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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.