Archive for Moonsorrow

Review: Ensiferum

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2012 by Magadh

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

Review: Downfall of Gaia

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by Magadh

Downfall of Gaia Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes Metal Blade

At some trying point in history, a famous white guy (now long dead) said something like, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” I don’t know how true it was then, but I assure you that it’s been such a time around the bunker for the last couple of weeks. Perhaps a fortnight ago the autolock on one of the outer doors malfunctioned allowing one of the local zombie hordes access to some of the peripheral cells of the bunker. Of course, the secondary system kicked in, and when the motion sensors were tripped half a dozen claymores went off, reducing the zombies to feculent grey mist. This all happened while Mrs. Mags and I were on a little trek to one of the local settlement to try to barter some of our soilent purple for some electronics that we needed. Not surprisingly, our return to find the peripheral cells covered in a fine patina of zombie remains resulted in the following exchange:

Mrs. Mags: Did you remember to lock the outer door when we left?

Magadh: Of course I did. I did it just after I finished loading the food cubes into the atv.

Mrs. Mags: Well, somebody forgot to lock it and it wasn’t me.

Magadh: So what are you saying?

Mrs. Mags: What do you think I’m saying?

After a few more iterations it became clear that I was going to be spending the next few days in the cells with a high pressure hose getting things squared away. Ahh, marriage.

Of course, all of this happened while the Captain was out of the picture. He was in one of the local trading bazaars the other week and heard some deranged prophet gibbering about heading to the east to find a promised land of peace and freedom. Needless to say, he was all over that like a cheap suit. The last I saw, he was headed into the mountain passes wearing an old Hawaiian shirt can carrying a gallon jug of margaritas. I expect he’ll be back any day now.

Anyway, normal service is now being resumed. I’ve been meaning for a while to do a piece on the German dark crust band Downfall of Gaia. They have been on the radar for a bit and since they’ve just had a record come out on Metal Blade, it seemed like an appropriate time to say a few words. DoG come from the German city of Hannover which, as their bio on Metal Blade’s site appositely points out, is not one of the real fashion spots in terms of the German music scene. Many people (including myself) are aware of one and only one band from that particular locality: The Scorpions. True to form, DoG rock like a hurricane, although in a rather different musical than Rudolf Schenker and co. They’ve been around since at least 2008, when the released a self-titled demo. The four songs included presented an interesting mixture of blistering, crusty thrash, slower breakdowns that bore a certain similarity to bands like Tragedy, and acoustic sections that would not have been out of place on Discouraged Ones-era Katatonia. This release set a pattern which extends to their entire body of work: acoustic elements, some of which are quite extended, are used to set up crushingly heavy central riffs.

On Epos, released in 2010, this approach was sharpened and refined. The acoustic intros were rather more lush, and they tended lead into passages that drew the best out of blackened doom without giving in to it’s boring excesses. They also began to experiment with rather longer songs, with “Zerfall” (“Collapse”) running just over ten minutes. Long songs can be a good thing, assuming a band has the ideas to support the length. This can be a hard quality to pin down, but you can tell it’s happening when you find yourself getting lost in the music, rather than wondering when the song is going to end. The songs on Epos do a good job of drawing the listener in to a dark world and keeping them engaged, which is a real sign of success in a cut lasting 8-10 minutes.

DoG followed Epos with a split with Hearts of Emperors released in February of last year. What was said above about Epos holds a fortiori in this case. DoG’s contribution to the split comprises two cuts totaling over 20 minutes. It is common for bands in this style to try to extinguish the last embers of your soul, and two 9+ minute songs, if done poorly, could probably accomplish that, although not in the way intended. Continuing to fill out their style, DoG’s cuts on the split sound like a crustier version of Moonsorrow, sliding at points into a sound reminiscent of Counterblast.

Earlier this year it was announced that they had signed to Metal Blade. This in itself was a bit surprising, to me at least. Perhaps it is because I am so old, but I still associate Metal Blade with all those cookie cutter, Brian Slagel produced bands from the 1980s. They seem to have expanded their outlook, quite impressively in this case. DoG’s latest release, Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes, came out a couple of weeks ago and has hardly left my disc player since it arrived in the bunker. The seven songs comprised therein represent the fulfillment of an arc of stylistic development from their demo. The tunes retain the soft/loud dynamic, and they still do an excellent job of creating atmosphere. The improvements in Suffocating are twofold. On the one hand, the recording is rather better than on previous releases, given a sharpness and immediacy to their music that was somewhat muffled on earlier releases. On the other, they have managed to rein in their arranging to a certain degree. Although they still do some pretty long songs (two cuts clock in at over ten minutes) their songs have a more precise shape and approach. They seemed to have added a bit of black metal influence, although it may have been present in earlier releases without having been highlighted by the mix. In any case, this is an absolutely crushing disc. Fans of bands like Neurosis will enjoy with, as will those who enjoy blackened crust on the model of Hammers. Find one at your local market before the snows come and the passes close for another season.

Those looking for a bit of instant gratification can find some sustenance here.

Magadh