TURISAS, oh TURISAS. What in the hell have you been doing these past 8 years? It’s no secret that ever since “Turisas2013“ was released in – you guessed it – 2013, the metal world was baffled and wondering what was the reason for the drastic change (my personal theory was an attempt to distance themselves from the “Viking” image). Ever since, we’ve simply been wondering if the band will ever come back. It’s especially heart-wrenching, considering the album that had preceded it by a mere 2 years was so fabulous. Indeed, today we are looking back at the delightful record known as “Stand Up and Fight,” which was released 10 years ago today on February 23rd, 2011, via Century Media Records.
Now, as someone who was heavily influenced by TURISAS and “To Holmgard and Beyond” in particular, “March of the Varangian Guard” is exactly what I was hoping for in the album’s follow-up, some 4 years prior. The appropriate dramatic build-up as Mathias Nygård‘s wolverine purr opens in his deepest, most beautiful vocal tone. The song then roars into a dramatic chorus that Nygård does not lead; rather, the Viking choir takes over, allowing Nygård to showcase his power in the second verse, adding some grit to his sound. It’s perfectly executed. The song goes on to reference the aforementioned “To Holmgard and Beyond” before leading into a musical interlude, with some nice soloing coming in towards the end. Truthfully, this song is perfect, beginning to end, right up to its powerful close. The album could have been this one song alone and I’d have been satisfied.
However, they move on to “Take the Day,” which is a song so nearly-perfect that it actually hurts a bit. I am referring, of course, to the notorious vocal fumble, wherein Finnish Nygård had clearly never heard the word “bugle” pronounced in English before and pronounces it “buggle” (which I’ve always thought sounds like a Pokemon – I imagine a weedle with a trumpet on its face). I digress, let’s not focus on the song’s one flaw; besides, he’s corrected the error in the live renditions, which you can find on YouTube if it’s truly bothersome. So first of all, this song has probably the best build-up of any song I’ve ever heard. Lead by some brass as a marching beat joins in, this song just feels like a group going into battle. The dynamics build so much that you can’t help but bang your head as it kicks up, but then no… you must be patient because Nygård wants to lure you into a soft sense of security with his deep, gentle voice. The bridge starts turning the dynamics up, just a hint, before he starts roaring in his fabulous growl. Honestly, if I was in the army or in battle, I would listen to this song to hype me up every single time, buggles and all.
“Hunting Pirates” was not what I expected from the band, but definitely has that trademark TURISAS drama as Nygård trades vocals with the choir. His voice doesn’t dip too deep into its depth unless necessary for a dramatic push. It’s a bit of a step away from their normal material, so it may be a bit divisive, but ultimately it maintains pretty much everything that’s good about this band, so I’ll call it a win.
Next up is the far more unusual near-instrumental, “Venetoi! – Prasinoi!,” which refers to the old Byzantine chariot races, which explains the exciting and race-like feel of the song. The brass certainly adds to that Byzantine feel and I would go so far as to say already distances the band from the Viking genre already. I’d even dare to call TURISAS “historical metal” more so than Viking metal. Nygård does sing a bit, with the lyrics painting him as the commentator of the spectacle. It’s really a rather cool piece of music, with the sound of the crowds cheering.
The main single and title track of the album is a huge fan-favorite for its strong feeling of empowerment. I’m actually noticing a pattern in some of these songs, that they like to start bombastically, but then slow it down and build back up. This is a textbook example of this TURISAS sound. The guitar stands out in this track in the soft parts, as the drums bring it into the very powerful chorus that reminds us to stand up and fight, see the sky turn bright, and fight for a better day. It’s a great reminder, even in 2021, that we should keep fighting and never surrender. I’ll even confess that the second verse, “what a relief it would be to end this all / how easy to fly the white flag and give up / but would I run today just to die another day / give up now and every fight has been in vain” has helped pick me up on a few occasions. Truly, a great song. Also I swear one of the instrumental parts sounds super Batman, which is great!
Pure electric guitar opens up “The Great Escape,” before a stomping beat and some gruff, gritty growls lead the music. Naturally, Nygård doesn’t growl the whole time, eventually trading clean vocals with the band. This song has a fairly dramatic feel to it, which is a good way to open the second half of the album: with one hell of a lot of drama! “Gentlemen, we are heading home!” It certainly has that feeling of excitement.
The drama continues into “Fear the Fear,” which is a more modern take on the same themes they cover in the album. This track has all the dynamic bombasticity of its predecessors, but speaks more about the world as it was in 2011 than history and the battles of the past. The song starts light in sound, yet still very intense, speeding up in the bridge, when the bass starts in full force. Then we go into the penultimate track, “End of an Empire,” which I’ve always felt was more of the climax of a musical than a metal song, per se. It’s impossible for me to hear this song without seeing dancers on a stage in my mind. It’s got pretty much everything, from huge rises and falls in dynamics, an utterly insane choir, more drama than most other bands even comprehend, and truly great backing symphonics. It’s a masterfully done work of art of a climax to an album.
“Stand Up and Fight” then closes, not on its epic climax but on a softer note with “The Bosphorus Freezes Over.” This track has no less drama but a softer feel overall. One might argue that the album would’ve been better left on the high-energy note that “End of an Empire” gave, yet I think this final track still feels powerful enough to make for a strong closer to the album overall.
So here we are, 10 years after the release of this album, and still waiting for the followup that we need (but maybe don’t deserve?). In their prime, TURISAS was truly one of the greats, on par with ENSIFERUM, FINNTROLL, and MOONSORROW. Who is to say if they’ll be back someday, if Nygård will find his inspiration again… but if that day comes, you can be damn sure that we’ll be waiting!
- The March of the Varangian Guard
- Take the Day!
- Hunting Pirates
- Βένετοι! – Πράσινοι! (Venetoi! – Prasinoi!)
- Stand Up and Fight
- The Great Escape
- Fear the Fear
- End of an Empire
- The Bosphorus Freezes Over
- Mathias Nygård – vocals, keyboards, programming
- Jussi Wickström – guitars, backing vocals
- Hannes Horma – bass guitar, backing vocals, additional programming
- Olli Vänskä – violin, backing vocals
- Netta Skog – accordion
- Tude Lehtonen – drums