How do you top a pinnacle? This is what Turisas must have been asking themselves as they started work on their latest record. In 2007, the Finnish pagan-metal six-piece released The Varangian Way, a concept album chronicling the journey of a group of Scandinavian warriors who eventually became the private guard to the Byzantine emperor (fucking true). Loaded with epic choruses, glorious guitar wizardry, and ingeniously varied percussion patterns, Varangian epitomizes the catchy battle metal that this band is famous for. So how do you surpass a subgenre’s peak moment? For Turisas, the answer is you don’t. You take a hard left. On Stand Up And Fight, the metal warriors do something daring, something different.
Yes, opener, “The March Of The Varangian Guard,” gives the Renfaire crowd what they came for, but “Take The Day!” immediately opens up new musical pastures for the band with its poppy brass blasts and drawn-out power chords. From there, things get funky—“The Great Escape” tosses in some dulcet piano tinkles and female vocals, while “Venetoi! – Prasinoi!” is a spritely instrumental that would sound at home at a Romanian wedding. By the time the melodramatic strings of “The Bosphorus Freezes Over” roll around, the listener has reconsidered their understanding of the band. This isn’t the battlefield you were looking for.
Some experiments work better than others. “Hunting Pirates” begs to be a furious anthem against swashbuckling hipsters, but instead seems too eager to bite off Alestorm, and tracks like “End of an Empire” sound confused, unsure of their footing. But bully for Turisas, nonetheless, for giving us a folk-metal album that’s more than drinking music and fight songs. One cannot fault a band for taking risks, even if some of them fail. If repeated listens are needed, their new album deserves them. CHRIS KROVATIN