Review Summary: A leap out of the abyss of Unsung Heroes, One Man Army outshines its unworthy predecessor and leaves us dreaming for greater things to come...
Folk metal, it seems, has always been a mean to express a fascination for ancient tales and olden times. From early Korpiklaani to Moonsorrow, folk metal bands have always tried to convey their deep affection for archaic cultures, their myths and their savage beauty, albeit on very different tones. Ensiferum is no exception to the rule, and ever since its self-titled, the band has dedicated itself to put into song the stories of the Kalevala and the glory of the Norsemen of old, with varied success over the years. After a rather unsavory experience in the form of Unsung Heroes
, it would seem the Finns were able to overcome their lack of heathen-esque inspiration, and rally the path they once roamed. One Many Army
, for all its flaws and strengths, is a solid LP forged in the crucible of war. And we couldn't be happier with this dramatic shift from UH.
Both for its title and - fabulous - artwork of a Berserker delivering the mortal blow to a dying warrior, One Man Army
is a monument erected to the thrill and tragedy of war. Needless to say such a theme is not new to Ensiferum's work, which has always gravitated around thrilling battle hymns in the continuity of the well named "Battle Song". One Man Army
, however, takes the form of a consecration of this omnipresent thematic, and of the band's roots. The usual intro, "March of War" sets the mood for the rest of the LP with a combination of folk instrumental and military rhythm and directly leads us into "Axe of Judgement", easily one of the fastest-paced songs of the album, adorned with Petri's savage roars and a brutal rhythmic which calls to mind the fondest memories of From Afar
. It is then followed by "Heathen Horde" which makes the best use of the otherwise bland choirs on the entire album, and adds it to the exhilarating - and catchy - war chant of our beloved pagans going to war. I can only assume this is an ode to the Great Heathen Army assembled by the Lothbrok sons to raid the realm of England.
The eponymous track of One Man Army
, is fairly dull amidst the global ensemble of the LP, although Petri's growl is once again remarkable (i cannot stress how terrible they were on Unsung Heroes). While it isn't bad, it just doesn't measure up to the rest in terms of temper. Besides, the choirs are fairly poor both in quality and utility, and unnecessarily pollute Petri's rousing savagery. "Warrior Without a War" and its instrumental bridge "Burden of the Fallen" more than make up for this brief flaw. I mentioned previously that One Man Army
depicts both the glory and tragedy of war - and while the opening tracks do a great job at pumping barbarity into our hearts, this melodic duo builds towards setting a mournful mood, albeit still in a very epic atmosphere. Following a languorous acoustic introduction, "Warrior Without a War" breaks in: it is the laments of a warrior questing for a meaningful way to live and die, both powerful and desperate, and accompanied by a very solemn chanting of the chorus. For all it's great melody, lyrics and roaring intensity, this track is most certainly the high-note of One Man Army
, all the while being at the heart of the album's reflexion on war. However, it doesn't overshadows the also tragic and exhilarating "Cry for the Earth Bounds", a deeper song with an accent on religiosity and spirituality as a whole, quite striking for its recurring gregorian chanting and Petri's tortured screams. Regarding those very neat choirs, I swear it felt like listening Moonsorrow's "Jotunheim" for a second there...
Evidence of From Afar
as a spiritual father to One Man Army
can be found, firstly, in the reiteration of a "weird track" like the strange yet quite pleasing "Stone Cold Metal" on the 2009 LP. Both "Two of Spades" and "Neito Pohjolan" seem alien to the themes and atmosphere in One Man Army
or in Ensiferum's discography for that matter. These "spaghetti western" productions, while certainly daring and creative, do not necessarily work however. In the case of "Two of Spades", which has a monster rhythm and a very catchy chorus, works just fine although it really doesn't fit the pagan wrath and mysticism the album had built so far. On the other hand, "Neito Pohjolan" really spoils the LP's conclusion, which should have been reserved to another acoustic bridge or melody more deserving to follow the end of the Heathen Throne saga. This brings us to the second evidence of From Afar's influence: two follower tracks to the titanic "Heathen Throne" and "The Longuest Journey". "My Ancestor's Blood" which I assume follows the events of the Northern Crusade, is a powerful cry for heathen pride and revolt against Christianity - while the choirs here are bland, the song retains some appeal with a strong chorus, which paves the way for "Descendants, Defiance, Domination", the LP's 12 minutes epic. While uneven and inferior to its spiritual predecessors, this track does a great job at concluding the Heathen Throne Saga on a proud note, leaving us hoping for more.
One Man Army
is both a celebration of war and of Ensiferum's past - not the long mourned but definitely gone Jari era, but rather the also great beginnings of the Petri/Hinka era, with the brilliant Victory Song
and the astounding From Afar
. Ensiferum's seems to have learned from the mistakes it made while conceiving the dull Unsung Heroes
, and cleansed their latest LP of any trace of its predecessor. While it certainly did some mistakes of its own, One Man Army
was able to combine great sound material with healthy creativity into a truly striving opus, thus putting the Finns on the right path to follow. It isn't self-title material, but I'm pretty sure these good old times won't be coming back.
Kudos, and as always... SKOL !
- Petri's growls really did get worse during UH, right " Seems like he's back to form either way.
- This album is basically a lesser From afar - still good though.
- It should be pointed out that the collector edition of One Man Army
came in with a few covers. I didn't bother reviewing them here since I was really unimpressed with "Breaking the Law". Not sure what "Wrathchild" would have been like...
- Kudos for inviting Tyr's frontman, Heri Joensen, on the track Heathen Horde. A Faroese contribution.
- Still wondering if "Two of Spades" is a wink to Motorhead.
- If Ensiferum sinks anytime soon, I'm pretty sure at this point we'll see a western-folk metal band rise from its ashes. Ugh...
- T'was about time they updated their artwork - I love their old stuff, but a hint of novelty is always welcomed, especially when it's this good.
- Lets agree to systematically boycott any song titled "Pohjola" or what have you, in the foreseeable future...