Compared to most bands in the folk/Viking metal world, Turisas’s understanding and control of complex harmonic structures and unique melodic writing is exceptional. This, combined with live orchestral instrumentation and a spectacular mix, makes Stand Up And Fight more developed than either of their past releases, and arguably more mature sounding than most other releases in the genre. In spite of all this, a listen through the album’s entirety begs the question: does a more professional and pristine recording make it a better one?
At times, Stand Up And Fight is more reminiscent of a film score than a metal record. Undoubtedly this is what chief songwriter Mathias ‘Warlord’ Nygård was going for, but it somewhat takes away from the character of the band. The group’s past efforts had a youthful and aggressive ‘metal’ characteristic that still came through, and one could always feel that energy coming from the members. Overall, the professionalism of the orchestration on Stand Up And Fight tames some of that fire, but luckily, traces of their former sound are still present.
The opening track, ‘The March of the Varangian Guard’ essentially picks up right where the 2007 release, The Varangian Way, left off: Simple, 6/8 folk-influenced melodies, epic male choirs and brass up the wazoo. However, this and the slower, ballad-esque title track are the only two songs to so strongly recall the sounds of the previous recording – the rest of the album delves into many new territories. Such experiments make the whole album a bit less cohesive than ‘The Varangian Way’, but still keep the listener consistently entertained.
Songs such as ‘Take the Day!’ and ‘Fear the Fear’ sound like symphonic takes on 80’s stadium rock – the former being decidedly more successful at this attempt simply due to more catchy and inspired songwriting. It is obvious that the band was also influenced by this aesthetic when conceiving the album as a whole, opting for more of a contemporary theme rather than the escapist, historical approach taken on earlier albums.
This occasionally results in less engaging lyrics, as Turisas is at their best when whisking the listener away into the past. Although at times Stand Up And Fight lacks compelling storytelling, it makes up for it through fun and inventive songwriting and fantastic instrumentation.
The adventurous ‘The Great Escape’ and the dynamic ‘End Of An Empire’ are some of the finest examples of this imaginative style of composing. The whimsical attitude and evocative narration found in these and other tracks are even reminiscent of musicals.
‘End Of An Empire’, possibly the most impressive track on the album, includes a grand arrangement of classical choir, grand piano and even a touch of Theremin to add to the splendor. The songwriting here is a far stretch from the folk metal scene Turisas has been placed in, and secures them as one of the most original acts in the market.
Overall, Stand Up And Fight has little to do with most of the folk metal genre, and places itself far more in a progressive and symphonic setting. A comparable approach was seen on the most recent Finntroll full-length Nifelvind, an album that sacrificed a good deal of the genre’s typical sound for fresh experimentation. Only traces of simpler, folk-influenced writing can be found here, as on ‘Hunting Pirates’ – an excellent example of combining folk melodies with more daringly quirky songwriting. The verse of this song evokes a ‘musical’ type of atmosphere once again, this time by presenting odd meters and non-diatonic melodies.
An artist is to be commended for making an album that may be slightly weaker, but is necessary in order to move in original directions. Following in the footsteps of less courageous bands, Turisas could have made The Varangian Way Pt. 2, and it may very well have been a stronger album overall. However, sticking with the familiar in an attempt to craft another masterful album eventually grows stale. The new approach Turisas took to create Stand Up and Fight leaves all three albums in their catalogue as unique entities. It may not be the best of the bunch, but Stand Up and Fight is the perfect next creative step.