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The soundtrack for horror castles and dark rides - 75%

kluseba, May 17th, 2011

Turisas' second strike is a lot more diversified and epic than the first record and slowly drifts away from the band's folk roots that become only one element amongst many others. The best folk passage is in the beginning of the fast and joyful "In the court of Jarisleif" which is by far the shortest song on the record. That proves us that the band wants to step further and experience and discover some new musical territory. They employ a much more symphonic sound and use narrator passages, epic male choirs, growl passages as well as clean vocals. All those elements help to visualize the conceptual approach of this record and make it sound like a soundtrack.

Even though the songs get more and more complex, diversified and long, the band still knows how to write catchy hooks like in the majestic and powerful opener "To Holmgard and beyond" or as in the male choral chorus of "A portage to the unknown" that have the addicting catchiness of the songs from the last record. But as further as the album gets, the band abandons its commercial approaches and experiments with many additional musicians. Even shorter tracks like "Fields of gold" already drift away from the usual and coherent structures and this style finds it climax with the last and longest tracks such as the final "Miklagard Overture" where not only the name of the song is a hint to a classic symphony.

Those songs are all quite diversified and addicting and surely technically well done, but I happen to miss the straight power of "Battle Metal" from time to time. On the other side, the epic songs are not yet as elaborated as on "Stand up and shout". Sometimes the songs sound a little bit overloaded and remind me in a ridiculous way of music that would play in a plastic horror castle at a funfair or during a dark ride in your closest adventure park. The band is rather close to the epic sounds of modern bands such as "Alestorm" or recent "Dimmu Borgir" but they never reach out for the class of "Nightwish" or "Therion". They wanted to sound really epic but sometimes it all just sounds pathetic and contains a lot of kitsch that one would rather expect from bands such as "Rhapsody of Fire". I prefer a more developed and professional sound or a heavier and straighter approach but this album is lost in between those two possibilities and sounds somewhat directionless to me.

If you like the last records of "Dimmu Borgir", "Alestorm" and "Rhapsody of Fire" and if you have a weak point for Viking tales or movies, this album might be the perfect choice for you. For anyone else, I would rather suggest to check out the straighter and easier first record "Battle Metal" or the truly well elaborated epic symphonies included on "Stand up and fight". This album here is enjoyable to listen to and quite entertaining as this funny potpourri puts a big smile on your face but it is far from being perfect and coherent. I would rather imagine the younger generations to appreciate this record but not an experienced metal head that has already discovered better and more elaborated stuff before this band would even exist and be overhyped by the industry.

Mostly Epic and Great, some Stupid Here and There - 77%

MaDTransilvanian, January 10th, 2010

The world of folk metal is a rather strange one, with an assortment of bands ranging from melancholic black metal with some folkish elements (Moonsorrow, Kroda, Temnozor) to happy party drinking crap like Finntroll or Korpiklaani, the latter of which tends to get old after a couple songs. In this context, where do Turisas stand? On paper, they appear to be on the happy end of the spectrum, especially due to their very energetic stage presence and setup, but the music tells a somewhat different story. A story of a band capable of making extremely good epic songs, some of the most awe-inspiring in the whole of folk metal, but who tend to be unable to create a complete masterpiece of an album from beginning to end, and The Varangian Way is a perfect example of this.

The album starts off with what is most likely the most representative track of its overall content, To Holmgard and Beyond. Beginning in fast-paced mode, as more of a battle song than anything else, it distinguishes itself as being very original by the tasteful use of clean vocals, during both chorus and verse, before awing the listener with Turisas’ greatest quality: their incredible choral passages. Starting with a spoken part at the 3 minute mark, Mathias Nygård performs an amazing choir, the first of several, making it seem like there’s an entire army singing alongside him. Of similarly high quality is A Portage to the Unknown, something of an epic (repetition of this word is very hard to avoid here, it’s almost everywhere) travel song, with the same amazing choirs returning in full force.

