Ensiferum- A Great Folk Metal Band
Ensiferum are my personal favorite folk metal band, because they don’t sacrifice the metal for the folk. If they just played straightforward heavy metal, they would still be a great band. Here, I’ll take a look at their individual albums and how they compare with each other. Since Ensiferum only have four albums out, I’ll include their EP (“Dragonheads”) and their demo compilation (“1997-1999”) in order to give this a little more length.
The band was formed in Helsinki, Finland in 1995 by Markus Toivonen. He is the band’s guitarist (and current clean vocalist) and the only remaining original member. Original vocalist and a key songwriter, Jari Maenpaa, joined shortly afterwards. He was fired due to a scheduling conflict between the recording of his solo album (“Wintersun”) and touring. The band’s name means “sword bearer” in Latin. The band’s lineup generally consists of two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and a keyboardist. Both Petri Lindroos (the current vocalist) and Jari play guitar in the band alongside Markus. Other notable members include current bassist and clean vocalist Sami Hinkka, drummer Janne Parviainen, and keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen. They consider themselves to be a “heroic folk metal” band.
The band’s debut album is surely their best. There is not a bad song on this thing. The slower tracks are perfectly complemented with faster ones, giving a very well rounded release. The musicianship is very proficient, which is something that can be uncommon in the folk metal genre. “Windrider” and “Hero in a Dream” are two fast songs that are always great to listen to. “Old Man” is my favorite Ensiferum song. The vocals in the chorus are completely clean, and it creates a beautiful effect. On a personal note, this was the very first folk metal album I ever listened to and bought. At that time, I really liked that the band used a more mid-range growl as opposed to a typical death growl. “Ensiferum” is one of the few albums that I would give a perfect score to. The best songs include: “Hero in a Dream”, “Token of Time”, “Old Man”, “Windrider”, “Treacherous Gods”, and “Eternal Wait”. They’re all great, though.
“Iron” really does sound a lot like the debut, except that it’s a little more melodic and grandiose. There are a lot more clean vocalizations, and sometimes they’re even the dominant style on certain songs. It’s not as good as the debut due to the contrast between songs being slightly skewed. Many of the songs are too short, and some feel weaker when placed around longer songs like “Lai Lai Hei” and “Into Battle”. Additionally, the ballads aren’t nearly as good as on the debut. “Tears” is sung entirely by a female vocalist, and it’s quite boring to be honest (despite the shift in singing style). Nevertheless, the album is still a shining star within the folk metal scene. Some of the standouts include: “Iron”, “Sword Chant”, “Tale of Revenge”, “Into Battle”, and “Lai Lai Hei”. “Iron” might be my second favorite from Ensiferum.
“Victory Songs” (2007)
“Victory Songs” is the first full length album to feature Petri Lindroos as the harsh vocalist. While I enjoy their former vocalist more, Petri does very well. One of the issues I have with this album is that the clean vocals suffered a lot after Jari Maenpaa left, Markus and Sami are just not as strong as he is. Aside from the vocals, the music isn’t all that different from what the band had done before. They did lose some intricacy in the riffs and solos, but it’s hardly noticed. The songwriting is still top notch. The best songs include: “Blood is the Price of Glory”, “Deathbringer from the Sky”, “Ahti” and “One More Magic Potion”.
You can read my full review of “Victory Songs” here: http://theheavyreview.hubpages.com/hub/Ensiferum-Victory-Songs-Review
“From Afar” (2009)
“From Afar” is the most recent release from the folk metal band. It’s very similar to “Victory Songs”, but it does build a little on their usual formula. The songs are more complex and multilayered. There’s more orchestration and keyboard prominence, which is sometimes enjoyable and sometimes not. It suffers a little from the same problems as “Iron”. The songs are a little out of place at times, and some of them run for a little too long. “From Afar” is the easiest song to get into, by far. “Smoking Ruins” is like a copy of “The Wanderer” from the previous album but with improved vocals. Even though it’s an acoustic instrumental, I’ve always had a soft spot for “By the Dividing Stream”. It’s their best instrumental. On a different note, this is my favorite cover art from the band. I really like blue album covers, and this is one of my favorites. The best songs are: “By the Dividing Stream”, “From Afar”, “Twilight Tavern”, “Elusive Reaches”, “Stone Cold Metal”, and “Smoking Ruins”.
“Dragonheads” is the only EP in the band’s discography. It’s kind of a hit or miss thing, but when it rocks it rocks hard. There are many great songs like “Warrior’s Quest” and “White Storm”, but there are also boring songs like “Finnish Medley” and “Kalevala Melody”. Some notable aspects of this release is that it is the first entry in the band’s discography to feature Petri Lindroos on vocals (“Victory Songs” was the first full length with him, but this EP came a year before). Two of the songs on the album are from an old demo of theirs; they are “White Storm” and “Warrior’s Quest”. Also notable is the cover of the great Amorphis song, “Into Hiding”. The best songs are: “White Storm”, “Warrior’s Quest”, “Dragonheads”, and “Into Hiding”.
You can read my full review of “Dragonheads” here: http://theheavyreview.hubpages.com/hub/Ensiferum-Dragonheads-EP-Review
“1997-1999” (Demo compilation released in 2005, but recorded in the late 90s)
Surprisingly, many of the songs from the demo are just as great as they are on the debut. The main draw of this release, however, is the two unreleased tracks. Entitled “Frost” and “Knighthood” they are both excellent songs that should have been on the debut album; they would have even been good on “Iron”. One can also find the original versions of “White Storm” and “Warrior’s Quest”. They were sung by Jari on this release, and they’re at least as good as the versions found on “Dragonheads”. This compilation is nearly impossible to find, and it’s not worth seeking out. I believe it used to be sold on the band’s website, but they have since taken it down. All of the songs are good, but I would suggest checking out “Frost” and “Knighthood” since they are two awesome songs that never made it onto an album.
Ensiferum are a great band. Most people reading this are probably aware of their existence, but if not I hope this helps explain their discography a little bit. Their last album was released in 2009, so I’m hoping that they’ll release something new very soon. Be sure to comment and vote in the poll! Thanks for reading!