Company: Metal Blade Release: 2015 Genre: Heavy, Folk Reviewer: Greg Watson
Seamlessly blending styles and sounds
Referring to themselves as "melodic folk metal", Finnish outfit Ensiferum are part of a genre that gets unceremoniously overlooked. With a sound that is a mix of a LOTR soundtrack, some Children of Bodom, and old Celtic Frost, Ensiferum prove with "One Man Army" that they are tired of getting overlooked and are delivering a straight punch to your face to get you to notice them. This album is packed with so much aggression, groove and epic backing vocals that Conan would listen to a few tracks before uttering "Crom, I thank you for delivering this to me!"
The opening track easily sounds like it could appear in any fantasy or sci-fi movie set in the middle ages, with lush strings and a very traditional pace. Then "Axe of Judgment" comes in and cleaves through the sinews and muscles of your neck like a guillotine dropping on a poor peasant who stole a piece of bread. Resplendent with blast beats, galloping guitars, face melting solos and a marching drum beat, this track kicks the album off in proper style and makes you forget that the word "folk" is even associated with these gentlemen. "Heathen Horde" follows next with an opening melody that makes you feel as though you're about to march into battle. Midway through the song, the band shifts gears to a very beautiful acoustic piece. The use of the background vocals on this track just add to the overall epic quality. "One Man Army", the title track, hits next like a catapult hurtling flaming death upon advancing forces. This track has some incredible guitar work; the solo at around the two minute mark had my jaw on the floor. With a very thrash influenced groove, this track makes you want to destroy the closest thing to you. "Burden of the Fallen" is another folksy interlude that is almost like a palate cleanser, getting you ready for the next course of metal to be served. This track is haunting and mesmerizing, it made me feel as though I was hiking through the Scottish highlands on an incredibly sunny day. Then there's a tiny vocal portion of talking that rounds the track out. "Warrior Without A War" is probably one of the most epic tracks on the album, relating the tale of a warrior awaiting the next conflict to come around so he can spring back into action. The background vocals are their most theatric and inspiring on this track. The music is pretty straight to the point on this one. "Cry For The Earth Bounds" is as close as the band comes to a ballad, if you can even consider it a ballad. Again the backing vocals soar on this track and a female vocalist appears, providing a bit of a softer quality to the track. "Two of Spades" is up next and it's one of the more interesting tracks on the album. It opens up with a monster intro, fast and unrelenting. Then as the track moves on, the backing riff turns into a riff that you could easily dance a jig to. Then the insanity begins. The guitar goes from a folksy jig to an almost disco sounding pace with a very dancy keyboard in the background before returning to the folky riff with the chants reminding me of the part from Army of Darkness where Ash is training Arthur's men and has them chanting "Hoo, Ahhh, Haa". Then all of a sudden the ferocity of the opening returns to close out the track. This is Ensiferum at their finest, seamlessly blending styles and sounds into one incredible soundscape.
I have been going track by track up to this point but honestly, here is where I'm stopping the breakdown. The rest of the album contains what I've covered up to this point, with one exception. The track "Neito Pohjolan" sounds like what I would describe as a Finnish attempt at a country-western song. It's odd, somewhat out of place and incredibly brilliant. It just shows the versatility that the band possesses and they can actually do a pretty solid country track. The album ends with a spate of bonus tracks, the first being a cover of "Rawhide" which is both really fun and kind of wacky to hear. It's definitely something different and Ensiferum are nothing if not different. The production on the album lives up to the multi-dimensional sound the band possesses and allows the listener to hear everything and keep things crisp and clean. Overall, this album really caught me by surprise and each time I listen to it, I catch something I didn't hear before. If you can get past the repetitiveness of the tracks as far as their structure goes, you will thoroughly enjoy this album and forget that the band consider themselves folk metal.
"One Man Army" proves that Ensiferum aren't afraid to carry this genre on their backs and will do so carving a path of destruction and savagery on their way to victory!
About this Writer: Greg Watson // Greg Watson has been hooked on the loud and heavy sounds since the summer of 1994 when he first heard the opening notes of "Operation: Mindcrime" by Queensryche. Since then his tastes have expanded and grown like the ever evolving heavy metal tree of genres. He has been an active member of Maximum Metal off and on for 10 years. In his spare time, Greg enjoys deciding the fate of his loyal subjects in the realm of Skyrim and secretly playing air keyboard to "Separate Ways" by Journey when no one is watching. He currently resides in Roanoke, VA with his wife and his metal wannabe beagle.
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