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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!