Originally written by Ross Main.
There is a lot to be gained from setting the scene and introducing an album properly, particularly if you are so hot on being labeled as “heroic folk metal.” Ensiferum are a band who know the score when it comes to crafting those early images in your mind. Something magical lurks at the forefront of an Ensiferum album that can be likened to the calm before the storm, but in reality conjures such excitement and anticipation that when all hell finally breaks loose, you can finally kick back and enjoy.
With that said, after the tranquil acoustic melodies of the opener to this year’s From Afar album tease you into near submission, only a footprint on your face can be found when the barely contained title track finally tramples over the pieces of page one like a raging orchestra of wildebeast; thrashing and crashing a path to their destination with very little regard for anyone’s safety. Classic Ensiferum from the get go, the drums cover all definitions of the word “rampant” and the guitars take off in a palm-muted blitz, but it’s the extra symphonic dimension, prominent from the get go that promises this album is going to be nothing short of epic. Layers of melody appear from all corners of the mix, carrying the same brunt of energy through to the conclusion of one of the band’s finest tracks to date. Already it’s time for a moment of reflection.
With Wintersun’s more than ironically entitled Time album suffering a slightly humorous and lengthy spell of problems ranging from last years insufficient computer power to Jari Mäenpää’s “apartment problems,” “writer’s block” and further technological problems, the way for Ensiferum’s new record is paved in gold amongst the die-hard fan base who can only wait for Mäenpää to try turning it off and on again. But with the release of some quite frankly astonishing folk/viking efforts this year including Týr’s sing-a-long By The Light Of The Northern Star and Equilibrium’s grandiose Sagas, competition in the general genre is not to be taken lightly.
Just as well From Afar is a developed masterpiece of hijinks from under the band’s own Northern Star; more melodic than an ice cream truck rally and more epic than your version of how the world began.
Continuing with “Twilight Tavern,” that killer guitar tone takes back the reigns of the melodic work, in a more familiar bare-bone style. Undeniable are the riffs and harmonizing along with those trademark twiddly lead phrases that go so well under the band’s harsh commanding vocal leads. Vocal standards are generally higher than ever before, with a powerful cast of backing voices accompanying Peter Lindroos, including on almost tear-jerking and under-repeated section of female vocals performed by now permanent keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen.
“Stone Cold Metal” is one of the album’s stronger tracks and continues to develop the sound of this new record, utilizing the stormy symphonic levels before riding unexpectedly into wild west territory, slamming the saloon doors in the face of Desperados’ “My Gun and Me” with a ludicrously kick ass interlude. Effortless dabbling on the honky-tonk piano and dust-blown strings before it’s brought back to the chorus with a couple of ripping solos – one of which is played on a banjo.
But if that isn’t enough for you, whilst the punchy structures of tracks like “Elusive Reaches” are happy to cram as much guitar-play and vocal arrangements in as possible, so are the extended monoliths “Heathen Throne” and “The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II),” calming down only after ten minutes each to play out their finales for another two. Not a second is left ill-considered in either part.
Whilst it is debatable that Ensiferum can or ever will top the self-titled debut and even 2004’s Iron from Mäenpää’s era in the band, Markus Toivonen has approached the task in the best way possible this time, concentrating on developing their musical technology, upgrading their weaponry and creating an untouchable battle-shield around them as they remain stationed in the core of their beloved sound, where things can only go from strength to strength.