Review: Turisas – Stand Up and Fight


Turisas’s last release, The Varangian Way, got my vote for album of the year in 2007. It was a concept album, as so many monumental releases have been, telling the story of a band of viking soldiers of fortune traveling through Kievan Rus, intent on joining Byzantium’s Varangian Guard. Through sweeping symphonics, gritty folk, and a small but significant dose of progressive rock, the travelers encounter new lands, pass through Veliky Novgorod, party hard in king Yaroslav’s court, long for home while daring Dnieper rapids, and eventually arrive at the most majestic city in the world. (The back cover of the album is a map of Russia with each track title placed in its relevant location.) The lyrics might be shallow at times, and the English of questionable quality, but Turisas harness the power of names in a way I’ve never encountered before. When the central character raises “a toast to our generous host . . . ruler of Rus from coast to coast”, it’s the chanting of the Norse rendering of his name–Jarisleif! Jarisleif!–that really drills home the ruler’s greatness. The final, triumphal ending never mentions “Constantinople”. Nygård shouts “Tsargrad!” The chorus responds with “Konstantinopolis!” “The Golden Horn lives up to its name.” And the final resounding proclamation: “Great walls! Great halls! Greatest of all, Miklagard!”

I think it is the historic allusions, and the intensity with which they are employed, that really tip the scales from mere greatness to a masterpiece. If you have any fascination with history, you can’t help but be sucked in.

Stand Up and Fight is not nearly so consistant. At face value it certainly appears to be a continuation of the concept album. Hagia Sophia graces the cover. The opening track is called “The March of the Varangian Guard”, and the final track “The Bosphorus Freezes Over”. After a few listens, I caught on that, these three references aside, the album really has nothing to do with The Varangian Way. If you dig into the lyrics though, there are a few other Easter eggs.

The track most musically reminiscent of The Varangian Way is Venetoi! Prasinoi!

(Due to some bs copywrite issue you’ll have to click the link to hear this one.)

It’s a song about a chariot race, something I tend to associate with earlier Roman culture. If you plug “Venetoi” into wikipedia though, it redirects you specifically to the “Byzantine era” subsection of chariot racing. The use of lesser known names though isn’t at all emphasized like it is in The Varangian Way. The allusions are more subtle, meant I think to give a feeling of continuity without forcing the band to focus exclusively on one general topic. Track title aside, this song could take place in Rome proper.

Of course, The Varangian Way’s lyrics were dubious at times–(What the hell does the Nile river have to do with traveling through Rus to Constantinople?)–and their English was, if usually grammatically sound, not always quite on the mark. In the absence of allusions and grand proclamations, this is much more apparent on Stand Up and Fight. Consider Fear the Fear.

It opens with the lines “Bravery, as we’ve seen on TV: Explosions and swords, hot girls in reward.” How awkward is that? The song continues on with more words than most, and I’m pretty sure they’re attempting to convey some sort of message, but I don’t have a clue what it is. Yet the awkwardness isn’t always a bad thing. Skip to the last minute, and you’ll hear Nygård screaming “Die! Die you sucker! Let me go! Let me free motherfucker!” The way he does it, it’s just as cool as it is corny. It reminds me of Devin Townsend and Mikael Akerfeldt’s epic duet at the end of Ayreon’s “Loser”. … Well, that’s really a stretch, but that song is fucking awesome in ways I can barely comprehend, and I’ll take any excuse to link it:

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Corny lyrics also play a hand in my favorite song on the album, Hunting Pirates.

(Due to some bs copywrite issue you’ll have to click the link to hear this one.)

Ok, first of all, it’s called Hunting Pirates. What the hell? The stuff Nygård babbles is ridiculous. “Kill them all! Let them die! Scum they are! Foe of mankind!” The music though, and his vocal style, are so fun that the cheese is almost a good thing. Besides, when he shouts “It is you who are the bad guys!” he’s not necessarily out to save the world. Plenty of folk metal bands are equally ridiculous, Turisas just take the less popular side. If if was a song about being a pirate, I’d laugh at the lines and not think twice about them.

My verdict on Stand Up and Fight: It’s catchy. It’s corny. It’s not The Varangian Way, but it’s miles beyond Battle Metal. Bare with the lyrics; they definitely overextend themselves in contemplation a few times, but for the most part it might only be their cultivation of a “good guy” persona that makes them appear any worse for wear than Alestorm’s demands for “more wenches and mead.” I mean, when I saw them live Nygård was chugging a bottle of vodka throughout the set.

Oh, while I was looking around youtube for functional links (without much success) I did find this:

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