For obvious reasons, Ensiferum is one of the folk/viking metal bands closest to my heart. Along with Wintersun and Elvenking, they are directly responsible for my more recent coming around to harsh vocal stylings. While the band has been around longer than I've been listening to metal, I've come to appreciate all of their albums and developed a feeling of nostalgia for their work. Beginning with Ensiferum's self-titled debut, I have found them to be remarkably steadfast and as yet, fairly unique in their musical stylings. Their combination of rough-edged clean vocals, blistering guitar riffing, gentle and beautiful instrumental passages, and their distinctive scathing vocal delivery make for a rousing and heroic medieval metal experience.
The band's first album is as proficient and mature as debut releases come. The songwriting here is a little more varied than you might expect. The acoustic beginning to “Token of Time” and the almost pop/rockish sounding intro to “Guardians of Fate” are both extremely distinctive. The latter fools me almost every time I have my iPod on shuffle, as I'm expecting to hear something considerably more domestic until Jari sears my ears with his initial shout. Both of these songs are excellent pieces, along with my other favorite tracks, “Windrider” and “Battle Song”.
Whereas later Ensiferum albums might seem to be a little bit more constant in their “Viking” feel, this release makes up for its varied songwriting by at least keeping them all interesting and likeable. The bonus track “Goblin's Dance” is considerably darker and more harsh until it also hits an interlude with piping and chimes. With most other bands, this would give me considerable pause, but Ensiferum just pulls it off so darn well. Most of the album is like this, back and forth repeatedly between whimsical group shout passages and fast, raging melodic death metal. Better than nearly any other folk-inspired metal band (excepting perhaps the incomparable Finntroll), Ensiferum commits to this odd combination that might otherwise come off as disjointed, and makes it their trademark sound.
With a band like Ensiferum, the whole experience is really about the spirit in which the music was written and executed. This is as “epic” as metal comes. It may not have grand choirs or almost any sort of keyboard to speak of, but the grand measure of storytelling is as present as anywhere else. The beautiful, haunting melodies that the Finnish have always done so well drift alongside the rapid-paced music, somehow hanging there and moving at their own slow pace. While so much of the music rushes past in a blasting torrent, the memory and feel of these tunes persists for some time, like a breath of freezing air chilling the lungs.
Ensiferum is the birth of one of the most iconic names in modern folk/death metal. It's got leanings towards power metal, but is really doing its own thing entirely. Unlike a lot of modern bands, they've got a style that is almost completely their own. To date, the only band I've experienced that sounds considerably similar is Jari Maenpaa's brainchild Wintersun. Whatever the case may be, the band's debut is as admirable an entry as any other in their catalog, which most bands certainly cannot say.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.5 out of 10