who is addicted to the popular themes of Viking adventures and warfare between ancient and contemporary civilizations told through the prism of a highly accessible blend of catchy songwriting and stylistic eclecticism, this is an album to be reckoned with.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 31, 2011.
Turisas have always been a bit of an anomaly for me in the sketchy world of metal bands and commercial appeal. While much of the success and accolades they have achieved in their career so far (in relative terms, of course) has no doubt been in part due to their ridiculous costumes and infectious live performances arriving at the right time for the community developing an infatuation for that sort of thing there has always been a nothing less than a deadly, straight-faced serious approach to their theatrical music that defies the scorn it would otherwise be easy to pour on them.
While the viking imagery and lyrical themes maintain a tie to their 2004 debut ‘Battle metal’, the truth of the matter is that their music has evolved so much in the short space of times since that ‘Stand up and fight’ can hardly be considered a folk metal CD at all.
There are still numerous folkish elements of course, but only in the same fashion that Rhapsody have always permeated their orchestral thunder with baroque passages, and by leaning further towards the full blown symphonic metal approach of ‘The varangian way’, Turisas are now treading the same path. With real orchestral instruments being used for the first time, the cheep and cheerful Bal Sagoth-style synth bombing of the debut is a thing of the past, though in truth the programming on ‘The varangian way’ was so authentic that the difference is scarcely noticeable here.
The best evidence of the evolution in style would be the role of the 2 traditional instrumentalists in the band, with Olli Vanska and new accordionist Netta Skog pushed further back into the ensemble and with less centre stage moments than on the first 2 CDs. Vanska still adds textures to the songs of course and steps into the spotlight from time to time to provide his wild, electrified solos, but Skog only really comes to the fore on "Hunting pirates", the only truly folk metal song on the CD.
But while this shift in approach was well telegraphed, there are other new or expanded influences in the mix too, which meet varying success and ultimately play a big part in shaping the CD as a whole. I don’t like to rip descriptive terms straight from the promo material, but it’s certainly true that a stadium rock vibe can be heard on a few tracks. Most notable among these would be “Take the day!”, which is very open and instrumentally sparse, the verses either being driven by shimmering cymbals or the ubiquitous “dum-da-da-dum” bass line, though oddly features some of the most concerted use of Mathias Nygard’s growled vocals, which remain in decline compared to his ever-improving clean tones.
More unexpected, though not entirely without precedent, is the increasing number of cues taken from musical theatre. As the CD wears on, there are a couple of sombre, spoken passages that wouldn’t sound out of place in a stage production, as well as some back-and-forth conversational verses (all sung by Nygard). On the whole this tends to work out reasonably well, but it does damage the overall pace and in at least one instance kills a song stone dead. For all the fun to be found in “Hunting pirates”, the verses sound truly ridiculous and don’t marry well with the rest of the song at all – this is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, I know, but the campy, giddy vocals just come across as a bit, well, Gilbert & Sullivan and are as every bit inappropriate as that sounds.
The unfortunate attempts to “get heavy” that marred 'The varangian way' sadly aren’t completely absent either – “Fear the fear” is an out of place track anyway, it’s explicit references to the modern world an annoying distraction that disrupt the listening experience, but the grooving break that shows up towards the end ensures that it sinks without trace.
All this really goes to show that Turisas remain at their best when they stick to unsubtle bombast and rabble-sousing, anthemic choruses. The opening “March of the varangian guard” (very much a counterpart to “Holmgard and beyond”, even reprising its melody and lyrics) and the centrepiece title track represent the band at their very best, with none of the overt gaudiness that damages some of the other songs.
It makes for a frustratingly inconsistent listen, and in the end results in 'Stand up and fight' being the weakest Turisas CD so far. That is disappointing enough in its own right, but the let-down is intensified for anyone who was holding onto the perfectly reasonable expectation that it would be their best. Rather than iron out the elements of 'The varangian way' that inhibited its considerable charms, they have instead picked up a new set of problems to add to them.
Still, it is an enjoyable enough CD to recommend giving a listen, and it is a relief at least to know Turisas will march on unaffected either by criticism or the continued success ‘Stand up and fight’ will no doubt bring. Maybe next time.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
Let’s be honest here – Turisas brings about as much cheese to their brand of sympho-folk metal as Hammerfall did during their Crimson Thunder era (or as Rammstein did with Liebe ist für Alle da), and they really lay it on thick with glorified arena-rock anthems like ‘Take the Day!’. However, when I listen to Turisas, I am consistently struck with the impression that they know exactly what they are doing: they are finding that small but prominent nerve cluster present in the typical metalhead’s brain which takes a perverse delight in things like D&D, comic conventions and the Braveheart-and-Sir-Ridley-Scott genre of action films, and pandering to it endlessly. To this they add a layer of appeal to history nerds by telling the tale of the Kievan Rus’ migrants who served as mercenary bodyguards (yeah, the Varangian Guard) for the Byzantine Emperors.