After this amazing beginning, everything seems to indicate that Turisas’ sophomore effort will easily be worth calling a masterpiece. Unfortunately, in the name of variation, the quality takes a steep decline over a few of the next few songs. Cursed be Iron is a weird and, for lack of a better world, clunking song, both because of the bizarre, start-stop and obnoxiously loud drumming and the general weakness of it all. It’s a plodding thing which goes everywhere while doing nothing. The riffs here are repetitive beyond decency, which, along with the sometimes spoken vocals which, unlike the choirs, don’t have enough power to take the music forward by themselves, all make this a fairly weak addition to the album. Fields of Gold is also rather aggressive, attempting some sort of half-assed folkish death metal but ending up being a mid-tempo song of little interest, just like the previous one.

The last great weak part on this album is the pseudo-song, In The Court of Jarisleif, a polka folk song which would be perfect on your new Korpiklaani or Finntroll album, complete with random noises or dancing, chattering and pointless vocals. The instrumental work here is on a crescendo before stopping suddenly, making this entire exercise little more than useless wankery, almost like the band were tired one day during the recording sessions and decided to get drunk and fuck around with their instruments, yet for some reason ended up recording that too and putting it on the album.

Fortunately the final three songs are much better, Five Hundred and One being an intense travel/battle song ending with an emotionally heavy section as the battle’s over. The clean vocals here are particularly beautiful without the use of the choir, although that too comes into play, making the entire effort overwhelmingly good. The Dnieper Rapids is similar but scatters the use of the choir through very short sections, resulting in a unique song whose quality is certainly there but perhaps not quite up to the level of the album’s best. Finally, as Holmgard and Beyond was the aggressive warlike opener, Miklagard Overture is the calm conclusion, the destination, the end. It’s the longest track by a considerable margin, also being quite slow-paced. Clean vocals are the dominant style here, from the nearly spoken passages in the verses to the choirs which are repeated a few times. The drumming is more restrained although still quite intense in places, while the guitars are little more than additional instruments right next to the keyboards. The song is designed to give off an atmosphere of awe as the travelers arrive at their destination, something they had never seen before. This is achieved with a gradual build-up in the song, having a slow acoustic part, a solo and climaxing with a double chorus with female vocals, hitting a very high peak of, well, epic, before slowing down towards the inevitable end of the album.

Of special mention is the album’s concept, which is very appealing and interesting: The Varangian Way is the term designating the routes taken by the Varangians, those Vikings of generally Swedish origin who, instead of raiding Western Europe like their more well-known brethren, went East, into the territory of the present nations of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The album is basically a musical saga of one of these voyages, from Holmgard and Beyond (Holmgard being the present Novgorod, North-western Russia) before continuing south towards Smolensk (Portage to the Unknown) on the Dnieper river, facing the savage Pechenegs who used to piss off the people living there and finally reaching the Black Sea and Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire which the Varangians named Miklagard (Miklagard Overture), simply meaning big city. This album may initially seem more at home in Sweden because the Varangians were, after all, Swedish, but since Finland shares quite a bit of its history with Sweden they certainly have good reasons to make albums praising the Varangians.

In the end, this is a pretty good album, definitely worth it, although it’s got some filler, especially around the middle, and is certainly not a masterpiece of folk metal. For examples of those, seek Moonsorrow, Temnozor, Ensiferum, Windir, Kroda… the list goes on and on. However, the five or six great songs on here make this album very appealing, especially with the unique usage of the choirs which I’ve yet to hear anywhere else.

For Fame And For Gold - 91%

Razakel, December 22nd, 2008

Turisas’ The Varangian Way is that bands second album and one of the many highlights of the year 2007. With this album, Turisas have kept the style from their debut, Battle Metal, but have done just enough to tweak some elements to make this release as original as the first.

Turisas play a mixture of styles and their sound is as epic as folk metal can be. The band uses violins, heavy guitars, accordions, and war paint to get the message across. Oh, and how could I forget the vocals? Nygård has shown some improvement on this album. Not that Battle Metal was lacking in the area of vocals, but The Varangian Way showcases more variety in that area in particular; harsh vocals are more present and the range of his cleans are greater.

