THE VARANGIANS

History is filled with tons of drama, blood, gore, and probably more blood. It is no wonder that heavy metal draws on history as inspiration for some of the greatest songs of all time. I can really only highlight one example, but suffice to say, history is filled with badasses, archvillians, and crazy stories. Just turn a Ken Burn’s documentary on and crank up the tunes!

The Varangian was the name given to a group of river vikings that ruled the Kievan Rus’ (modern day east Russian Federation) and developed trade routes from Scandinavia to the Byzantine Empire. The Varangians offered their mercenary service to the Byzantine empire and even comprised an elite group of bodyguards of important byzantine officials. Who wouldn’t feel safe with a group of river vikings wielding axes by your side? The Varangians served as the impetus for trade disputes, wars, and cultural sharing that bridged the east and west through goods and services. They were also the source of inspiration for the Easterlin in Tolkien’s middle earth and a platform for a dozen games, albums, and fantasy novels.

Turisas is a Finnish folk metal band who took inspiration from these medieval traders and made not one but two records around their plights. The Varangian Way, released in 2007 details the journey from Holmgård (North west Russia) all the way to Constantinople. The band’s 2011 record Stand Up and Fight dealt with the service of the Varangian’s in the service of the Byzantine Empire. Before the band would be more general with its battle themes, The Varangian Way is more personal, discussing small scenes of the journey from something as exciting as battling rapids to mundane things like crewmen vomiting over the side.

A terrible noise heard from far away
Drowning all other sounds
No cry of the birds nor voice of men
Just an awful groan

Silence fell over the men
As the river seemed to end
Then…

Clouds of spray, Pechenegs prey
The Insatiable One is hungry today
Avoid the rocks for all you’re worth
Whirlpools gaze from the depths of earth

Like dominoes six locks will fall
One after another
The World Serpent will rise from the silt
And poison the sky

Clouds of spray, Pechenegs pray
The Insatiable One is hungry today
The violent current swept Karl away
One mistake- with your life you pay

Silence fell over the men
As the river seemed to…

A sight they had dreamed of
Now opened in front of them
Fraught with danger and travail
The river came to an end

Thanks Turisas, your music makes me want to go back in time and jump on a questing barge down the river to Byzantium.

THE VARANGIANS
Source: Wikipedia
Key Dates: 700 – 1200 AD

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