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Monday, August 6, 2012

REVIEW: Ensiferum - "Unsung Heroes"

Ensiferum has been pillaging the folk metal world since 1997. They began as a cover band, covering more classic heavy metal tunes from the likes of Megadeth, but luckily for all of us that changed with a solid line-up forming, letting the band lean towards original songs. In 1997 they released their first demo with their folk metal artwork and concept that led them to become the dominating presence that they are today. Ensiferum is well known for their more epic and fantastical album themes, much like any other band considered “Viking” metal out there today, but they manage to consistently keep a deep, heavy feeling to their music. Always emotional, driving, loud, yet epic as hell, Ensiferum has definitely earned their prestigious title as folk metal kings (and queen) with an impressive repertoire of awesome releases. Their new album, Unsung Heroes releasing August 27, 2012, is no exception.

Unsung Heroes starts off with a beautiful instrumental which has a very mellow tone to it. It sets up the album very well, being so peaceful at the start yet growing throughout. My favorite chorus on the album is actually in the very first song, “In My Sword I Trust”, and is probably exactly what you’re thinking it sounds like. Nice layered vocals chanting “in my sword I trust…” and given the band’s name literally means “Sword Bearer”, would you expect anything less? A little too cheesy for you? Then you shouldn’t be listening to folk metal! The clean vocals in this track are fantastic and the riffs and drums are galloping and hard to ignore… definitely understandable why the band chose this track as their first single.
The harsh vocals are still very prominent in the entire album, but I feel as if the clean vocals are used to really drive the songs home. Personally I am a very lyrically focused listener so I appreciate the fact that I can truly feel a song on a higher level other than only a harsh scream. They’ve done a great job at linking the keyboards in with the vocal melodies, especially in tracks like “Unsung Heroes” and “Star Queen (Celestial Bond Part II)” which are a bit slower tracks than the band is known for, but still beautiful works of art, to each their own. I’d say for a band so well known for their epic tales set to heavy and fast folk metal, this album may be a step in a new direction.

The beginning half of the album is definitely the best, they put their strongest foot first. Each song features each band member very well, showing off their honed skills individually. As the album goes on however I feel it does lose its momentum as the songs impress me less and less. The last song is a 17-minute long epic (which I believe to be a new record for the band) that has beautiful moments, but also has a few awkward moments mixed in… like with the voice over. It’s a great concept I just wish the recording sounded a bit more rounded and less like it was recorded in a closet. There is a “phaser” effect throughout this song that really throws me off and makes me uncertain of what the goal was.

The faster, more thrash influenced drumming is definitely lacking in the album, such as the style found in 2007’s album Victory Songs. There are very little moments of double bass from Janne in this new album, though the moments he uses the technique definitely deserve them, I feel as though the album could have used a bit more of his typical hard hitting style. This new, more galloping style, is found more in traditional power metal than anything else… a bad thing? Not at all! I also feel like the guitars are very under-utilized. This band is lucky enough to have some extremely talented guitarists, but the guitar solos and true hard-hitting riffs are too few and far between in this synth-heavy album. On a lighter note, as always, Ensiferum is extremely successful in capturing the bass and keyboards perfectly on recording. I absolutely love how they write their bass melodies to mingle in with the keys. To my ears at least, they are spot on throughout the entire album.

There are moments in this album where I feel completely lost in another, more beautiful, world than ours, and then there are moments where I’m not quite sure what the band was trying to accomplish. All in all though, a great release. This band has managed to release album after album getting rave reviews, and this one should be no exception. As a huge fan of power metal I am definitely excited to see where this band goes in the future. If as I’m predicting they take on a more melodic sound, they will definitely have sunken their metal teeth under my skin, and will have a fan hooked for life.


Rating: 8.5/10


Track Listing:

1. Symbols
2. In My Sword I Trust
3. Unsung Heroes
4. Burning Leaves
5. Celestial Bond
6. Retribution Shall Be Mine
7. Star Queen (Celestial Bond part II)
8. Pohjola
9. Last Breath
10. Passion Proof Power


Current Line-Up:

Markus Toivonen - Guitars, Backing Vocals, Clean Vocals
Sami Hinkka - Bass, Backing Vocals, Clean Vocals
Petri Lindroos - Harsh Vocals, Guitars
Janne Parviainen - Drums
Emmi Silvennoinen - Keyboards, Backing Vocals


Official Website:
http://www.ensiferum.com/

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Reviewed By,
Mattie Jensen