Let’s get on with the actual music shall we? Did I mention it was epic? Just listen to the first few seconds of the album and you’ll know exactly what I mean. That’s right, To Holmgard And Beyond is one hell of an opener and is definitely a focal point of the album. As I stated earlier, the vocals have become more varied whether they are the outstanding choirs on A Portage To The Unknown or the heavy use of harsh vocals on Cursed Be Iron. This album also contains the band’s longest song to date, Miklagard Overture clocks in at over eight minutes and is a great closer to this monster of an album. Even though Turisas have given fans a very worthy offering with The Varangian Way, there is still room for improvement. I’d like to see these guys push their sound even further and make more songs like A Portage To The Unknown or One More (off of Battle Metal). These songs seem to be the kind that work best as they incorporate the folk instruments to the best of their ability and display both clean, chanted, and harsh vocals.

Is Turisas cheesy? Absolutely, but in the best way possible. They’re music is fun, not parody, but fun. They’re not making fun of folk metal, but just giving it an entertaining little twist. In fact, the symphonic elements of the music and spoken passage on Five Hundred And One remind me of Rhapsody or other likeminded power meta bands.

My only hope is that Turisas have not blown their load too quickly and are still capable of releasing great albums in the future. Their first two have impressed me enough to keep my eye on the band and I strongly encourage you to do the same.

Straight from the Iron Age. - 80%

hells_unicorn, April 9th, 2008

The history of Finland, particularly the Viking ages, has been a neglected subject in most quarters. Its avoidance by historians almost makes one question whether the Finns simply leapt out of holes in the ground to wage war against the Swedes and Russians at the time that Christianity was upon that region. But the truth is obviously not so ridiculous, and with the aid of a heavy metal renaissance in Finland, bits and pieces of those old oral traditions are being taught to the rest of the world in a way far more entertaining than a 7 hour day of drudgery in a prison-like public classroom.

“Turisas” joins a large number of Northern European metal acts with an over-the-top image fit for the battlefields of the 9th century. Whether they are seeking to be the Suomalaiset (Finns) tribes of the west who engaged in commerce with Sweden, or more likely their warlike neighbors the Hämäläiset (Tavastians) who stretched their influence from “salt sea to salt sea” according to Finnish oral tradition, what they bring to the table musically is an interesting mix of mid-tempo melodeath ala Amon Amarth, with the folk sensibilities of Ensiferum and the symphonic grandeur of Rhapsody.

You could describe the sound of “The Varangian Way” as a unique mix of accessible simplicity and bold atmospheric coloring. The heavy reliance on big background choirs, both male and female, gives it a film score character not all that different from the 20th century Russian composers. Likewise, most of the songs avoid the hyper speed tendencies of the power and thrash genres and mostly coasts away at the middle of the tempo register. The guitar work avoids technical grandeur and mostly plays either support for the vocals or the occasional active riff/lead break, a common flaw suffered by many acts in this genre. The vocals are well realized, although the clean singing doesn’t match the power of what you’d hear from pre-2005 Ensiferum and Wintersun.

I can’t say there is anything bad on here, but there is a good deal of sameness from start to finish. It is understandable that some could interpret the music as pretentious, especially if someone doesn’t truly love the heavily present orchestra and chorus that dominate much of these anthems. “To Holmgard and Beyond” is one of the best songs on here, but also one of the blatant examples of utilizing a dense atmosphere to compensate for an extremely simple idea that is repeated often in its 5 minute duration. Most of the rest of what’s on here follows this model, save the closing epic “Miklagard Overture” which is replete with folksy acoustic sections, and the heavier and more death metal-like recitative “Cursed be Iron”, which has it’s lyrics lifted straight from the Kalevala. “In The Court Of Jarisleif” also stands out because it deviates from the seemingly endless mid-tempo tendencies of this album’s duration and picks up the pace to something resembling a heavy metal polka drenched with even more folk melodies.