It nominally continues the story of The Varangian Way, but a lot of its themes are much more general, even modern. Though Mathias Nygård claims not to incorporate modern-day issues in his music, on this album Turisas makes several jabs with the subtlety of a sledgehammer at the hypocritical pretensions to morality of rapacious political elites in the otherwise-historical ‘Hunting Pirates’, at the saccharine, watered-down portrayal of heroism in consumer culture in ‘Fear the Fear’ and a little more philosophically at the judgments of history and the fate of the American empire in… well, ‘End of an Empire’. ‘Stand Up and Fight’ and ‘Fear the Fear’ are a lot more about internal struggles and personal courage than about the epic historical fantasy which characterised The Varangian Way.
Even though Turisas (despite the folksy Scandinavian trappings) fell squarely into the same category of power metal as Manowar, Hammerfall and Sabaton, I felt (and still do) that they had found a unique niche for themselves. On the one hand, I’m glad to see them begin to expand from their earlier work and experiment a bit; on the other hand, I think they picked the wrong album to try it. If it is the second part of an epic, it should follow the first part seamlessly and thematically. On first listen, it all seems to hang together a lot more loosely than The Varangian Way did. A couple of the songs got annoying the way only power metal truly can – I mentioned ‘Take the Day!’ above. The symphonic arrangements didn’t mesh together with the guitars and bass as well on this album as on The Varangian Way. The mixing is unbalanced on several tracks such that the metal instrumentation (which is more than halfway decent) gets nearly drowned out.
But then, so much of the album is so shield-bludgeon-you-off-your-duff awesome that I have to largely forgive it these flaws. The opening track, ‘March of the Varangian Guard’, even if it takes the form of a rather paint-by-numbers march, is still an incredibly strong track (even if one has to crack a grin at the military bugle at the beginning!) with a whiplash-inducing violin solo. (I also much appreciated the ‘To Holmgård and Beyond’ reprise.) ‘Hunting Pirates’ is gimmicky, but it puts the accordion through its paces in a credible one-up of Alestorm (still not as good as Saxon’s ‘English Man o’ War’, though). The fist-pumping opening riff of ‘The Great Escape’ pretty much makes the song, though it has decent staying power as it recounts and plays out in call-and-response the internal conflict between duty and ambition of one noble commander. ‘The Bosphorus Freezes Over’ is possibly my favourite song on the album, if only because it is slightly more understated than the rest of the album’s bombast, and adds a dimension of elegiac sorrow which makes the whole album that much more epic.
In short: it’s a Turisas album. It’s bold. It’s rash. It’s macho bordering on homoerotic. It’s very much a love-it-or-hate-it album from a love-them-or-hate-them band. It isn’t as good as their previous albums, but it’s still more than solid.
16 / 20
Few bands have ever generated the kind of excitement that Turisas generated among my friends in 2004 when we first got wind of Battle Metal—the debut record from this Finnish viking metal group. Stylistically it really was like nothing we had ever heard. Over the top orchestrations ruled the disc with nary a guitar solo in sight. Instead, the music was largely good for beer swilling and chanting at our drunken parties (which were usually followed up by everyone putting their hair in a certain type of ponytail and running around screaming “Riders of Rohan!”). Hard hitting tracks like “Battle Metal” and “The Land of Hope and Glory” excited us to no end. This band was something unique and special.
For me, however, Battle Metal has always paled in comparison with the follow up record The Varangian Way which was released in 2007. While the first record was a collection of fantastic tracks, The Varangian Way was a flow-blown concept record of the best kind. Orchestrated to perfection and written with the kind of flow that few records I own have (see: The Wall by Pink Floyd, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden and V: The New Mythology Suite by Symphony X to understand what I mean), The Varangian Way blew my mind. It was more progressive than the earlier record and while criticized as ‘trying too hard’ by some people with poor taste and small minds, those changes sat well with me.
So in some ways, then, it should be no surprise that Stand Up and Fight, the third record from Turisas, is again a progression away from the fairly straight forward (if bombastic) roots that the band came from. However, how does a band ever follow up a record that is easily in my top 20 records of the 2000s (and almost made my Top 15)? Is it even possible to get anywhere near the kind of narrative flow and balance between Battle Metal style aggression and The Varangian Way style progressiveness and orchestrations?
Turisas - 2011The unfortunate answer is no. Stand Up and Fight is definitely an inferior record when comparing it to The Varangian Way in narrative style and feel and maybe compositionally as well, and I’ll throw that out there from the beginning. While there is technically a narrative flow, it’s not nearly as consistent and excellent as its forerunner and it’s often interrupted by a sort of ‘modern’ aspect to the lyrics. As a listener these ‘modern’ interrupts stand out like skips on a record and make the flow somewhat less convincing and ensnaring. Neither does Stand Up and Fight capture the aggression of Battle Metal, having abandoned extreme metal vocals almost completely. Instead the record is far more in the orchestral and ‘power metal’ side of the spectrum—with its 1980s stadium rock influenced tracks like “Stand Up and Fight” and “Take the Day!”
