ENSIFERUM have at last released their 7th studio album and the third since former frontman and songwriter, Jari Mäenpää (WINTERSUN), departed. While I love me some “Time I,” I’ve always been a bigger fan of the Petri Lindroos (vocals, guitars) -era ENSIFERUM, which has been mostly under the songwriting reins of bassist Sami Hinkka and guitarist Markus Toivonen. Though “Unsung Heroes” was a hit-or-filler album for me song-wise, I was eager to have a listen to “One Man Army” and see what 2015 has to offer from one of my Viking metal favorites!
Before I get into the album itself, let’s talk a bit about the Collector’s Edition that was offered through EMP merch. The limited edition (only 2000 copies) came in a round, flat tin emblazoned with the Viking shield design that the man on their albums usually holds. When you first open the case you are greeted by the collector’s card that tells you which number in the limited edition set your copy is. Underneath that, you can see the absolutely stunning digipak, an album logo flag, a nice quality metal keychain and a pin that has the same design as the tin. And, even further below all that, you have the bonus DVD and a magnet that has the album art on it. It is an absolutely gorgeous collector’s edition with fantastic album art and enough good-quality trinkets to make you feel like it was money well spent.
1. “March of War”
This is everything I want in an intro track right off the bat. First of all, I love this sort of Asian-folk thing that Finnish bands have been doing in recent years. I first noticed it some time ago with KIUAS and WHISPERED, it was very present in WINTERSUN’s “Time I,” and ENSIFERUM is continuing the trend here. It’s also true that I love intro tracks as a general rule, but when they can’t be listened to alone, it always bums me out. I put my favorite songs into playlists on shuffle a lot. Nothing kills a good music-listening groove like having your intro track go into… anything other than the track that follows. So far it seems like this won’t be a problem, again, as “By the Dividing Stream” (“From Afar”) and “Symbols” (“Unsung Heroes”) also didn’t have this issue. And regarding the name, there is a very appropriate marching beat, accompanied by that sort of encouraging music – the sort of “men marching to war, singing songs to keep spirits up” sensation, which I like. An intro song has the potential to say a lot, and this one has immediately won me over.
2. “Axe of Judgment”
Ok, thrashy metal isn’t particularly my thing, so right off the bat, this feels like it won’t be my favorite track. I know a lot of people love this aspect of ENSIFERUM, but it’s never coincided with my favorite songs of theirs. I had the same issue with KIUAS’ “Aftermath” off “Lustdriven.” Nice kick-off growl though, and Pete (Lindroos, vocals & guitars) is sounding great. This song has almost a Mäenpää-era feeling to it. I wonder if those who liked older ENSIFERUM better will enjoy this. I feel as though this will be a good starter track for live gigs, and that there will be pretty decent pits accompanying it.
3. “Heathen Horde”
This appeals to me more or less instantly. ENSKA’s always drifted between chant-vocals and growls, but the chorus here sounds a bit more towards the choir end of the spectrum than chants, which a nice touch along with the speaking voice, whoever it is. I really like that shout of “steel and war” at the end of the chorus too – it’s powerful. This one’s running a small risk of getting a little repetitive at the end, but they’re managing to switch out riffs just in time to prevent it from getting monotonous.
4. “One Man Army”
Instantly, this feels less like their standard Viking metal and more like classic heavy metal. I’m intrigued. Aaand another great starter scream from Mr. Lindroos. There’s something interesting to the brevity of the chants in this one too. It reminds me of songs from, for example, video game soundtracks that use Latin or other dead languages. It has an interesting effect in those songs, almost creepy (think “One-Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII or “Liberi Fatali” from FFVIII). Now speed it up and make it heavy for a completely different atmosphere… yeah, I’m into it. Of course, these guys are actually speaking English here, but still. I’m absolutely seeing why this was chosen to be the first single. It’s powerful, catchy, and the kind of song that gets you moving and in the right mood. This is the kind of song I’m looking forward to seeing live!
5. “Burden of the Fallen”
I immediately expected this song to be similar to “Lost in Despair” (“Iron”) and “Celestial Bond” (“Unsung Heroes”), or at very least “Wanderer” (“Victory Songs”). “Burden of the Fallen” immediately sounds like one of these, with beautiful music and instrumental sounds that are even more so. I’m not, however, impressed with the vocals, which are fine, albeit bland. It’s the reason I don’t listen to bands like TYR. To my surprise, the song turned out to be a short interlude, which seems to serve as an introduction to “Warrior Without a War.” It now has the unexpected problem I have with intro tracks that I mentioned earlier, unfortunately. It would be hard to listen to this song on a shuffled playlist if “Warrior Without a War” doesn’t follow it.
6. “Warrior Without a War”
This was a nice kick following the interlude and a song you could listen to on its own without trouble. I enjoy the combination of double-kick and melodic music, as well as the introduction of the choir. This is interesting in that it combines Pete’s screams with someone else… what’s the word I want? They’re not growling the way Pete does, but they’re almost shouting. I assume it’s Hinkka or Toivonen (or both).
7. “Cry for the Earth Bounds”
The first minute or so of this song reminds me of the GREGORIAN band, only somehow a bit nicer, in my opinion, as I find GREGORIAN a bit boring, but this is not putting me to sleep. Rather than softly opening the rest of the song though, it punches into it violently. This is a fairly different sound from ENSIFERUM’s usual. The chants are again leaning toward the choir end of the spectrum. I’m finding it to be a bit of an odd choice because I always liked their chanting, but I suppose it suits the song. Oh, and the female vocalist that I had expected in “Burden of the Fallen” made an appearance in this one. I’m not sure if that’s Emmi Silvennoinen (keyboards) singing or someone else, but whoever she was, she sounded nice. Overall, not a bad song.
