Ensiferum @ O2 Islington Academy
18th September 2012
Review by Rhiannon Marley
Photography by Andre Purvis
If you’re a miserable human being, don’t go to see Ensiferum!
I worked that out during the 2011 Ugly World Tour, on which they were joined by fellow Scandinavians Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom, and tonight, I couldn’t wait to see if Ensiferum would slay the crowd again – this time, in leading role!
Angel tube station was quickly sorted out by following the thread of t-shirts with Nordic-looking blokes in helmets! Early-comers were winding around the O2 Islington from half 5, even though doors opened at 7pm! But fans were happy enough, slumped against walls and bannisters outside, finishing both their pints and their face-painting!
Despite having just released their 5th studio album, five-piece Amoral (3.5) start off the night and have only existed in their current line-up since 2009. Perhaps they’re still finding their feet, or maybe it’s something to do with having just taken on a new guitarist.
But the beardless wonders seemed almost unsure of themselves and awkward, and their demeanour was pretty flat. Frontman Ari Koivunen doesn’t have too bad a voice, although live, it sounded like he’s been waiting, unsuccessfully, for it to break since he was 12.
The guitars churned out plenty of riff-driven twiddles, with some interesting melodic power-hooks, but there were times when it seemed as though band and singer weren’t actually playing the same song.
You could hear influences to the point of being able to sing different lyrics; I found myself wailing along to bits that sounded like dead ringers of Maiden’s ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ and Dream Theater’s ‘Panic Attack’ without so much as a quaver out of time. Catchy, though. Patches in the audience closed up as eager faces craved Vikings.
The vibe underwent crazy upheaval when Ensiferum (4.5) hit the stage.
The Helsinki headliners blasted open an Unsung Heroes-heavy set with new album intro ‘Symbols’ and single ‘In My Sword I Trust’. Bathed in dolly-mixture hues with black stripes over their faces, they slaughtered the crowd with synchronised windmilling, a slew of Celtic riffs and enough chanting to hoarse the throat.
New cuts ‘Burning Leaves’ and ‘Pohjola’ blended with classics ‘From Afar’ and ‘Iron’. Bassist Sami Hinkka flung himself around the sword-laden stage like a lunatic with a spring in his back, hollering at his raucous army below. I thought the beautiful harmonies of title track ‘Unsung Heroes’ were showcased perfectly in the O2 Islington’s intimacy, and the highlight has to be the encore of ‘Twilight Tavern’, ‘Lai Lai Hei’ and ‘Battle Song’.
A spectacular closing rendition of the William Tell Overture, with guitarist Markus Toivonen playing his axe behind his head, covered bases of epic that onlookers didn’t realise existed.
I don’t think I’ve had as much fun at a gig since Maiden at the O2 last August. The audience turned into an electric party, with folk-dancing and jigs in the moshpit! Not only do Ensiferum manage to get under-25s to a real metal gig; they get them hopping on one leg with hands spinning in the air at one.
The whole night was one enormous, beer-swilling and feel-good carnival. What’s more, it was underscored by stunning musicianship and a terrific example of one of the most unique brands of song-writing out there.
You can’t come to an Ensiferum gig without the ability to appreciate metal or enjoy yourself.
You simply lose yourself in their passion, drama and fun and their evocative artistic feast!
Tonight, was one of the best gigs and nights I can remember in a very long time!