Of all the Viking/folk metal acts out there, “Turisas” are probably the most accessible to fans of symphonic power metal bands such as Rhapsody, but don’t expect the same addiction to speed and flamboyant opera tenor prima Donna goodness that you get from your favorite band. They don’t have the same staying power as Ensiferum, but they are worth your attention if this is what you’re looking for. If nothing else, the snippets of history provided for would be students of the subject make this an entertaining alternative to sitting through a boring lecture given by some 70 year old man who probably measured his success by how many prescriptions of eye glasses he went through while sacrificing any potential at a social life.

This band isn't very good - 50%

Empyreal, March 29th, 2008

Turisas are not a terrible band, and this isn't a terrible album, but it is pretty frustrating and often inept and annoying. They're one of those ever-popular, toned down extreme metal bands with symphonic overtones and lyrics about Vikings and war and battle and such, with both harsh and clean vocals - none of which are really good - and a generally midpaced tempo. This only really sucks when the band is attempting to be heroic and epic, and otherwise it's generally decent.

The opening "To Holmgard and Beyond" sucks goat testes; a self indulgent pile of piss with dragging, over-wrought symphonics (that repeat themselves throughout the song without variation) and boring rhythm chugging on the guitars in the background, along with a typical choir-filled chorus. "Five Hundred and One" is equally shitty, another dull, look-how-awesome-we-are wankfest with a lame "battle" soundclip somewhere in the middle. The rest of the album isn't too bad, though. Turisas's problem is that they tend to slow down and noodle around with folk parts and orchestrations too much, and so Varangian Way lacks focus and direction, and a lot of it isn't even too memorable. This is pretty good when the band gets down to the more straightforward, meaty parts, as on a few select passages from songs like "Fields of Gold" and "Cursed Be Iron," but overall this music is far too fluffy and pompous to be of any real worth.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

Makes me want to Raise an Axe & Invade Somewhere! - 97%

Damnation_Terminated, February 13th, 2008

Turisas have to be one of my favourite bands. They are upbeat, musically very talented and rather funny in their image and lyrical content. Nowhere is this more evident than in their latest offering, "The Varangian Way." In this album, they have seemingly taken all the best elements of "Battle Metal" and made them even better!

For a long time I didn't like this album, but when I got tickets to see them on their upcoming (at time of writing) tour of the UK, I decided to check it out again. It has hardly stopped being played since. From the beginning of "To Holmgard and Beyond" all the way through to the epic masterpiece, "The Miklagard Overture" at the end, this album delivers fast paced metal merged beautifully with the Turisas sound we have come to know and love.

There is more evidence of the folk elements in this one - a prime example would be "In the Court of Jarisleif" where there is sounds of revelry one might associate with a viking celebration, with lots of accordion and violin throughout to keep the listener jigging. We also have slightly different aspects, such as the track "Five Hundred and One" which starts with a slightly meloncholic piano riff and goes into a head banging metal section, with wonderfully growled vocals over the top of it.

The musical variety on this album is astonishing, with one part making me feel like I was listening to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical for a couple of moments, before the incredible heaviness kicked back in. The major new element in this album, however, would have to be the fairly extensive use of choral pieces. In both the final two songs, "The Dnieper Rapids" and "The Miklagard Overture" is this clearly evident and It adds a different flavour to the sound - sometimes chilling and haunting, while at other times bringing a sense of adventure to the album, as if taking part in an epic quest.

This leads me to the very best song on the album - the wonderfully crafted finale, "The Miklagard Overture" I have to make special mention of this song because it is so incredibly made, I have had it on repeat for about a week, and I'm still not sick of it. The track starts off in a similar way to "Rex Regi Rebellis" on their previous album, with the horns blowing a very catchy little tune, a tune that sticks in the head, and makes you, again, want to go off on a quest to destroy someone! The vocals on the song show the true range of "Warlord" the singer, as he soars from deep, melodious clean vocals, to his familiar growls and folk-style grunts. The music, similarly moves from the heavy metal style with the synths in the back, to lighter, almost acoustic style riffs. As already mentioned, the choir plays a large part of the sound of this, and lend to it's wonderful epic feel.
I could go on about this song for a long time, and point out it's many benefits, and how it is the perfect end to an amazing album. But I won't because I don't want to bore the reader.

