We all knew Turisas2013 was going to be a controversial record when the title was released. Turisas2013 doesn’t read like a particularly inspiring name for this Finnish ‘folk metal’ band’s latest record. One commenter quipped that it sounds like what they called the folder where you store the .wav files, not the title of the record itself. On top of that was the remarkably short turnaround time. Turisas isn’t a band known for its quick work, and they were coming off a remarkable and fascinating record from 2011 that I flat out loved. Recent history teaches us that ‘fucking with the formula‘ is generally a bad thing; if a band needs 5 years, give it to them! But just as Orphaned Land faced label pressure, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if Turisas2013 was produced under pressure from a label that doesn’t want the world to forget that Turisas exists1. Whatever the reason for looking at a Turisas record in 2013 with the half-baked name of Turisas2013, it’s here—and it’s really not everything you feared.
First, let’s talk about what Turisas2013 isn’t. The record is not The Varangian Way and it sure as hell isn’t Battle Metal. Instead, Turisas2013 sounds like a stripped down continuation of Stand up and Fight. The extreme metal tendencies continue to be pushed into the background, being replaced by progressive elements and a 1980s rock influence. But unlike Stand up and Fight, Turisas2013 isn’t quite the grand, epic conceptual piece that one might expect of Turisas. Instead, it’s a combination of two strains of the band’s personality: the fun and the epic. Frankly, it’s the former that is probably going to throw a lot of metal fans—famous for taking themselves a little too seriously—into a fit. I expect more than a few face-painted fanboys to have panic attacks when Turisas starts wandering into Korpiklaani or Alestorm territory on “No Good Story Ever Starts with Drinking Tea,” or the bizarrely brilliant “Run Bhang-Eater, Run!” complete with its cutaway to porn sax and moaning and, later, wickedly harmonized saxophones (or a sax and an oboe?) that evoke ’90s weirdo alternative band Morphine playing klezmer than any metal band I could name.
In fact, musically, Turisas2013 is a diverse record. While it has many of the epic elements that we all love about Turisas, it also features weird surfer guitar and pseudo-slide playing on “Ten More Miles,” a track that almost feels like a punk rock anthem with horns and Turisas Finnish Men’s Choir stylings on “Into the Free,” while “The Days Passed,” is straight up ’80s hair rock with throbbing bass like a long lost cousin of “Eye of the Tiger.” Gone is the accordion entirely, and where orchestras were to be found on Stand up and Fight, they have (often) been replaced by a distinctly more minimalistic keyboard sound that also harkens back to an era of tight rolled jeans and mall bangs. This soundscape gives the record a very stripped-down feel at times, even if the music is decidedly anything but.
What’s odd is that it works. There is something strangely compelling about these tracks, even if they sometimes feel out of place when contrasted with classic Turisas fare like “Piece By Piece,” which utilizes the Turisas Finnish Men’s Choir in combination with what sounds like genuine orchestrations, or “Greek Fire,” which features a fiercely groovy riff and an electric violin solo. The latter sounds like it could have been left over from the mightily epic Stand up and Fight. My personal favorite on the album is the closing track “We Ride Together,” which is about as epic as the band has ever sounded, including real orchestra and a huge arrangement—even if the song starts with a gallop that calls to mind an old war film before punching in crunching guitars. Hell, even the end of the bizarre “Run Bhang-Eater, Run!” features beautiful orchestrations à la Stand up and Fight.
The continued progression in the band’s sound is even more noticeable in the lyrical content. While using epic battles as metaphors, and in some ways sticking to heavy metal conventions, Mathias Nygård seems to be wistfully coping with some of the most gripping political questions in Europe right now: questions of freedom and culture. “We Ride Together,” strikes a nostalgic tone about solidarity and could be an effective analogy for a splintering society, while “Piece By Piece” seems like a letter to the children of enlightened Scandinavian social democracy coping with immigration, while the controversial “For Your Own Good,” is about forcing ‘freedom’ on people who don’t want it. It’s possible that I’m reading into it, but lyrics like “Laws to tell her what to wear or not / Laws to set her free / (The cage is open, why don’t you leave?) / You’re misguided, but I blame you not / How could you have seen?” (“For Your Own Good”) and “To my eldest son, I leave the right to speak his mind / And my daughter shall be free from oppression of any kind / I have sacrified, worked all my life / As have the ones before me / So do not squander, do not gamble, watch it carefully,” and “The tide is turning / The Reichstag burning / They’re at the border / Need law and order / It was not my child / I did not speak out / When they come for me / Who will be left to speak for me?” (“Piece By Piece”) leave me convinced that Nygård is grappling with something quite different than Vikings interfacing with the Byzantine Empire.
Where Turisas2013 doesn’t live up to its predecessors is the holistic consistency and attention to detail for which the band is known. Frankly, there are moments when Turisas2013 feels half-baked. And yet, I can’t stop listening to it. It has been stuck on my playlist since the moment I got it and it won’t come off. Nygård and company continue to be remarkably agile in their writing, with hyper-modern, but deft, mixing and mastering and performances that never leave any doubt as to the band’s ability. Turisas2013 sometimes feels like it could have used another 6 months of arrangement, but tell that to my OCDesque urge to listen to it over and over and over again.