What we’re left with, then, is a progressive, orchestral album that gallops out the door in a bit of a confusing way. In fact, I think what turned me off about this record at first was that the first four tracks of the album—”The March of the Varangian Guard,” “Take the Day!,” “Hunting Pirates,” and “βένετοι! – πράσινοι!” (pronounced: Venetoi! – Prasinoi!) make for strange bedfellows. While the opening track is reminiscent The Varangian Way and indicates a continuation of the narration from the previous album, “Take the Day!” is an 80s rock inspired track which is followed up by an odd progressive pirate metal track and finally “βένετοι! – πράσινοι!” is a crazy ass orchestral track that sounds a bit like a revolution being orchestrated.
However, once you get past these tracks the record sort of smooths out in style, while still keeping the progressive voice that was established previously. The melodies and the orchestrations shine and the songs, while having some questionable lyrical content (“What is this? And take a look at all these fish!”) and grammatical structures (“How can this they allow?”), are still fun as hell. Of the latter tracks I think that “End of an Empire” and “The Bosphorous Freezes Over” are definitely the two best tracks and they end the record with a feeling of having still experienced an amazing musical journey that only Turisas could provide in this style. That is to say, you come away with a sense that Stand Up and Fight, while a little bit awkward at first, is still the excellent record that you are expecting from Turisas.
I do have to throw in a special comment about the amazing orchestrations and the beautiful production on this album. Firstly, the record is incredibly well-produced—particularly if you consider that this is a real choir and orchestra that the band is performing with at times—so a hat tip to Jens Bogren for the tremendous work he did on this record. It sounds huge and mighty, like a Turisas record should sound. Secondly, it is the orchestrations and the real horns and strings that make certain parts of this album undeniably mighty. The writing has a bit of that Finnish melancholy in it, again particularly on the “The Bosphorous Freezes Over,” the french horn is just tremendously powerful.
So I guess what I’m trying to say through all of this is: Stand Up and Fight is still an excellent album, and thus far it’s still one of the best that I’ve heard in 2011, but it took me a long damn time to get into it. I’m writing this almost 2 months after I received the album and I am now really starting to really appreciate it. Growers are hard to review and I’m just glad I had time to give this record the time it really deserved, because Stand Up and Fight is a much more worthy successor to The Varangian Way than I had originally believed. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about growers, it’s that they stick with you longer than others do. I hope that Stand Up and Fight is one such record.
So here it is: "Stand Up And Fight," the third album from Turisas, those mighty Finnish warriors who first made their mark on the world of epic metal back in 2004.
If Vangelis had a man-baby with Basil Poledouris, their kid would grow up to write music like this - big epic choruses, sweeping orchestration, epically cheesy lyrics, strains of indigenous European music, and some medieval history lessons all crammed into 45 minutes of awesome - precisely what we've come to expect from Turisas.
First, a warning - if you only like the grittier, doomier or angstier styles of metal, don't even bother with this album. It's uplifting, glorious, and full of might and majesty: exactly what you love to hate. For the rest of us with less limited tastes, this album is a worthy listen, and will probably make you want to go out and swing an axe at somebody while swigging vodka.
The album opens with "The March Of The Varangian Guard", a thematic continuation of their last album, "The Varangian Way". The track sounds a lot like the first track of that album, clearly a deliberate reference to set the stage. We are instantly taken back to 9th century eastern Europe, where elite Norsemen are employed as mercenaries by the Byzantine emperor. The second track, "Take The Day!", departs a little bit from the band's earlier style, with slow tempo and a sort of 80s rock feel. In fact, the very opening of that track sounds a lot like the Rocky theme! After that comes "Hunting Pirates", which is a pretty fun song, probably the cheesiest on the album, so if you're lactose intolerant watch out!
Other notable tracks include "Stand Up And Fight", the single for the album, which is pretty good - but at the beginning it's all angsty and sounds a bit too much like recent Opeth for my liking - and "The Great Escape" This is one of the stronger songs on the album, especially the last minute or so, which sounds like it could be the tragic refrain from some big budget Hollywood soundtrack. Tracks 7 and 8 are decent, but pretty weak compared to the rest of the album. And finally, a wistful outro. The limited edition has two covers on it as well: "Broadsword" by Jethro Tull and "Supernaut" by Black Sabbath. Both are good covers, but I won't go into detail on them here.
Overall, this album is really quite enjoyable, with excellent melodies and rousing medieval machismo, but let's try to be objective here: it does have some notable faults, which I will elaborate on.