I cannot recommend "The Varangian Way" enough and I feel that anyone who hasn't heard of Turisas gets both this one and Battle Metal, for a band that is just ever so slightly different to just about anything else...
Now if you'll excuse me, I feel like going to Finland and wrestling a bear or something...

Progressive, Folk, and Symphonic - 95%

Sir_General_Flashman, February 5th, 2008

And somehow they still manage to pull it all together.

The Varangian Way follows the tale of a person among a group of Viking traders sailing to Constantinople and his adventures. The story is surprisingly historically accurate as it goes into detail about many of the things the traders actually did during the time period, which is important to a history buff like me.

The music is incredible. Starting with the epic Holmgard and Beyond, and it's rousing keyboard intro it's like your headphones have attached themselves to your ears and are saying you won't need to take these off for a while. As I continued to listen I could hear the guitars chugging along, with the occasional violin or accordion coming into the music, and the keyboards adding rousing tunes along the way. The lead singer shows his range in Cursed be Iron, which ranges from quiet singing to loud screaming backed up by the guitars and drums.

The next great song is the court of the Jarisleif, which starts out with some really fast fiddle playing, which is only made better by the weird time counter it's at. The album continues to progress after this small interlude. Then comes the amazing finish that is the Miklagard overture. It is an ending to end all endings with everything you can think of in a finale. This song puts together all of Turisas's ideas into one big amazing song, which leaves you sad that it's over at the end. That brings me to the reason why this amazing album doesn't have a hundred. The album is too short, why make all this amazing music and not just find one or two more songs. It's still well worth the buy.

Epic 'battle metal' - 80%

Tea_and_Crumpets, July 17th, 2007

When Turisas debut album 'Battle Metal' was first released, it was met with much acclaim, in both terms of reviews and sales with the band soon amassed a large fan base. However in spite of this the album was lacking in a few areas, something which this release goes someway to rectify. To sum up this album in a sentence, it's good and much of it improves upon the bands first release, but it still smells of missed potential.

The album is a concept album, of a journey along 'The Varangian Way' to 'To Holmgard and Beyond'. I have no idea if it's some sort of lost city legend, like a Finnish sort of Atlantis, but it makes for a good concept nonetheless. I'm surprised a folk/Viking metal band has yet to tell the tale of an epic journey, and the story takes twists and turns across land and sea and proves to be a great concept for an album.

The vocals stand out on the album as the first place of marked improvement. Mathias's growls are much improved, but it is a shame he doesn't put them to better use, as his good, (but not as good as his growling) clean vocals seem to take the far more prominent role in nearly all songs. The choir chants/ vocals in this release do sound rather brilliant though, and were personally my favourite element of the entire album, being rather superbly employed on the song 'A Portage to the Unknown', which opens with the choral chants, giving the effect of a boat full of Vikings singing along to the song, rather awesome.

The bands overall sound has changed a fair bit, the folkyness of the 1st album in the form of violins and the symphony being toned down in favour of a more guitar and riff based sound. This may disappoint some fans, but it seems like a move towards a much better general sound, more rounded and whole rather than the symphonic lead sound of the 1st album. That said the symphonic element is still the main one, and an issue many people will have with the band is the lack of prominent meaty riffs which unfortunately seem to take a backing role. However it is a nice evolution from the first album, although it may disappoint the less ‘metal’ fans out there.
While the balance of sound has changed, the band do seem to better realise the really epic songs on this album, such as ‘Five Hundred and One’ and ‘Miklagard Overture’, both of which are carried off extremely well. The band is able to use their symphonic and folk parts to really help the music soar in parts and create a wonderful epic atmosphere, another area of improvement from the first release.