8. “Two of Spades”
Once upon a time I was at Myötätuulirock and I saw a lady dancing via bum-wiggle to a song and I was confused as to her choice of dance moves. If that was happening to this song, however, I would not have been surprised. This is somehow joyous Viking metal and delightful heavy disco with a hint of spaghetti western at the same time. I love it. This is the kind of song I want to listen to when I’m getting drunk and I’m in a really great mood. It’s the exact right speed and is pandering to my occasional appreciation of ’70s disco and cheesy cowboy movies, so it’s amusing me on several fronts. I like that they’re not afraid to play with styles and genres, and the Finnish disco Viking part is just amazing – props for getting Frederik to sing! There is nothing that I don’t love about this song.
9. “My Ancestors’ Blood”
I wasn’t aware that this album was going to continue with the “Heathen Throne” concept from From Afar. I’m a little iffy on their long songs but I have generally enjoyed them. This seems in-keeping with the old “Heathen Throne” style, certainly, but is a lot shorter. It does tie very nicely into the song that follows though, which is, I’m sure, the real intent of this song, though I can’t say it’s as good as either of its predecessors unfortunately.
10. “Descendants, Defiance, Domination”
This again starts out immediately with that “western movie soundtrack” sound. I wonder if there is an ongoing theme that they’re touching with that type of music. There are also a lot of voices in this song. I feel like the speaker sounds like whoever narrated Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which is kind of awesome. The singing voice reminds me a bit of the singing you’d hear in the old Mäenpää-era songs, which is nice for the older fans again. This does fit in quite well with the other “Heathen Throne” epics as well, though it definitely sounds like it belongs on “One Man Army” and not “From Afar.”
11. “Neito Pohjolan”
That… was different. They really must enjoy the spaghetti western thing because this is the third song that’s featured it on this album, at least. Not that I mind, but this was just totally different. Admittedly, singing in Finnish with cowboy music is a little strange, but I’ve heard stranger. It’s a bit of a punch to your groove to listen to a big epic like “Descendants, Defiance, Domination” and then go into what is essentially a really old-school country song. But you know what, good for them for doing what they feel like.
12. “Rawhide” (bonus track)
Ok, so let’s get this straight… this is a BLUES BROTHERS cover, right? The original definitely has the western sound that this album has been dipping its toes in so much, so if the songs they cover are an indicator of what they are into musically, some questions are certainly being answered with this. It’s quite a good cover too – kind of bizarre but totally amusing, and I’ve always liked that, like CHILDREN OF BODOM, they’re not afraid to take a totally unusual song and cover it however the hell they want to. The trading-off vocals in this are particularly well done, so overall, I’m impressed.
13. “Warmetal” (bonus track)
This cover would then be of BARATHRUM, if I’ve done my homework correctly. This is a pretty solid homeage, though BARATHRUM is a little too black metal for me. I can say that I don’t mind this version of it, but it’s still perhaps not for me.
14. “Candour and Lies” (bonus track)
This is no cover, but it immediately sounded familiar to me, which would be because this is the non-Finnish version of “Neito Pohjolan.” Interestingly, the translation isn’t remotely accurate – “Neito Pohjolan” would be “Pohjola’s Girl” in English. There must be something to connect these songs. Since this likewise doesn’t have a female vocalist, I’ll have to check and see if the lyrics are translations or if it’s a completely different song. It sounds very much like an American country song that had been on, for example, a soundtrack to a Clint Eastwood movie.
15. Bonus Song (bonus track)
And the last song, the very mysteriously-named “Bonus Song.” This could literally be anything, and upon listening to it I became very confused. Then I realized… it’s quite literally the bonus song. If you haven’t heard it yet, I don’t want to spoil what it is. I’ll just give it a full score for amusement value and let you try and figure it out yourself.
So, concluding thoughts. This album really combines a lot of different and unusual elements in spite of the fact that it sounds pretty uniform throughout. The intro has that Asian influence, there’s a disco track, and at least three songs with the spaghetti western sound. None of those things seem to be the type of thing you’d associate with a Viking metal band, yet it works. It’s also nice that they speak English most of the time (more fans are able to sing along this way), but I like that they don’t shy away from using their own language from time to time either. It changes things up and adds a bit of their personal selves into the mix.
The album does seem to lack some hooks or catchy parts to keep it memorable, with the exception of the truly incredible “Two of Spades” despite being an album you can listen straight through. Though few songs top their previous material, there are a few gems to be found on “One Man Army.”
Written by Bear Wiseman
- March of War
- Axe of Judgment
- Heathen Horde
- One Man Army
- Burden of the Fallen
- Warrior Without a War
- Cry for the Earth Bounds
- Two of Spades
- My Ancestor’s Blood
- Descendants, Defiance, Domination
- Neito Pohjolan
- Rawhide (bonus track)
- War Metal (bonus track)
- Candour and Lies (bonus track)
- Bonus song (bonus track)
Petri Lindroos – vocals, guitars
Sami Hinkka – bass, vocals
Markus Toivonen – guitars, vocals
Emmi Silvennoinen – keyboards, Hammond, piano, vocals
Janne Parviainen – drums
Metal Blade Records
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”