In context, "Stand Up And Fight" comes out in a period when the genre we like to call "folk metal" has become pretty mainstream - with (relatively) major metal labels picking up bands such as Finntroll, Eluveitie, Ensiferum and Korpiklaani - and in many cases these bands have lost a lot of the imagination and vitality that first made them great. For a band such as Turisas, with a distinctive and hybrid style, it seems only natural that old fans will find some reason to hate their new release, no matter what they do. A lot of people I know who have been fans of Turisas since the beginning will be disappointed with anything they do if it doesn't sound exactly like "Battle Metal" (their first release). When "The Varangian Way" came out, everyone seemed to be complaining about the fact that it was a concept album that sort of flowed together and told a story, instead of just a bunch of (really really good!) songs jumbled together like "Battle Metal".
The complaints I anticipate for "Stand Up And Fight" are that it's "too different" from Turisas' earlier stuff. What, exactly is "so different" about this album, exactly? I would say the opposite. If anything, I would have liked to see MORE of a change from their original style. Let's face it, as much as I love folk/viking metal, there's really just too many Ensiferum/Eluveitie clone bands out there now. "Stand Up..." gives us a somewhat fresh return from Turisas, but I would have liked this album more if it had come out say, two or three years ago. Now it just doesn't stand out as much. As much as I like this album, nothing on it really surprised me.
On the other hand, it is nice that Turisas only releases albums every four years or whatever, because it gives them time to focus on quality and originality. Sorry, Korpiklaani - you guys are rad and all, but seriously - stop releasing the same album again every year!
So to conclude: "Stand Up And Fight" is a brilliant but slightly flawed masterpiece. It has neither the sing-along feel of "Battle Metal" nor the thematic unity of the concept album, "The Varangian Way", but it still has a lot to offer. I'd say it's Turisas' least-good album, but that still means it's awesome and worth your time. If you want a good album to lift weights to and you've already listened to the Manowar discography a zillion times, this one's for you. I swear, I can lift about 20 or 30 more pounds when I'm listening to "The March Of The Varangian Guard" on my headphones than when I'm listening to the watered-down bubblegum shit they play at the gym!
To put it bluntly, Finland's Turisas has no place in the collection of anyone unwilling to appreciate 'epic cheese' in their metal. Devout, nerdy and glorious simultaneously, few bands are so able to make a listener crack a smile as he/she reminisces of his/her last battle in some fantastic or historical war simulator. Even the image of the band is ridiculous, going at great lengths to appear more viably battle scarred and hardened than the next. But you know what? I've come to enjoy their sound, if only because of that rare place it takes me, to realms of nearly Romanticized majesty and manliness that simply do not exist in the current spectrum of humanity. So if you've ever found yourself smitten with the sounds of Equilibrium, Thyrfing, Bal-Sagoth and Manowar, then the Finns are a natural curiosity. If not, then stay well clear of this album.
Battle Metal and The Varangian Way were both great fun in their time, but I feel like Stand Up and Fight is better at meshing together the more authentic symphonic elements with their simplified power/folk metal discourse. "The March of the Varangian Guard" is an impressive opener, with manly choirs and orchestration that escalates into theatrical glory, the perfect melodrama to accompany some bad big screen epic. But "Take the Day!" takes it to a whole other level, like something you might hear in a Rocky film, or Starblazers. The bass, horns and strings swell up to an instant climax, the head nodding in rhythm to the straight rock guitars before 'Warlord' begins his deep, Gothic intonation. "Hunting Pirates" and "Venetoi!" Prasinoi!" stir the content into other directions, the former a raucous maritime roast and the latter an enthusiast splice of opera and charging war metal. But my favorites come later, in the dreamy hearth-stoking sweeps of "End of an Empire" and the calm, narrative closing of "The Bosphorus Freezes Over."
If you snag the limited edition, you get a bonus disc with some worthwhile acoustic renditions and a pair of covers. Jethro Tull's "Broadsword" is a natural in the hands of Turisas, and had it not already been written decades ago, would probably feel like one of the band's own original compositions. In other words, they do a great job with it, and I enjoy it almost as much as the content of the core album. Black Sabbath's "Supernaut" is also given an acceptable treatment, obviously asserting the band's 'epic' qualities over the original version, and once again tasking the listener with an acceptance of the Finns' tongue in cheek bombast. And that really sums it up for Stand Up and Fight, a finely wrought piece of fun that will offer no shelter to those who deign to take it too seriously. It's sleeker and more polished than either of the band's prior full-lengths, and yet I cannot say that I enjoyed it at that level, but if I need a surefire fix of swaggering, ale swigging battle orchestration to soothe my dorked up mind, then Turisas has yet again provided a reliable vessel upon which to sail, and miraculously managed not to insult anyone's intelligence. Lighten up and fight.