Despite these areas of improvement there are a few unrealised songs on the album. The first of these is ‘Cursed by Iron’ a song inspired by the Finnish epic the ‘Kalevala’ (a collection of finish poems and literature) detailing the forging of Iron. The song is basically comprised of two parts, one soft one with a single tune, a slow drum beat and a soft voice and the other a man cursing the Iron with harsh vocals and thick guitar riff. This should work well but doesn’t, the parts don’t lead into each other well and the song sounds muddled, and it just doesn’t come together well. Also the interlude of sorts ‘In the Court of Jarisleif’ sounds really nice, but the potential for a full song with a full set of lyrics is there. What’s already there is very good, but if the song was made a full one I felt it would have probably been the albums best, as the vocals that are present on the track are awesome and the songs unique rhythm structure and timing are stunning if it were extended and expanded upon it would have been quite special. Thus while there are great songs on the album, I would say the bands first release still has the edge in the song writing department with this release falling short of the high standards set on the first release with a few of its songs.

These few hitches wouldn’t be so much of a problem though if the album weren’t so short. 8 tracks, one of which is an interlude of sorts, is pretty damn short for an album and one is left wanting more than what is served up. It’s disappointing that the band could not give more for this release, and the albums shortness does leave you feeling that your value for money could have been better that what it is.

In some ways the album is a disappointment, but in others it's a lot better than their last album so it's hard to call it that. While the first album has a better balance of songs, the performance here is much better and the band are able to better realise some of the more epic parts. To quote Radagast, one of the reviewers below me "3rd time lucky, hopefully".

Monumental, original, refreshing - 91%

BloodIronBeer, June 29th, 2007

To say I was well taken with Turisas' debut would be a gross understatement. I found it to be quite close to perfection, and I didn't know what to expect of their next release which I've waited eagerly for.

One thing I certainly didn't expect was for this album to be so much more epic than their debut, Battle Metal. Really, I hardly thought it possible. Warlord does an excellent job on vocals here, especially with his singing. His voice is just perfect and exudes heart-felt emotion. The frequent backdrop of majestic brass, use of other symphonics, huge choirs, and the fresh structure implications come together in a combination that make this feel like a gargantuan adventure, rather than simply a metal album.

Again, I must stress Warlord's terrific singing performance. Few vocalists have managed to pull off that amount of authenticity, his vocals just stir up that feeling of wanderlust. He truly makes this feel like an epic of epics.

A complaint that I heard both about this album and the last was that the riffs seem to take a backseat to the ochestration. But for one, that's not entirely true, not to mention that people are making it sound like a horrible thing to break away from convention. Metal is about breaking the rules, not making them. The music is often harmonically complex and layered enough to the point where I could see people not being able to pick out the guitar riffs - but they are there, and they play a vital role in keeping the music flying high.

The band relies on totally unconventional song structures, and frequently even on strange time signature. An example of this is the song In the Court of Jarisleif. A very jig-like fiddle part plays while hands clap it along, then the guitars storm in following an extremely odd time signature (a combination of 5/4 and 6/4, making it 11/8 - very peculiar). Then there is a big drinking song kind of chorus, and then it stops and switches directions and goes back to 4/4 timing, and goes into a build up, finishing with some of the fastest fiddle playing I've ever heard. And I listen to a lot of Irish folk, and have heard a great number of very accomplished violinists do jigs like this, but this is just unreal. My jaw hit the floor when I first heard this. This is one of my favorite songs to come out of 2007 thus far. So great, so unique.

This music is grand enough to be the soundtrack to Pirates of the Carribean or Lord of the Rings, or some ridiculously heroic movie like that. The lyrics certainly help this along, and I really couldn't ask for more befitting lyrics here. The only time this type of bombastic, soaring style lets up is to make way for a riff of pure crushing Viking metal. These parts, like on Cursed Be Iron and Dnieper Rapids remind me of Einherjer.

This album took some getting used to, but I really love it after several listens. It's so refreshing, and needless to say - incredibly epic. My only real complaints would be the contrast between the flowing, adventurous parts, and the harsh Viking parts which seem to break away suddenly. That, and for the larger-than-life feeling of this album, it should be longer. Eight tracks, and 42 minutes is just too little to cram this much grandeur into. It leaves me with a craving for more. Though, on the flip side, at least they didn't feign grandeur with overly long pointless songs like many bands have done.

Ultimately, a pure joy to listen to, with lots of variety and originality.

Turisas - The varangian way - 70%

Radagast, June 3rd, 2007

Opinions are funny things. Turisas' debut CD, 'Battle metal', received almost unanimous praise on its release in 2004 as it mixed Viking metal with Rhapsody-like symphonic elements. In the U.K., the band's over-the-top image as much as anything else saw the mainstream metal press lavish praise on the Finnish band and champion them as some sort of genre-bursting visionaries.

To these ears, though, the CD was no more than 'good' with muddled songwriting, meaning the band only flirted with greatness. They had all the elements in place, but didn't really fit them together correctly – which of course is not only forgivable but almost expected on a debut CD, especially one with such lofty ambitions.

So, with 3 years between 'Battle metal' and the follow-up, 'The varangian way', it would seem not too unreasonable to expect that Turisas would sort out the problems that held back their debut and deliver a truly memorable CD. And they have succeeded. Almost. Many aspects of their sound have improved, but there are still a few nagging problems here and there that hold the band back from making the jump into their genre's A-list along with the likes of Ensiferum and Korpiklaani.

Firstly, and most importantly, the songs are generally far more concise and fluid this time around. There are virtually no meandering passages where the main thread of the songs seems to get lost, only to reappear and suddenly seem out of place. The varied use of violins, accordions and the now-departed Antti Ventola's keyboards as a substitute for a horn section and more grandiose strings are much better handled. Each comes and goes as the individual song suits, never feeling shoehorned in for the sake of being there. Only the song "In the court of jarisleif" – a metalized representation of Baltic folk music – sees the traditional instruments take over completely, displaying mind-bendingly fast violin and accordion playing as the song hurtles to a crashing halt.

Guitarist Jussi Wickström – now the sole axeman after the crippling injury suffered by Georg Laakso - is not left in the dust though, and unlike on the debut CD, his rhythm playing is never totally swamped by the symphonic elements. There is still no lead guitar whatsoever on the CD – there are only a couple of solos, and both are played by violinist Olli Vänskä via a distortion pedal – but the guitar presence has been beefed up to the levels that were often lacking on 'Battle metal'.

Vocalist Mathias Nygård has taken a slightly different approach this time around, with a bigger emphasis on clean vocals than before. This is a definite improvement, as his growls on the first CD were generally pretty nondescript, and while his clean voice is technically nothing special either, it has a certain raw character to it that lends itself quite nicely to the music. To his credit, he has improved his growls somewhat, and they often fit the music perfectly when used as a counterpoint to his clean voice.

These outbursts of growling vocals are used most prominently on the couple of attempts at taking a heavier style that Turisas have mingled into the music. Unfortunately, this direction really doesn't suit them, which is evidenced perfectly on the song "Five hundred and one", which after a fairly turgid opening 4 minutes suddenly shifts into a bittersweet, neck hair-raising ballad full of the expected bombast. If any confirmation was needed that Turisas do glory a lot better than brutality, it is plain for all to hear in this song.

Similarly, "Cursed be iron" takes an interesting idea of having the song slowly build through the verses, interspersed with a harsh chorus built over a thick guitar riff, before the 2 parts meets in the middle at the song's conclusion. The problem is that the riff under the chorus is completely out of place on this CD – de-tuned and very modern-sounding, the sort of thing Nightwish have used on their last 2 CDs ('Century child' and 'Once') when attempting to sound 'heavy', and just like it did for their countrymen, it falls pretty flat for Turisas.

The real winners on 'The varangian way' are, as you'd expect, the ones of massively anthemic proportions. The battle cry of the opener "To holmgard and beyond" and the grand epic closing song "Miklagard overture", with their massive choir choruses and blaring orchestral arrangements, contain all the best aspects of Turisas' sound, and are a reminder of just how brilliant this band can be when they get it together.

