The Varangian Way

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Finnish sword-wielding berserkers Turisas cemented their name within the hallowed halls of the Viking metal scene in 2004 with the seminal Battle Metal, creating an entire subgenre fueled by what can only be described as "over the top everything." Churning out records to accompany muted viewings of 300 or the Lord of the Rings trilogy is nothing new (Manowar has been it doing it for years), but on the ambitious Varangian Way the group takes it one step further, creating its own unique narrative. Built around the epic journey of a group of traders, mercenaries, and pirates ("Varangians") exploring trade routes between their 9th century homeland and Constantinople, Varangian Way is infinitely more cinematic in scope than Battle Metal, employing narration, accordions, and massive choirs (the group still relies on main man Warlord Nygård's tasteful keyboard work for the orchestral bits) to move the story along. The rousing "To Holmgard and Beyond" sets the pace, taking the Battle Metal formula of brass lead, group vocals, and crushing guitars to the next level. It's a catchy call to arms that makes some of the more serpentine art-rock sections like "In the Court of Jarisleif" easier to digest. That said, the most eclectic number of the set, the epic closer "Miklagard Overture" might be one of the most successful forays into progressive fantasy metal in some time, employing an army of memorable melodies, unexpected left turns, and a pretty impressive death growl on the chorus. Like everything on Varangian Way, it strikes the perfect balance between power metal, folk and symphonic metal, and while some listeners may be put off by all of the Renaissance Fair excess or the concept of grown men in pelts singing "Come with us to the south/write your name on our roll," they need not worry, as this delicious feast of strong ale, stale bread, and "flesh from the beasts that stalk us in the night" wasn't made for them. [Varangian Way was also released with a bonus "Director's Cut CD/DVD" that included a 'Single Edit' of the track "To Holmgard and Beyond" as well as a series of videos that feature material from Battle Metal filmed both live and in the studio.]

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