Review Summary: Turisas improves dramatically since their debut, releasing an album that can be described as an epic achievement of symphonic metal.6 of 6 thought this review was well written
Finnish band Turisas
made quite a splash within the metal community with their debut album Battle Metal
. Hailed as the new kings of the Viking/Folk metal genre, the band showed their affinity for epic orchestrations and an atmosphere befitting of a band playing their self proclaimed style of metal known as “battle metal”. Interestingly enough for a band dubbing their genre in such a way, there are no songs depicting battles on this album. Rather, The Varangian Way
tells the story of a group of Vikings, or Varangians as they were known because they were traveling from the North to Constantinople. Nearly all parts of the album were written by vocalist Mathias “Warlord” Nygard, and he leads Turisas in a direction that shows a band that has matured past writing nostalgic folky melodies and adding an obligatory orchestra part over every riff.
Make no mistake, the symphony playing with the band is still present at nearly every step, so much so that the listener will feel taken aback when the orchestra is not there, such as in the chorus of Cursed be Iron
. The difference on the Varangian
Way is that it is used to better effect at complimenting the music, rather than as an effect as on Battle Metal
. This is fortunate for the band, as the riffs are generally not anything special or overtly technical, but rather are set up to support the orchestra over the top which can carry the songs. Horns and strings are used to their full effect on songs like A Portage to the Unknown
and Fields of Gold
, playing melodies that set the scene of a ship full of Vikings.
There is a downfall to this heavy use of the orchestra however, and this is that Turisas can tend to get carried away, resulting in a cheesiness factor that can be distracting to the listener. The instrumental break after the first chorus in To Holmgard and Beyond
shows how overbearing this liberal use of the orchestra can be. Guitars and drums race along to a galloping riff at a blistering pace, with a lethargic string and horn accompaniment that ends up negating some of the intensity that the band is striving to build. Warlord Nygard can also get carried away with histrionics. In Five Hundred and One
, a member of the group must part ways with the crew, and Nygard chose to portray this with a ridiculous solo vocal performance reminiscent of a Broadway play.
These instances are few and far between, however, and the listener cannot help but be drawn into the atmosphere that Turisas have displayed here. The music carries the listener through every step of the story, with melodies that easily aid in depicting what is happening to the Vikings. The opener To Holmgard and Beyond
has one of the catchiest choruses you will ever hear in a metal song. The band had an accordion player join full time, and he is put to good use in the afore-mentioned Cursed be Iron
, accompanying Nygard’s wonderful playful vocal melody in the verse. In the Court of Jarisleif
shows that Turisas can play folk metal without coming off as too much of a novelty act, even with violins playing a melody reminiscent of a polka tune, the skillful rhythm work of the guitar and drums keeps the track from becoming too stale. Both male and female choirs are used often on this album, the outro of Five Hundred and One
must be mentioned for its chorus chanting a melody that is at once both uplifting and somber. Finally, the epic closer Miklagard Overture
covers nearly the full spectrum of Turisas’ music in one 8 minute song, complete with a folky acoustic verse, a crushing chorus and even an electric violin solo. The song builds up to an epic close with a female choir as the Vikings set their sights, finally, upon their goal of Constantinople.
A key element to Turisas’ brand of symphonic metal is the quality of the production. The production on The Varangian Way
is fantastic, with all of the instruments being well balanced. The guitars were brought up in the mix compared to Battle Metal
, while still keeping the orchestra as the focus of the music where appropriate. The bass levels may generate some rumbling from fans; however the bass is at an appropriate level to add some much needed low end without showing off. The drums will be my last mention, the snare sound being especially crisp. Turisas have really progressed since their debut album, The Varangian Way
shows that they can not only compose good songs, but create a whole album that results in a satisfying experience.