Ensiferum Live at The Gramercy, NYC 12/5/2009
Review by Alan Gilkeson
I’m still amazed by this rise in the Pagan Metal thing the past few years, and even more so by the rise in Metal in general. When I decided to check out Ensiferum at the Gramercy theater in NYC, I figured there would be a small crowd, 50 or 60 loyal Metalheads, and a nice intimate time. Of course, I had never been to the Gramercy, which turned out to be quite a large venue compared to the average live setting on the club tour circuit, so imagine my surprise when we walk up to the place to witness a line around the block and literally hundreds of people waiting to get in. I guess I’m still shell shock from the 90’s. In those days I remember going to see bands like Iced Earth and Jag Panzer along with twenty other people willing to brave the New York City wind chill to watch a band play on stages made of milk crates. Nowadays, almost unknown bands from Finland are packing theaters with four or five hundred people. Kudos to Ensiferum, sticking around the scene long enough to build a worldwide following. When I met up with the guys before the show, founder Markus Toivenen spoke with a sense of pride about how far the band has come, and to be sitting on a tour bus in New York City, headlining a successful tour, seemed a million miles away from the bands early days, where line up changes and a slight Metal scene seemed to plague their chances of ascendancy at every turn.
A North American conglomerate took opening slots, featuring popular locals Martyrd, melodic Death Metal Canadians Blackguard, and the Roman themed Ex-Deo from Quebec. Though it’s quite hilarious that the Roman empire would take an opening slot for a bunch of pagans, Blackguard was the opener with the most energy, slashing through a bunch of original tunes with electric presence and powerful melody. Their vocalist, Paul Ablaze, is a first rate front man, engaging and charismatic, there’s a future for any band he’s stands ahead of.
But clearly, it was Ensiferum the people came out to see. Attired in war paint and kilts on a sword and Viking adorned stage, their grand entrance was met by a cavalcade of cheers as they jumped into opener ‘From Afar’. The magic of Ensiferum is in their mastery of the gang vocal. With most bands the group vocal never seems to come off that well in the live setting, mainly because most of the band can’t really sing and the gang vocal is a studio creation. However, Ensiferum are masters of re-creating this exalted energy. Just as on record, the power of their songs lie in the epic choruses they recreate live with seamless power. This recipe continues song after song, ripping melodious choruses, with the crowd singing along. Tunes like ‘Twilight Tavern’, ‘One More Magic Potion’, and ‘Battle Song’ are first rate live setting masterpieces, engrossing and brilliant all at once.
A sucker for creative front men, I felt that Petri Lindroos lacked inspiration, sort of blending in with the backing elements of the band (Emmi Silvennoinen on keys and Janne Parvianen on drums), while Sami Hinkka and his six string bass and Markus Toivenen and his mighty Jackson seem to draw all the energy and attention. At the moment, Petri lacks the ability to make the kid leaning on the back wall feel like he’s the center of the show, nor does he really engage the audience in a manner that makes the moment bigger than it is. So while the songs are great and the musical performance is awesome, they are still missing that magical moment that separates the great bands from the rest of them, where that connection between the band and their fans raises to a crescendo of almost holy unity.
1. By The Dividing Stream / From Afar
2. Token of Time
4. Stone Cold Metal
5. Heathen Throne
6. Twilight Tavern
7. Eternal Wait
9. Treacherous Gods
10. The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II)
11. Lai Lai Hei
12. Into Battle
13. One More Magic Potion
15. Hero In A Dream
16. White Storm
17. Battle Song
Official website: www.ensiferum.com