Finnish melodic folk-death metal band Ensiferum has released their sixth studio album through Metal Blade Records, titled One Man Army. The band, which takes it’s name from a Latin word translating to “Sword bearing,” has included 15 aggressive tracks, counting the four bonus tracks, for eager fan consumption.
Overall, One Man Army has several strong points, other then their raw musicianship, which is excellent.
** The disc has a very nice mix and master job; it’s well engineered with a nice sound and instrument balance. As an example, in “Heathen Horde”, there are some nice bass guitar slides: about two-thirds of the way through the song, a listener will really begin to notice the bass work. Another place to enjoy the bass is during the eleven-minute epic “Descendants, Defiance, Domination”, where Sami Hinkka has some room to move, experiment, and add melodic or harmonic balance and touch. The main lead vocal is gruff, slightly raspy, and borders on a hatecore scream in spots. Overall, the disc presents itself as mid-tempo, extreme metal with a folky overtone or touch. It’s apparently not markedly different from the band’s previous presentations, so the disc isn’t going to alienate people.
** The arrangement is top-shelf. Fans are treated to great layering of instruments into parts, and arrangement of most parts into songs. Some of the ideas are a little terse, but for the most part, it’s a logical flow that most fans of extreme (folk) type metal will “understand” and enjoy. Some of the abrupt idea shifts may be deliberate, to be discordant or unsettling. The band really hits stride in their sparingly-used thrash passages though: you can hear the musicians in their least-contrived, or most basic form.
** Even when the keyboard isn’t lending a folk overtone to a song, it’s adding some other character or color, and it’s not so loud or overdone (unlike the AOR genre, where keyboards can get really overbearing). Emmi Silvennoinen expertly adds a full synth orchestra to most songs. What makes this different from other folk metal? For starters, almost all of the ‘folky’ stuff is keyboard patches. There’s no violinist, band playing along with an orchestra, nontraditional percussion, or so on. From the standpoint of keyboard work, it’s fantastic. It can also be mimetic: Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir both really spearheaded and pioneered the synth orchestra bent, and Cradle of Filth took it to eleven. It’s wonderful to hear, but it’s not amazingly innovative – does it have to be?
Ensiferum has some song-to-song variety: “Axe of Judgement” is a blast-beating, hyperspeed, modern death metal tune, and “Rawhide” is a humorous take on country-western. “Neito Pohjolan” and it’s facsimile, the ‘English male vocal’ reprise, “Candor and Lies”, goes full-out country-western in places, with slide guitar, military-style snare drum, and copious melody. “Neito Pohjolan” is a jarring joy to listen to in such an unfamiliar setting. Between those two extremes, though, there’s a good degree of homogeneity. Some highlights include the first track, “March of War”, which is very cinematic and sounds like something heard in a movie theater. There’s some nice gang vocal work in both verses and choruses in “Heathen Horde”. A capella choral lines and vocal track doubling in “Cry For the Earth Bounds” are interesting. “Two of Spades” dispenses with the folk jag for a little while, and oddly meshes a retro late 80s speed metal tune to a swanky 70s disco interlude, complete with cowbell and hand-claps.
If there’s anything to critique about One Man Army, it’s that over half of the instrumentation is hardly “analog” for a band who marqueed this disc as an “as analog as possible” recording. The drum kit sounds triggered, and the synth or keyboard work is all electronic: both of these elements are absolutely vital. Without drums and keyboards, you have no Ensiferum. If bands could agree on what “recording analog” meant, the term would have more then ‘passing fad’ staying power. Other then the “analog” tagline, some of the melodic, slower passages are reminiscent of ballads and can get a little tiring. It morphs into background music at some point; it doesn’t really incite that fiery passion to get up and rock out. The homogeneity of the tunes just sort of blends in with the background after a while.
To this day, metal has some of the best fantasy art. One Man Army‘s beautifully painted cover art, by Gyula Havancsak, features two upright warriors in what appear to be werewolf or bear skins, walking across a mostly-charred battlefield, with the ghostly or wispy image of a long-haired warrior above them. It’s nice to see that bands are still putting effort in to finding and using quality cover art.
Ensiferum’s One Man Army is recommended for fans of the band, fans of the folk metal genre, fans of Scandinavian and Viking metal, and for anyone who appreciates well-layered extreme music. Go for it!
March of War
Axe of Judgement
One Man Army
Burden of the Fallen
Warrior Without a War
Cry for the Earth Bounds
Two of Spades
My Ancestors’ Blood
Descendants, Defiance, Domination
Rawhide (Bonus Track)
Warmetal (Barathrum cover) (Bonus Track)
Candour and Lies (Bonus Track)
Bonus Song (Bonus Track)
Sami Hinkka – Bass Guitar / Vocals
Petri Lindroos – Guitar / Vocals
Markus Toivonen – Guitar / Vocals
Janne Parviainen – Drums
Emmi Silvennoinen – Keyboards / Backing Vocals