Some would say the folk/viking/battle subgenre of metal is getting a bit too crowded these days. Just as a few years ago, there was an influx of female-fronted "gothic" or symphonic bands popping up, there is now an abundance of 'viking' bands. Most often, this type of metal (frequently played by Scandinavian bands) is smothered in frantic violins, salted with accordions, and drenched in theatrical, over-the-top vocals and dramatic lyrical themes of war, trolls, kingdoms, fire and armor.
Recommend this product?
Finland's Turisas is one of the pretty consistently entertaining bands currently playing this type of music. Their debut Battle Metal, which originally hit in 2004, has recently been re-released with a few (live) bonus tracks. I am no big fan of live bonus tracks, especially sloppy ones, but the CD was cheap enough and I knew Turisas had some material I liked, so I went for it. Battle Metal features Turisas frontman Warlord Nygård doing more harsh vocals than one outsider to this band or genre might initially expect, but there is also clean singing and melodious choirs to be found here. Warlord's vocal skills aren't necessarily outrageously impressive, but the key with Turisas is the overall musical atmosphere. I don't typically listen to "battle" and "viking" metal to seek profundity; instead, it's something to throw on for fun.
This is quickly evidenced in "As Torches Rise," which sets the tone for Battle Metal appropriately. Preceded by "Victoriae & Triumphi Dominus," an ominous symphonic ouvurture of sorts, "As Torches Rise" is a speedy, galloping metal number with double-bass drumming and an insanely infectious synth melody. The vocals here are mostly growled and shouted, and an intriguing spoken-word "warrior" interlude adds a nice touch for the courageous, battle feel of the song. "Battle Metal" is not quite as aggressive, but it has a catchy call-and-response chorus of -- you guessed it -- "Battle! Battle metal! Battle! Battle metal!" I can only imagine this would be a fantastic song to experience live, chanting the words back to the band while soaking up the adrenaline of it all.
The six-and-a-half-minute standout "The Land of Hope and Glory" has an incredible, almost Arabic swaying violin melody. Everything works in this song. It is quite simply Turisas at their best. Warlord's vocals range from a pensive mumble to scathing screams, but the focal point for me lies in the insane orchestral elements; everything is arranged so well. I can never get this song out of my head.
Halfway through, Battle Metal loses me a little bit with a number of songs which sound too similar and do not offer many memorable things individually. "Among Ancestors" contains some of Battle Metal's most exciting choir work, in addition to some seriously impressive drum rhythms from Tude Lehtonen, but it falls into traps of repetition and does little to stand out from "Midnight Sunrise," which utilizes whiny, generic female vocals in an attempt to cover up for Warlord sounding almost entirely lifeless here.
Things pick back up soon, though. The all-too-brief interlude "Sahti-Waari" is amazing and one of Battle Metal's most entertaining, upbeat, jubilant moments. It is nothing short of a party, with wild, exotic instruments all meshed together in a Korpiklaani-esque fashion. "Rex Regi Rebellis" is a seven-minute epic with triumphant keyboards, intoxicatingly catchy bouncy guitar riffs, and a thoroughly enjoyable, light flute interlude. It is the perfect balance of rough and gently melodic -- the appropriate middle ground between grit and polished that not many 'viking/folk' metal bands can pull off. If Battle Metal had more songs like "Rex Regi Rebellis" and "The Land of Hope and Glory," this album would be among the most perfect ones of its genre.
Battle Metal is an album I recommend for fans of folk, viking, battle and symphonic metal. I typically gravitate toward more serious bands with lyrics of depth, but this album is too fun to pass up, with several moments of highly impressive musicianship. I think Turisas is pretty clever with their folk-metal stylings, as evidenced multiple times during this entertaining CD. It's not completely perfect and occasionally tapers down into mediocrity with a few songs I can easily skip, but Battle Metal is definitely worth a buy.