February 20, 2015 Ensiferum – One Man Army (Album Review)
The Finnish Pagan/Folk Metal band Ensiferum’s name derives latin word “sword bearer,” which will scream out Viking Metal to most listeners. Founded in 1995 by Markus Toivonen (guitars/vocals), whom remains the only original member through various lineup changes, Ensiferum have become the pinnacle of their respected sub-genre. With a steady cast since 2007 including Sami Hinkka (bass/vocals), Petri Lindroos (guitars/vocals), Janne Parviainen (drums), and Emmi Silvennoinen (keyboards/backing vocals), the band has released a slew of albums and toured steadily including stints on Paganfest. Releasing five albums via Spinefarm Records, perhaps their biggest success came with 2012’s Unsung Heroes, helping commence their journey to tour many Metal festivals throughout Europe and expand their horizons to including Australia and China. Now signed with Metal Blade records Ensiferum are set to release their sixth studio album titled One Man Army on February 24, 2015.
Despite the modern, heavily reliable digital age, One Man Army was mainly recorded in analog during the months of September to November of 2014. Anssi Kippo, who is the founder of Astia Studios in Lappeenranta, Finland and award-winning producer working with bands such as Children of Bodom and Entwine, was called on for production of the album. Working with the band for the first time in their career, his experience adds the technical success to the album as a whole. The composing and recording process was very slow for the band however, but their dedication and focus on quality helped dwindle out the filler tracks and kept a natural flow. As stated, with the latest technology albums can be redefined using multiple takes within the same track, however, on One Man Army, everything was basically laid out as it was recorded with no additional faulty cuts.
The opening begins at a traditional Folk standpoint with “March of War.” The mix between the acoustic and classical components leads to an enticing, spiritual, and dark introduction. This is reminiscent to a Game of Thrones-esque mystical world with Dragons, Dungeons, and of course Vikings. This spiritual delight of folklore symphony within a dark world of Metal engages the listener right from the get go, wondering what is next. “Axe of Judgement” thunders in and triumphs over with multiple components of mystical themes, shredding guitar riffs, deep screaming vocals, and melodic cheering. The cheering of the alleged joy in this track only showcases the hatred of the hardships one experiences in life. It continues to captivate the listener from a deeper meaning of life’s journey through torture and bliss. The symphonic elements would leave one mesmerized to the point that the spirit of the song itself transcends into a folklore mystified expedition. “Heathen Horde” lessens the tempo however, it holds a strong melody and has a great combination between the chanting and screamo vocals. The cheering in this piece is passionate and would lead one tranquilized due to wanting to hear more. The next track, which is also the title of the album, “One Man Army” could very well be the strongest piece on the album. The composition of this song expresses the album’s theme of battle, struggle, and darkness, especially through the use of the guitar solo; which elaborates it by showcasing the destruction and chaos through each melodic movement. “Burden of the Fallen” slows the pace and it is a much shorter track as though it belongs to a Lord of the Rings-esque intermission. The track portrays the aftermath of death and war while catching up to what was lost and what is haunting; “Nightmares return again, there’s no way to make amends.” “Warrior Without a War” picks up the pace, marching in with lyrics that would make the listener question themselves, “there’s a hero or a warrior without a war.” “Cry For the Earth Bounds” carries on with the ongoing crusade theme along with added chants and preparational lyrics, “face the final sundown.”
The album shifts gears to a lighter and colorful melody with “Two of Spades.” It is a catchy and funky track where the listener will instantly find themselves smiling and chanting along with it as though they are at an old Irish pub. “My Ancestor’s Blood” reawakens the combatic vibe with a darkened tone which prepares the listener for the next epic track. “Descendants, Defiance, Dominance” is the longest track of the album at under twelve minutes long that brings the listener to a triumphing ending to the battle. “Neito Pohjolan” slows down entirely along with being in the Finnish tongue. It is a beautiful piece but does come out of nowhere compared to the rest of the album. There are also four bonus tracks which even includes a rendition of “Rawhide.” The very last track, “Bonus Song” appears to have a lot of creative freedom especially in the lyrics where they admit to loving Viking Metal and Dragons.
One Man Army’s mixed Metal sub-genres fuels this album to an all around mystical gem. It is a great follow-up to their 2012 release Unsung Heroes. There are elements that include different styles of Metal which one can call clashing of the Metals. The melodic recipe consists of Blind Guardian in the Power Metal and theatrical spectrum along with Amorphis-like tempo. There is a touch of earlier Opeth with an atmospheric doom and gloom, and just a splash of Metalcore with the use of screamed vocals. The theme of war and destruction persists within the album as though there is a hidden Rock Opera storyline intertwined throughout. Overall, Ensiferum have honed their skills, captivating the imagery of war and destruction within their lyrical and melodic tones. One Man Army paints a story of battle, anguish, and betrayal in such a beautiful shape that gallops between Melodic Death Metal to Power Metal. Each track is beautifully written metaphorically on the aforementioned subjects. The rhythmic intensity changes throughout, which would leave any listener on their toes. The production quality has a perfect balance where the vocals or drums do not empower on top of one another. It was well worth the long tedious process which shows that quality over quantity is always best. CrypticRock gives One Man Army a 4.5 out of 5.