Ensiferum – From Afar

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Reviewed: December 2009
Released: 2009, Spinefarm
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Hanntu

With Jari Maenpaa suffering from chronic CDS*, it’s been a relatively barren year for those fans who anxiously need their fix of new Viking/folk metal and were checking Blabbermouth every 5 minutes for news of Wintersun. Will Ensiferum save the day at this late stage in the year?
Mmm. FROM AFAR definitely on the good side of average, and in view of their previous output, it’s bigger, louder, and more ambitious in many ways. The album runs the range from ‘quirky’ to ‘occasionally awesome’ to ‘mostly solid’. The most noticeable thing that even casual Ensiferum fans will pick up on is the increased usage of keyboards and synths – making for a superficially more ‘epic’ feel on FROM AFAR. With Ensiferum’s liberal use of ‘traditional’ instruments like horns, fiddles, accordions, acoustic guitar etc, there are is some genuinely good display of musicianship on this album.
What’s lacking is mostly in the Lindroos department. I was disappointed with Norther’s last album, N, and that was down to the lacklustre riffs and mediocre vocals. Unfortunately, Petri brings this to Ensiferum too. Although FROM AFAR is nowhere near N levels of suckiness, it’s taking the first steps down that road. Frustratingly, although I’m trying not to do so, it’s impossible not to compare between Maenpaa and Petri, and although I’m not one of your Maenpaa fanboys, it’s not a stretch for me to say that I preferred Maenpaa-era Ensiferum to this new watered-down version. The riffs seldom show anything above average (albeit well-played) levels of imagination, and the harsh vocals aren’t convincing either. How could they be, with some really unimaginative lyric-writing from whoever’s doing them (Toivonen, most probably)? On the flip-side, although the lyrics for the clean vocals and female vocals aren’t much better, they’re a whole lot more interesting.
It’s unnecessary to do a song-by-song review for FROM AFAR, although ‘Stone Cold Metal’ throws in a great little surprise that fulfils the ‘quirkiness’ quota, and which brought a genuine smile to my face. FROM AFAR is a great-sounding album from veterans of the genre, it’s a good length and will probably be a blast played on stage; unfortunately, it lacks imagination in the riff-department, made all the more disappointing knowing the calibre of musicians in the Ensiferum camp. A solid slab of Viking/power/folk/melodic death metal nonetheless.


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Track Listing:
01. By The Dividing Stream
02. From Afar
03. Twilight Tavern
04. Heathen Throne
05. Elusive Reaches
06. Stone Cold Metal
07. Smoking Ruins
08. Tumman Virran Taa
09. The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II)

Petri Lindroos – Harsh Vocals, Guitars
Markus Toivonen – Guitars, Acoustic Guitars, Banjo, Clean Vocals, Backing
Sami Hinkka – Bass, Clean Vocals, Backing Vocals
Emmi Silvennoinen – Keyboards, Hammond, Backing Vocals
Janne Parviainen – Drums, Shaman Drum