The awkward stabs at sounding heavier are the only moments that really threaten to derail the CD, and neither one does anything significantly bad enough for that to happen. Otherwise, the only real grumbling point is the CD's 43-minute running time – epic so-called battle metal really needs a bit more room to breathe. Overall, 'The varangian way' is probably a stride further to where Turisas want to be, but they still haven't taken the big step. 3rd time lucky, hopefully.

(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)

A Right Proper Epic Release - 100%

corviderrant, June 2nd, 2007

Turisas' debut, "Battle Metal" was, quite honestly, more of a demo in feel for me. It was too long by about 4 or 5 songs and felt incomplete somehow, plus the production was too synthetic for my ear, with a weak and mushy guitar sound. They also relied far too much on the keyboard-based horn bits for melodies and Mathias' vocals were good but not great. What a difference several years' worth of touring and practice makes!

This is what "Battle Metal" ought to have been in the first place. The production is incredible, with a much bigger and more defined guitar tone that cuts loudly through the mix the way it should. And the drums are not as obviously triggered as they were before, either, a big plus in my book. You can even hear the bass in the mix pretty well, unusual for metal, and the horns are nowhere near as obvious in the arrangements as they were, which rendered them annoying after a while on "Battle Metal". OK, so how is the music, you ask?

Well, the Finns are dominating the international metal scene for a reason. Turisas has taken their knack for crafting immaculate epics and taken it to the next level. Whereas on "Battle Metal" they had enthusiasm and energy above all, this has craft and style and experience as well as the aforementioned qualities to make the songs on display here passionate and convincing in their delivery.

Mathias' vocal prowess has immensely improved and he shows it off often with his impressive clean baritone as well as his usual raspy scream/snarl approach, which has also improved a lot. He sounds every bit as mean and angry, but more convincing overall. His lyrics are outstanding as well, telling the tale of a man trying to find his name and his history with an intimate feel that makes you feel as though you really are listening to a story as opposed to some prat trying to impress you with his knowledge of history. Talking about little things like one sailor hanging over the ship's railing because he ate too much and was sick for it makes it far more personal. When Mathias cries out "Go now, and don't look back! And give my regards to the Greek King!" on "Five Hundred and One" it is stirring and exciting.

The band impresses with much improved musicianship across the board, too, and on ending track "Miklagard Overture" we even get treated to a sweet and emotional guitar solo, a rarity in Turisas' world. That part even reminds me of Rush, of all bands, with its odd meter feel and melody, and that song overall is a fantastic ending to this album that will leave you in awe. "In The Court of Jarisleif" is highly amusing and fits well in the midst of the metal; you really feel as though you're in a medieval hall whooping it up and offering toasts to your host as a hummpa band goes through its paces--they alternate between the polka and the metal really well and Mathias gets to ham it up a little while he's at it. Quite an entertaining interlude!

"To Holmgard and Beyond" is a proper beginning to the album, with an appropriately bombastic feel that really makes you think you're going on a journey, and Mathias gets to really show off his improved vocal prowess on this tune too. How he builds from perfectly clean to slightly raspy to full on yelling on the chorus is excellent. The chorus on this one will make you want to raise a horn of mead in one hand and a sword in the other--the gang vocals are better as well, really sounding like a hall full of Vikings raising their voices in song. "Cursed Be Iron" is a relentlessly bludgeoning number that is quite heavy by their standards and has a perfect headbanging feel to it, with Mathias screaming in rage over the price paid for forging iron into steel. His clean vocals aren't quite as good here as on the rest of the album, but he still is better than he was on "Battle Metal". The whole album takes you on a journey with ebb and flow, ups and downs, and it is hard to not listen to it all the way through every time.

Horns up for Turisas! This is a winner and will definitely end up on my Best Of list for 2007 easily. Now I wish they'd tour the US and help show the mallcore kids where it's at!