Ensiferum have never been a band to stick to a singular sound. Despite being rooted in folk metal, each album explores different routes within the sub genre and beyond. With their sixth album, One Man Army, on the horizon, they once again have set off in search of a new type of sound while still remaining distinctly “Ensiferum.”
The music is perhaps a bit less folk and more metal than some may associate Ensiferum with. Once you get by the March of War, the soft folky intro, it turns to a full metal style attack. Axe of Judgement doesn’t waste a second and charges on, much like a person holding an “Axe of Judgement” would most likely be prone to do. When I said “less folk” I of course don’t mean it’s absent, but it is much more incorporated into the music rather than sitting on top of it. This helps to give some of the songs a much grander feel.
The big group choruses are ever present (as are the extended death metal growls, One Man Army’s intro will make your throat hurt in sympathy) making tracks like Heathen Horde sound satisfyingly horde like. The chorus melody’s themselves are as catchy as you would expect from Ensiferum, it wont take more than a couple of play-through’s until you’re ready to sing along live (just wait until a room full of drunken folk metal fans try to nail the intro harmonies in Cry for the Earth Bounds, it will be special)
As ever, there’s always that madcap element that comes with folk metal. In a sub-genre where self-awareness is as important as musicianship, little bursts of fun keep us all down to earth. Two of Spades with it’s sudden descent into some funky disco grooves is our grounder, and it is excellent. As much as I loved the epic sound of Cry for the Earth Bounds and the heaviness of Axe of Judgement, I knew as soon as the cowboy sounding disco funk (new sub-genre; you’re welcome, world) kicked in it stood a firm chance of being song of the album.
Once you see the track lengths, it won’t surprise you to learn Descendants, Defiance, Domination is the epic of the album, yet it doesn’t feel as long as it actually is. I suppose that’s the mark of a good long song. It shows Ensiferum have achieved what they set out to do musically on the album, through the track and indeed the album as a whole, moods and speeds twist and turn with the music never staying the same too long, but just long enough that it sticks in your head.
Despite being forced to listen to this on an old laptop due to a slight hard drive meltdown, the sound manages to remain strong. It’s no surprise really when you find that Anssi Kippo was producing. The band mention wanting to sound like a band playing live and they achieve this, you don’t get the impression of each member playing individually and then pieced together, nor do you get the impression of a lot of computer manipulation. How the recording actually took place I don’t know, but the desired effect is achieved at least.
Once the official album comes to an end with Neito Pohjolan, a track that will simultaneously confuse you while make you picture Cowboys riding into the sunset, we enter the realms of the bonus track.
There’s a good deal of bonus features this time, Unfortunately, when the cover of Rawhide kicks in you’ll struggle to get to the end of them, mainly because you’ll be on Amazon trying to find a Rawhide DVD collection (linked here to save you time, you’re welcome, did you know Clint Eastwood was in this?). If you managed not to travel back to the Old West, the bands cover of Barathrum’s Warmetal awaits you followed by the English version of Neito Pohjolan. With all respect though, bugger those songs, we have a silly bonus song to close off the bonus features and we love silly bonus songs. Serving as a pisstake of the questiest of questy bands, it also throws a subtle “fuck you” to those clamouring for “MORE VIKING METAL” from Ensiferum.
As you may have gleaned, there’s a surprising Western feel present through a lot of the album which makes a stark change from folk metals usual basis of Scandinavian mountain tops. It’s a welcome addition though, the band said they were taking things to the next level and breaking away from the folk metal pack is one way to do that. Obviously the root of the sound is still in their heritage, but this addition is a bonus.
If you find folk metal a bit too silly, give this is a shot. It has the best flavours of folk metal without straying into the ridiculous. There are undoubtedly people who will complain about a lack of Jari, mainly because it’s metal and people like to complain about bands they like, but the rest of Ensiferum’s fan base are going to be more than pleased with this new offering.
One Man Army is out on the 24th February via Metal Blade, find the band here on Facebook for more.