Sputnik's very own Grant Hunter had the right idea when reviewing Bathory's Blood Fire Death. Vikings are pretty damn cool. And, you know, metal is obviously pretty cool as well. So it would only make sense to combine the two, am I right? Surely. So now we've combined Vikings and metal to get Viking metal, pretty simple right? But wait…what exactly is Viking metal? Is it loud, aggressive metal akin to death or thrash which rapes and pillages the poor ears of its listeners? Does it include odes to the might Odin? To be honest, until recently, I didn't know either. And though my eyes have been to said genre, this isn't the place to go into such intricacies. So I won't. But I what I can do is tell you about one of this mysterious genre’s bands. Formed in 1995, in (seriously, get THIS) Finland (don't worry, I was surprised too), the band is set to release its third album, Victory Songs, in around a month. But the inevitable "how will it stand up to the band's previous albums?" question will surely come up. And as it stands, I'm sceptical to whether the new album can stand up to Ensiferum's epic debut titled…Ensiferum.
So you might be wondering why I think such things. Well part of the reason might have been the band's slightly disappointing 2006 EP, Dragonheads, but a larger, more positive reason for my supposed lack of optimism is rests in the actual excellence of Ensiferum's self titled debut. Full of rousing, sing along hymns; folky, melodic guitar lines and riffs; and memorable choruses Viking style, Ensiferum as crafted themselves a very enjoyable sound. Of the fifty-five minute album, there are two songs which particularly showcase the band's style at its best are Hero in a Dream and Goblin's Dance. Expressing the distinctively Norse sound of old, both tracks are quite lively affairs which stress power and melody. The atmosphere of said tracks is also quite notable. Most, if not all of the tracks sport a very epic atmosphere. And with song titles like Battle Song, an epic, rousing sound shouldn't be much of a surprise. If this atmospheric element was stressed in any of the tracks, it would have got to be the aforementioned Goblin's Dance. The song, quite reminiscent of a victory song, is one of the most sing-along tracks on the album, and the up-beat offering just beckons its listeners to shout out along with the rest of the band. Yes, Ensiferum's debut album is undeniably quite the experience.
Undoubtedly, the most impressive member to be heard on Ensiferum is Jari Mäenpää. Taking on the roles of guitarist and vocalist of the Viking metal band, Jari's efforts are quite commendable, as he handles both roles exceedingly well. His straightforward guitar playing mixed with the harsh growls that might have come out of a black metal album combines exceedingly well to produce an exciting, impressive sound which dominates the tracks to be found on the album. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the band takes after Jari. As a whole, Ensiferum's sound is quite controlled. Solos are present, yet guitar noodling is not as prominent as on some of Ensiferum's related bands. I would venture to guess that the music is at least somewhat complicated, yet the effort put into the moulding of songs like Token of Time and Old Man (Vainamoinen) make them sound more streamlined and simple with more emphasis on actual song writing than technical profusion.
Ensiferum's self titled debut album is definitely an excellent platter of Viking metal. Ensiferum definitely met, and eat times even exceeded the expectations I had for it. The Finns put forth an excellent effort, one that combines heavy, yet melodic riffing, impressive, folky interludes, and fun sing/growl-along atmospheres. Fans of this Folk, Viking, or even Power metal should find themselves right at home with this release. If you're looking to get acquainted with Ensiferum, this is definitely the album to check out, as it's easily a stronger album than the band's second, Iron (that said, Iron does have better artwork). Check it out if you have the chance, it's quite a fun listen.
Hero in a Dream
Token of Time
Old Man (Vainamoinen)