Album Review: Turisas - "Turisas2013"

Let’s cut to the chase. Turisas’ “Turisas2013” is a clear contender for Album Of The Year honors. There’s no two ways about it. Yes, it has a sub-standard title, but let’s not be shallow enough to let that get in the way. Everything about this record is wonderful, a surprising improvement over even the lofty accomplishment that was “Stand Up and Fight.”

So what does it sound like? Well, if Andrew Lloyd Webber had a rebellious son who wrote heavy metal, he would write “Turisas2013.” The orchestration on the record is so thick, the arrangement so deep and so well-thought out, that even more than their previous records, “Turisas2013” feels like a theatre performance.

There is no particular concept to this album, no grand telling of history like we’ve witnessed in past Turisas records. Rather, the album is concerned much with the bittersweet themes of endings leading to new beginnings. At least half the album deals with subject matter along these lines; songs of longing and leaving and legacy. In proper balance, the album shares the other half of material with other themes common to Turisas; universally recognizable concepts like carousing, brotherhood and naturally, drinking. The album’s thematic balance is top notch, coming equipped with an emotional versatility somewhat endemic to folk metal but rare in other forms.

The ‘metal’ word is the word that sticks. Some fans of Turisas have been quietly lamenting the band’s gradual move away from the constant in-your-face moment-to-moment screaming bombast of heavy metal. While the band returns a lot of punk roots to their newest effort, including a lot of heavy bass riffing, there is a question of how well the label ‘metal’ applies. Listening to the earnest album opener “For Your Own Good,” there’s a big Ace Frehley style solo, but there’s also a huge dramatic chorus and a Jim Steinman piano riff in the intro.

This is followed by “Ten More Miles” which, while being a sort of unnecessary advertisement for the band I’m already listening to (Turisas does tend to drop their name like they’re a rap artist,) the song has a strong metal bridge and some quality riffing throughout the middle third. As in incremental step at the album’s figurative doorway, “Ten More Miles” is a wonderful gateway to the tracks that lead beyond.

If you still have doubts about the band’s ability to bring the metal chops, skip ahead to “Greek Fire.” Intense. Scary. Gripping. Ferocious. All these adjectives and many more similar ones can be placed at the feet of this, the most insistent song Turisas has ever written. It’s a dangerous cut, one that oozes ill will and uses the choral vocals not to highlight a grand idea, but to reinforce a frightening one. The lead line in this song is haunting and forceful and could easily stand with the most gripping riffs of the year.

Outside of that, most of “Turisas2013” is uplifting, magnanimous, major-key material. There are great moment seeded from beginning to end and no particular weak points. In particular, “Into the Free” is a brilliant piece of songwriting and reminds of the way Iron Maiden used to write songs some thirty years ago. It’s a hard idea to put a finger on, but the song moves along with the same gallop and inimitable charm that so characterized and made eternal the cuts of “Number of the Beast.”

‘Gallop’ brings us to the album’s anthemic closer, “We Ride Together.” Not in a recent memory has a song been so acutely adept at instilling a feeling of riding, or at least traveling, toward a glorious destination. Turisas has long been famous for their colossal epics, but “We Ride Together” elevates the idiom to a new level, incorporating choral vocals, catchy hook rhythms, horns, strings, percussion and emotion into a stew of perfect timing and remarkable composition. In six minutes, there’s not a single measure that needs to be adjusted or tweaked. The song, from the biggest crescendo to the quietest return, is perfect. The compositional style harnesses the sheer attention-grabbing power of empty space, which is a secret to the entire record, but particularly well-employed in this instance. Each time the band slows down, it makes you narrow your eyes as a listener, wondering what glorious aural visage awaits around the next change. This makes the big moments bigger and the louder choral moments more momentous. “We Ride Together” is an album finale the way such things should be done; with care and design and craft.

Really, that’s the selling point of “Turisas2013,” the sheer power of the arrangement and the band’s affinity for going the extra mile to capture the sound they want. There are no compromises, which for our genre nominally implies that a band has stuck entirely to the roots of their paradigm, but for Turisas it means much the opposite. Whether the band wants you to swing mugs of ale for the good-natured hilarity of “No Good Story Ever Starts With Drinking Tea,” or take heed to the message of warning in “Piece by Piece,” Turisas will incorporate whatever it takes to accommodate their desired effect. If that means going well outside the bounds of metal, using strings and chants, arena-rock riffs and yes, even sleazy porn jazz to build a palpable drama, then the tenets of metal will be sidestepped.

Turisas additionally shines in their demonstrated mastery of a time-tested truth; that the simplest hooks, with the most open space, are the most memorable. We’ve seen this a million times in metal, everything from the empty echo of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” to the marching swagger of Pantera’s “Walk.” While Turisas doesn’t carry their music to either of those particular extremes, the writing of Mathias Nygård combined with the guitar/violin tandem of Jussi Wickström and Olli Vänskä clearly have adapted the lesson to work for them, using spacious cadences to lend their songs more accessibility.

The end result more than justifies the means, as “Turisas2013” ends up being the most bombastic, perfectly arranged album released either as part of their total catalogue or anyone’s this calendar year. For every instance as a listener you think you know what’s next, the band will go one step farther than you imagined, which grants the record both awe-inspiring creativity and power in the present and staying power into the future.

There is only one functional issue with “Turisas2013” (besides the name,) and it’s that I’m not at all certain how this album can be properly replicated live. It would at least require a budget that the band in their present stage probably doesn’t have access to. I put it to Century Media to let them try.

Attentive readers have probably noticed that we’ve failed to discuss any of the individual performances. Honestly, picking apart this album to highlight the effort of one band member would be counterproductive. Aside from the work of new drummer Jaakko Jakku, who seems to settle into a perfect gallop and never stop, the album is best viewed as a living, breathing whole. It’s much better thought of as a total composition than as a collection of performances.

Allow me one personal note; I am often afraid of burning myself out too fast on new albums that I enjoy. “Turisas2013” dropped in my inbox about four weeks ago, and in that time I have listened to it probably twenty-five times. I haven’t tired of it yet. I listen to it each time as though new, and each listening is just as impressive.

Find this album. Buy it, then allow yourself to get swept up in the storytelling and bravado of it all. Then buy two copies and give them to friends. They deserve it. Look for this album to receive accolades in December.

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