Turisas will always have a special place in my heart as they were the first band that I went to see live where it was just me and my friends and no parents (and I was older than I care to admit). On that warm September evening in Nottingham, having just released their second album, "The Varangian Way", they tore the stage down and truthfully are one of the better bands I have had the pleasure of watching. If you have never had the chance to see them then I would highly recommend it if only to be surrounded by a load of people in war paint wielding (yes wielding) axes and swords and going nuts as soon as anyone says "Battle Metal", it is truly a unique experience.
Anyway, I digress. Turisas are back with their new album, the follow up to 2011's "Stand Up And Fight", imaginatively titled "Turisas2013" (which makes me wonder if I should have some kind of vote to see if this name is worse than Newsted's "Heavy Metal Music"). I was not so impressed with "Stand Up And Fight" as I had been with the first two Turisas records, to cut a long story short it just didn't do it for me, and unfortunately with "Turisas2013" this trend looks set to continue. On this record Turisas are a shell of the band that had such a unique blend of Viking/Folk Metal and now seem, for lack of a better phrase, to be a lot more "poppy".
There has been a bit of a shuffle in band members in Turisas as of late. The most noticeable is that accordion player Netta Skog has left the band and has been replaced with keyboardist Robert Engstrand. The casual reader may be wondering how much difference it would make not having an accordion around in a Metal band but unfortunately, for a band that's signature sound is a fusion of Metal and Folk it makes a huge difference. This is made worse by the fact that violin player Olli Vanska sits back a lot more than in previous records. What has basically happened is that the "Folk" element of Turisas' sound, that was key to their being so good, has diminished and those gaps have been filled with an electronic instrument that often makes things sound more 1980s than 980s (check out the keyboard solo in "Piece by Piece"). The overall result of this is that as a listener I didn't feel the same sense of epic scale that I felt with Turisas' previous works and so it was much harder to get into.
I never considered Jussi Wickstrom to be a particularly good guitarist but in this record his riff work is, for the most part, particularly mediocre. Quite often, in tracks like "Ten More Miles" and "Into The Free" he just plays very boring power chord progressions. In previous albums this was passable as I often saw him as driving the songs and providing a platform for Warlord to bark and shout about Vikings whilst the violin and accordion did some interesting interplay but now, as the guitars have become a little more prominent, his playing just comes across as being really unexciting and bland. Despite this, there is an exceptional Metal riff in "Greek Fire", which is really fast and heavy but it doesn't last and quickly things revert to dull chord progressions. To be fair to Wisktrom it isn't always him playing these mediocre riffs, "Greek Fire" and "Ten More Miles" both feature Bassist Jesper Anastasiadis doing something very similar but I think it is fair to say that neither of them are at their most creative on "Turisas2013".
I already mentioned how the keyboards detracted from the "classic" feel of Turisas and matters are not helped by Warlord's performance on the record. I am used to seeing him leading the charge as it were, with his characteristic bark giving a terrifying and aggressive edge to Turisas' music, making them feel like big, aggressive, scary Vikings. What I am left with on "Turisas2013" is a vocal delivery that is far too clean far too often. I accept that Warlord does like to dabble in clean vocals and "One More", "Miklagard Overture" and "A Portage To The Unknown" are some of my favourite Turisas tracks but I always felt the clean vocals were used to good effect. Here things are different, with tracks like "For Your Own Good" and "The Days Passed" being more driven by a cleaner vocals far too much, Warlord still does shout a bit but no where near as much. The lyrical content too doesn't feel the slightest bit Viking and is barely even folky. Check this out from opener "For Your Own Good":
This is all for your own good,
You will come to see
I don't expect you to thank me now,
But I do all this for you
Tearing down the walls surrounding you
Tearing down your world
Reach out and take my helping hand,
You see, you have to understand,
It's my duty, it's what I owe you after all
On their earlier works every sentence that Warlord used to sing had some kind of Viking feel but with this record the feel is totally different. On older records Turisas made me feel like I was on a longboat in the rain ready to go and invade somewhere whilst being led by a massive bloke wielding a big sword, "Turisas2013" makes me feel like I'm about 10 and going on a quest to the shops with my dad on a sunny day whilst riding a pony.
Production-wise there are some really awkward, and noticeable flaws that are really annoying to listen to. A special mention has to go to the section in "Into The Free", where Wiskstrom plays a lead guitar riff that is mixed far too low, he is panned far right but then the main vocal is then panned to the far left, which is incredibly disorientating. This is made worse by the fact that when it is panned to the left the vocal sounds painfully boxy and the change when it moves back to the centre and becomes "normal" again is so noticeable that I had to double take to check what I had just heard (it's easier to hear than describe). It surely wasn't done on purpose so then I wonder how it was missed during the mix stage, madness. Another annoyance is the horns, which don't feel at all like real instruments and so sound at odds with everything else. This was never an issue in previous records, which were filled with horns, so I am at a loss to figure out why it has become one here.
The final point I want to make concerns the overall pace of the album. There are so many tracks here that are mid-paced and samey, particularly at the start of the record; it becomes boring to listen to very quickly. There is an attempt with halfway track "Run Bhang-Eater, Run!" to make things a little more exciting and in many ways this track is in the same vein as "In The Court Of Jarisleif" or "Sahti Waari". The start of this track is actually pretty good but then it soon dissolves into (quite literally) a woman doing sex moans over something resembling a sax and then rambles on and fizzles out. The song is far too long and doesn't have the same impact as the other tracks mentioned, it easily could do but Turisas managed to ruin it quite spectacularly. Also the closing track "We Ride Together" was a big disappointment. For a band that had written "Miklagard Overture", one of the most epic closing tracks I have ever heard, I was expecting so much more for the closer on this album but "We Ride Together" sums up the whole album really: it just isn't the Turisas that I know and love.
To sum up, "Turisas2013" was a big disappointment to me. I was hoping for epic, heavy Viking Metal but what I got was pretty lame and unexciting Pop Metal (if there is such a thing). There are one or two good riffs and ideas in the album but they are overshadowed by all of the bad things that I have mentioned. Sufficed to say, Turisas in 2013 are not the same band that I saw in 2007 (or 2011 at Download, still excellent) and for their next album I would certainly like to see a return to heavier and more aggressive music with the folk elements becoming more prominent. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to put on "Battle Metal" and remember why I liked the band in the first place...TO HOLMGARD!