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It’s safe to say a lot of people probably had a bad feeling about Turisas’ 4th CD. It has disaster written all over it; the title; the cover art; the names of the songs; the line-up changes; the stupid road warrior costumes. Is it really all that bad? Weeeeeell... no. But it’s certainly not very good either, and it’s easily the worst thing Turisas have released so far.
The thing about Turisas is that, for all the fur, red paint and preposterously over the top songs, they always felt like a serious band that just so happened to occasionally wander into camp territory with their battle anthems. ‘Turisas2013’, on the other hand, feels very much like the work of band going out of their way to show just what a wacky sense of humour they have.
Its such a dreadful cliché that I usually hate to see made use of, but at times it really feels like a descent into self-parody; almost like people making a Turisas piss-take or some amateurs trying to emulate the real band but completely misunderstanding what it was that actually made them good.
It largely sounds at least somewhat like a normal Turisas CD, but with the elements all mixed up to hell, and plenty of annoying displays of quirkiness shoved in your face along the way. The expected orchestral elements remain, but in many of the songs are greatly reduced. With nothing else picking up the slack, it leaves the songs sounding dry and empty, or even just plain baffling when the choirs are still trilling or thundering away over nothing more than chugging guitars.
The guitar tone itself is a point of contention too, the meaty tone from ‘The varangian way’ and ‘Stand up and fight’ for some reason ditched in favour of a more washed out, digital sound that robs the songs of most of their punch. New drummer Jaakko Jakku – presumably under instruction – also offers far less variety and inventiveness than the departed and underrated Tude Lehtonen, instead varying between fairly standard double-bass marching and, more often, big simplistic stadium booming.
With the sparer guitar sound and even more stripped back approach from the rhythm musicians, it leave the arrangements feeling rather barren at times, with a greater focus than ever on the vocals of Mathias Nygard. This isn’t of itself a bad thing, as the frontman is ever-improving, and largely the melodies and choruses remain strong. Indeed, songs like “Into the free” and “No good story...” are elevated out of averageness just by the sheer insistence of their choruses.
With accordionist Netta Skog replaced by a keyboard player and Olli Vanska pushed away into the background, the ever-dwindling folk aspect of their sound is all but completely gone. But never mind folk metal, calling large parts of the CD metal at all would be a push. Again, not automatically a bad thing, but the new sounds brought in to compensate just don’t compare to the things the band have achieved in the past.
Having a keyboard player back in the fold though is, on paper at least, a plus. Robert Engstrand certainly offers plenty of options, with a few storming solos being one of the better new additions and some nice Hammond touches adding a bit of intrigue to the otherwise muddled “Greek fire”.
Honestly though, the CD’s biggest problem, to put it delicately, is all the stupid stuff that threatens to ruin many of the songs. The best way to describe it in shorthand would be to say it sounds like the quirky, proggy bits from songs like “Midnight sun” spread across the entire running time. Instead of solid songs with weird little diversions here and there, it’s a bag of zany noises where a semblance of normality breaks through from time to time.
There’s stupid yelped vocals, dumb keyboard sounds, what sounds like a chipmunk choir at one point, and even a “I seriously can’t believe what I’m listening to here” interlude of ‘sexy sax’ and a woman moaning in the middle of ‘Run, bhang-eater, run!”. The production problems, the softening of the sound and simplifying of the arrangements can all be taken for what they are, but when an otherwise decent song is interrupted by the band slapping on you on the ear and saying “Hey, did you hear that? Mad, innit? Mad!” it turns the CD an endurance test.
Whether ‘Turisas2013’ is intended as a one-off experiment or really is the sort of style the band are going to be pursuing in future is an irrelevance at this stage; their 4th full-length isn’t quite the disaster it could have been, but it certainly isn’t an easy one to love either. Pushing the envelope and refusing to rest on one’s laurels is to be applauded when it’s done right, but ‘Turisas2013’ is evidence that just trying to sound weird for the sake of weird will more often than not leave you with nothing more than a big bag of wank.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)