Thu. Nov 26th, 2020

REVIEW: Ensiferum – Thalassic (Musicalypse Archive)

ENSIFERUM‘s heroic heavy metal journey has finally brought them to the sea, 3 years after the release of Two Paths.” Their eighth studio album, “Thalassic,” meaning “of or relating to the sea,” is set for release on July 10th, 2020, via Metal Blade Records.

The album starts with an intro, “Seafarer’s Dream,” which is a surprisingly unique song for ENSKA, starting with the sound of wind and waves, soon joined by soft acoustic guitar, but has a slow and powerful build-up into something that sounds like it came from an epic movie soundtrack. The intro moves nicely into the first single, “Rum, Women, Victory,” which we’re of course well-versed in already. As a single, the riffage brought me back to what I consider the good old days of ENSIFERUM, around the “Victory Songs” (2007) / “From Afar” (2009) era.

“Andromeda” from Greek mythology was the daughter of Cassiopeia who was chained to a rock as a sacrifice for the sea monster Cetus, but was rescued by Perseus. The song starts in what feels like a very traditional, bordering on too-familiar melody that reminded me instantly of “One More Magic Potion.” “She will live forever / our queen, Andromeda” is a cool clean line to counteract vocalist/guitarist Pete Lindroos‘ growls. While the name “Andromeda” is pronounced oddly to fit the melody (and with a hint of awkward Finnish pronunciation: “AN-drou-medda”), Pekka Montin‘s vocals are very solid and a welcome addition to the line-up thus far.

Referencing the Kalevala in a sea-themed album may seem a bit sacrilegious with “The Defence of the Sampo,” but if you take into account that the sampo was lost at sea, it begins to make contextual sense. The sampo, if you’re not familiar with Finnish lore, was an artifact crafted by Ilmarinen that was meant to bring wealth and fortunate to the holder, but was stolen by the witch Louhi and destroyed/lost at sea, as mentioned. The song has nice Viking-choir vocals in the chorus and clean vocals in the verses. “Run from the Crushing Tide” has speedier classic ENSIFERUM guitars in the beginning and some nice storied guitars that take the reins when the vocals are quiet. There’s also a slightly hidden scream in there but you may not notice it if listening only casually.

“For Sirens” refers to, of course, sirens, who lured seafarers to their watery deaths with their beauty and songs. Opening with fun and heavy riffs, Lindroos takes the lead early on; his growls were sadly shoved to the background in a lot of the songs on their last album, so his return to lead vocals is a huge relief and shared with Montin make for an awesome combination. “One with the Sea” begins with a truly crushing intro but softens out very quickly, allowing for Montin to show off a different, softer side of his voice, paving the way for a nice… violin melody? The song maintains a fairly slow tempo and strong groove from drummer Janne Parviainen and bassist Sami Hinkka, taking the song from a place where it might be dull into a place of power, overall sounding surprisingly epic, especially as it builds to a climax.

“Midsummer Magic” includes bouncy violin sounds and some “hoo-ha-hei!” parts that are pure silly goodtime fun. This is appropriately the most Finnish-sounding song, not only by Ensiferum but possibly ever (sorry, KORPIKLAANI), throwing back to “Lai Lai Hei” and the old folky feel of just singing along, words or not. Lindroos‘ growls are strong and fierce as well and Hinkka takes the Finnish vocals due to (according to their producer) his impressive hobo-like vocals. The album then ends with “Cold Northland (Väinämöinen pt. III),” which of all the songs feels like it might be oddly situated on the sea-themed album. As a part of the saga, it’s a hugely epic song with a mellow intro and a great epic part before the verses kick off. With a very bombastic and powerful build-up (big round of applause to the sublime backing orchestration), the song has a strong build-up, an epic feel, great vocals, and a lot of character. It’s perhaps their best epic (in my opinion) since “Heathen Throne” (2009).

The album has two bonus tracks, starting with the folky Finnish “Merille Lähtevä” [seabound], which plays with campy Finnish spoken-word narration and the riffs from “Midsummer Magic” – it’s a fun tune and a bit of an inside joke for their Finnish-speaking fans. This time around, the band brought back their fun covers with their version of “I’ll Stay by Your Side” by The Lollipops, though it could be argued that the cover is more of Finnish rockabilly band The Hurriganes‘ cover of the same. This track is a nice showcase of Montin on vocals again and is far more overdramatic than it needs to be, which I would wager was the point.

On the whole, I haven’t enjoyed an ENSIFERUM album this thoroughly since “Unsung Heroes” (2012) or perhaps even “From Afar.” The riffing throughout brings me back to ENSIFERUM‘s prime, while the addition of Pekka Montin to the line-up puts them at their strongest since Emmi Silvennoinen left and possibly their vocally strongest ever. My hugest complaint about Two Paths was the use of horribly out-of-tune, flat clean vocals, so having a dedicated clean vocalist really works wonders for their sound; I’m also thrilled that Lindroos has not given up his post as lead (growling) vocalist, as had been the fear, but rather shares the spotlight. The backing music has also hit new levels, sounding even more epic and movie-score-like than ever (not in a good way, in a great way). Ultimately, “Thalassic” was a very pleasant surprise and a welcome addition to the band’s discography.

Written by Bear Wiseman
Musicalypse, 2020
OV: 783

Tracklist

  1. Seafarer’s Dream
  2. Rum, Women, Victory
  3. Andromeda
  4. The Defence of the Sampo
  5. Run from the Crushing Tide
  6. For Sirens
  7. One with the Sea
  8. Midsummer Magic
  9. Cold Northland (Väinämöinen pt. III)
  10. Merille Lähtevä (bonus track)
  11. I’ll Stay By Your Side (The Lollipops cover)

Lineup

Petri Lindroos – vocals, guitars

Sami Hinkka – bass, backing vocals

Markus Toivinen – guitars, backing vocals

Pekka Montin – keyboards, clean vocals

Janne Parviainen – drums

Label

Metal Blade Records

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