Review: Ensiferum

Ensiferum Unsung Heroes Spinefarm Records

Oh how the mighty have fallen. That was how I was tempted to open this review. Ensiferum’s new disc, Unsung Heroes, has not been getting a lot of love in reviews. As a policy, it’s generally best to position oneself far from the madding crowd and to formulate one’s opinions on the merits of the subject in question. In this case, however, the great unwashed have a point.

For those who don’t know, Ensiferum are (or at their best were) the leading figures purveying a particular kind of Finnish metal. The first band that I can really remember sounding exactly this way were Norther (although people with more immediate familiarity with the scene should feel free to correct me), and for that reason it seemed to sort of fit when I found out that Norther front man Petri Lindroos had joined up with in 2004.

Ensiferum, as had Norther and the also-related Wintersun, play a variety of Viking metal that is more stripped down than many other Finnish bands employing roughly similar stylistic approaches. Less synth-ridden than Children of Bodom, lacking the bouncy folksiness of bands like Korpiklaani and Finntroll, and about a thousand times quicker to the point than Moonsorrow, Ensiferum’s best tunes combined chunky, heel-damped chugging with a compelling melodicism. For me, it was tunes like this that were the band’s bread and butter. The pace is quick but not blurry. The synth is there, but it’s more like a choir in the background than the circus music interludes that mar most Children of Bodom discs. What was impressive about Ensiferum was that they were so consistent from disc to disc. Iron was great, Victory Songs was better, and From Afar (released in 2009) continued the upward trend.

Sadly, this has not continued with Unsung Heroes. The vast majority of the songs are slow to mid-tempo numbers. This is something that Ensiferum can do well, but they need to be leavened with faster tunes to maintain listener focus. What I think is most galling is not so much that this record involves a certain degree of stylistic shifting. After all, this is a band that has been around in one form or another since 1992. No, what really rankles is that the move seems to have been in the direction of Leaves Eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Farewell Proud Men as much as the next guy (maybe more depending on who is standing nearby), but operatic crooning and drawn out cuts are just not what I’m looking for from Ensiferum.

Having said that, I think it’s also fair to say that this is not a bad record. It’s just not what Ensiferum fans are going to want to hear. Perhaps they can sell themselves to a new niche of the metal consuming audience, but I (and I think most fans of their earlier releases) would have preferred if they would have just kept on with what they had been doing up to this point.

Magadh

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