Released: 2012, Spinefarm Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Like a good book, folk/Viking/battle metal requires you to some extent suspend disbelief, to ignore the look-at-me sights and sounds of modern life, and instead become drawn in to tales of warriors, raging wars, and a time when unkempt was the magazine-look. For some this is certainly harder than others, which is perhaps why the genre has generated the most fervent fans and mockery in equal spades.
Within this, Ensiferum have long been leaders in what they deem ‘heroic folk metal’, and even captured the ear of the average-joe metal fan due to their speed and technicality. Much is still made of the departure of vocalist Jari Mäenpää and replacement Petri Lindroos, even after eight loooonnnng years, which shows in what high regard those early albums are held.
Ignoring that though, the most notable off-the-cuff thing about new album Unsung Heroes is that it feels as though Ensiferum maybe left the handbrake on in the studio. Unsung Heroes does slow and acoustic, and mid-paced in equal measure but it would seem that fast and furious alla From Afar is on the backburner.
There’s still some cavalry-charge heavy about though as in the thrash gallop and whip-crack riffs of ‘Retribution Will Be Mine’, which makes me want to saddle up and man-handle a sword, and the jaunty, but will dance-a-jig-on-your-grave ‘Pohjola’. In this same bracket is the triumphant ‘In My Sword I Trust’ which has a rousing, if not slightly cringey, chorus that will have crowds raising their tankards, and perhaps Unsung Heroes’ strongest track ‘Burning Leaves’. Here Petri’s harsh vocal rasps comfortably against traditional instrumentation, and the clean vocals of Sami and Markus in the chorus never overstretch themselves but add that extra emotional dimension.
Personally I was less enamoured with the fairly repetitive ground of the acoustic numbers such as the nice, but thoroughly unexciting, ‘Celestial Bond, even with its faultless female harmonies. Similarly, ‘Last Breath’ is a folky-epic that would make a suitable soundtrack to a battle sequence where they pan back over the bodies and ponder the error of their ways, but didn’t hold my attention.
Apart from sounding a bit like a TV company’s scene-setting sounds CD at its start and sights-of-the-marketplace middle, the 17-minute long ‘Passion Proof Power’ is a stunning finale that continues to build in an almost operatically-dramatic style. Couple this with some surprisingly prog moments and flashes of technicality and you have the kind of epic that the folk/Viking genre would draw swords for.
Ensiferum may be inspired by the past, but these Finns are clearly looking to the future with Unsung Heroes. I said at the start about suspending disbelief but actually the album does that work for you – although I suggest you suspend your preconceptions as well. As a band, Ensiferum are already well lauded, and Unsung Heroes simply enhances another part of that reputation. Plus it’ll make a good soundtrack to your running around shouting about taking an arrow to the knee.
Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs