Although I have been a fan for only 4 years, Ensiferum quickly became one of my top three all-time favorite Metal bands and essentially my introduction to the Folk Metal genre. They also are probably the first band with truly harsh vocals that I enjoyed. Up to that point, if there was more than a hint of growling, I usually didn’t like it (exceptions: Testament, Celtic Frost, Venom). Here they are back with album #5, Unsung Heroes, and number 3 with Petri Lindroos as the lead man. This album is one of my most anticipated works being released this year. I heard the song Burning Leaves a while back and although the song is definitely Ensiferum, it didn’t blow me away like I expected it to. The remainder of the album offers some of the same, some of what I expected, as well as some truly different work from the Finnish band.
I found that From Afar took a while to grow on me, whereas most of the Ensiferum albums were pretty much instant likes. Unsung Heroes is proving to be much the same: an album that I am going to have to listen to a bit before I decide where it ranks with respect to other “Sword Bearer” albums. After only a couple of weeks with it, I definitely have a greater appreciation for it than I did on the first listen.
Unsung Heroes starts off with a short, orchestral, folky intro, Symbols, just as is expected from Ensiferum. It is the proper way to begin an Ensiferum album. The first true song is In My Sword I Trust, mid-paced with that classic Ensiferum guitar work by Markus Toivonen, instantly recognizable riffing and melody. Outstanding drumming is all over the place and exemplary bass work that you can actually hear. This one has an excellent sing-along chorus that is going to be great live. There is a bit of an orchestral middle part, but they quickly bring back the folk melody in the guitar. This is a truly exceptional Ensiferum song. Following is the title track, somewhat slower paced, again with the folk-influenced melody in the guitars. I am tempted to call this song epic sounding, though I know that description has become a bit of a cliche. The instrumentation and choral vocals sound huge. The orchestral parts and organ on this song are gigantic. Nicely done. Burning Leaves is next, again a mid-paced, guitar led, folky kind of tune. This song has been out for over a month now, but I don’t think it was the right song to release as a taste. It is not a bad song by any means, and perhaps the band thought it was representative of the remainder of the work here. As I understand, it isn’t the first ‘single’ from the album either. The folk melody in the guitars, behind the harsh vocals, is really the most compelling part of the song, as in most of Ensiferum’s songs. It seems the more I listen to it, the better it gets.
Celestial Bond is the part where they sort of lose me on the album. It is a nicely written, perfectly executed, and beautiful song, but it isn’t very Metal. I guess it still represents the folk elements, but frankly doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I thought I was listening to something from Iron when Retribution Shall Be Mine blasted out of my speakers, truly an “old school” type of Ensiferum tune. It is a burst of speed, aggressiveness, and melody – and even offers a keyboard solo! Pretty cool for the band and not something I remember them doing previously. There is excellent lead work on the song as well. Star Queen (Celestial Bond Part II) is one of those slower paced songs, much in the vein of Lost in Despair. Again, a well-written song with flawless execution. The Finnish sung Pohjola ramps it up just a bit, with some very speedy parts accompanied by a big chorus. Different interpretations abound, but the name seems to be referring to the northern part of Finnland and there are references to it found in the Kalevala. This song is definitely on the epic side of things with the orchestrations and the chorus. Last Breath comes across as a melancholy story of a warrior dying after a battle. Outstanding lyrics about fighting for freedom and for country, an ethos to which I can relate. The song itself is deep in the folk part of Folk Metal, with the melody, flutes, and violin. Once again they use big orchestras and chorus. It would be a fitting end to most albums, but not for Ensiferum.
Up to this point, we have well over 40 minutes of music, typical of an album any more. Ensiferum, however, go well beyond that with the 17 1/2 minute Passion Proof Power. This song explores some areas that I don’t think the band has been in before – at least not on a recording. They take a few minutes to build, introducing elements bit by bit, increasing the density and complexity of the song. By around the 4 minute mark, they really get into almost a Progressive Metal mode, ebbing and flowing in mood and level of execution. They use different song structure than we normally hear, to include time signatures and keyboard soloing once again. About halfway through, they really kick things into a higher gear for a while, giving us a taste of their instrumental prowess and their excellent songwriting abilities. The last 6 minutes or so, are rehash of the first part of the song, bringing things nicely to a close. Unsung Heroes may have just pushed Vintersorg out of my top position for the year.
Check out Ensiferum’s very cool video for In My Sword I Trust:
Unsung Heroes is simply one of the most superb albums I have heard in 2012. The variety of the affair and the effort the band clearly put into this work is evident in the execution. Ensiferum have only reinforced their standing in my top bands with this album. I highly, highly recommend Unsung Heroes to all fans of Metal.
I hear the sound in a METAL way.