Review Summary: Ensiferum manage to deliver an excellent album, despite the loss of Jari Maenpaa. One of 2007's best in metal
In 2004 Jari Maenpaa, the vocalist/guitarist/songwriter and, well, mastermind behind Finnish Viking metal band Ensiferum left his nine year old band to focus on his new side project Wintersun. Predictably, fans began questioning the future of the proud Viking warriors who had previously delivered such impressive outings such as their s/t and Iron. With Jari leaving the fold, Norther guitarist/vocalist Petri Lindroos took his position. Now Petri is fairly decent at what he does, as the Norther's Mirror of Madness album shows us, but he isn't exactly as great as Jari Maenpaa. With 2006's Dragonheads EP being, well, weaker than one would expect from a band of this stature, my expectations for the album were pretty low. But now that I've heard their third recording, Victory Songs, I'm pleased to announce that I will shortly be eating my words. Yes, Victory Songs is quite easily the Ensiferum's strongest release since their debut album six years ago.
Adorned with a title such as Victory Songs, as well as album art depicting a lone Viking warrior (as per Ensiferum tradition), that the opening track, Ad Victoriam is a cheesy (albeit well put together) instrumental based around folky tunes shouldn't be much of a surprise. Three minutes and ten seconds in length, it sounds like it could have come out of Lord of the Rings, or a movie similar to that. It's interesting, to say the least, but not exactly what we we've waited three years for. So you can imagine the excitement as the opening notes of Blood is the Price of Glory come roaring out of the gates. Bombastic, loud, proud, and heavy, Blood is the Price of Glory is a great example of what can be expected from Ensiferum's latest album. The music still has that aggressive edge. The folky elements still sound glorious. The song writing is still as tight as it has ever been. And most importantly, the loss of Jari Maenpaa has not really hindered Ensiferum at all. Petri Lindroos has done an excellent job on all fronts, whether it be through his guttural screams or his topnotch axe work. Though neither really top Maenpaa's efforts (especially in the case of the vocals), Petri still does a far greater job than I expected him to do.
Of Victory Song's nine songs, there are two which stand out among their contemporaries. These two tracks are the ballad, Wanderer, and the epic title track. The former, a six and a half minute composition is a more mid-paced offering and focuses more on Ensiferum's folk roots. Tranquil, serene track is definitely one of the strongest songs the band has written to date. The inclusion of clean vocals from Markus Toivonen (guitarist and only original member to remain with the band) serves to make the track even more interesting, as it compliments the rather simple yet effective musical performances from the band. In terms of atmosphere and (for the most part) structure it reminds me of a less sombre Death and the Healing (off of Wintersun's debut). Quite beautiful indeed. The other standout song is Victory Song. As the old saying goes "save the best for last," and boy does this ever ring true in Ensiferum's case, for Victory Song is another one of the greatest songs the band has ever crafted. Ten minutes in length, the track combines everything the band has crafted over the duration of their career. Making use out of a variety of different riffs, melodies, and song structures, the band does an excellent job in creating an interesting, engaging track which manages to maintain the listener's interest through the entirety of its ten minute runtime.
No matter how strong a band is, when its core is ripped out, it will likely affect the group in a large way. Before hearing Victory Songs I was bracing for the worst (well perhaps not that far, but you understand what I am trying to say). But luckily the loss of Jari Maenpaa has not derailed the path of Viking metallers Ensiferum. The Finnish band's latest release does not necessarily explore new musical horizons, rather, they build on established ideas and improve on previously used techniques and tendencies. I would definitely go as far as to say that Ensiferum's bests their latest couple releases and might be (or justa bit under) on par with their debut album, Ensiferum. Fans of power, folk, and Viking metal should enjoy Victory Songs, as it is an excellent slab of metal. Likely to be one of the years better albums, for sure.
One More Magic Potion
Blood is the Price of Glory
Raised By the Sword