ENSIFERUM has always been at their live peak during album release shows, with some of their best including the album release party for “From Afar” in 2009 and “One Man Army“ in 2015. With that in mind, it seemed like a good idea to check out this show. How would the new material work out live, especially with the new line-up and change in vocal style on this year’s “Two Paths“?
I was on the fence about my feelings toward this gig for quite a while. It took me ages to decide whether or not I would even attend. For one, while “From Afar” is one of my favorite albums, “Unsung Heroes” (2012) started strong and fizzled out, and “One Man Army” (2015) sort of just… never really grasped me over time. As well, I wasn’t a fan at all of the clean vocals in “Two Paths,” so I was unsure of whether I’m still on the ENSIFERUM train or not. However, this seemed like a good opportunity to decide if I want to keep up with their live shows or leave them as a fun band to enjoy at festivals.
This Friday the 13th proved iffy for the band, as Pete Lindroos (growls, guitar) mentioned to us prior to our interview that he cut his hand, making guitar slightly iffy, and that their sound tech had fallen ill and they needed to use the house staff, which is always a risk. The doors to The Circus opened at an unfortunately late 20:00 (19:00 would’ve been a bit nicer), with ENSIFERUM‘s set starting at a hefty 23:00. As much as I had hoped to see CRIMFALL and WOLFHEART, I had business to attend to, and so returned to the venue at 22:45 to find the merch booth making plenty of sales and an impressive crowd gathered… though I was surprised to note that the show hadn’t sold so well that the upstairs was open.
The show began right on time, starting with a tape of the album’s intro, “Ajattomasta unesta” and then opened into “For Those About to Fight for Metal,” which elicited a great many cheers from the crowd. It was clearly a fan favorite as the first release from “Two Paths.”
Sami Hinkka (bass) immediately jumped up on the amps and showed that he’s got as much energy as ever and Markus Toivonen (guitar, vocals) smiled broadly and wagged his tongue out at the crowd. Netta Skog (accordion, vocals) was looking nice with her blonde hair done up in curls – pretty but not scruffy enough to be very Viking. There were some issues in matching up the vocals, as Skog was a bit over-loud and not quite in harmony with Lindroos.
“Two Paths” sounded excellent musically, as expected based on the album, but vocally sounded blunt and barely in tune, as expected based on the album. Lindroos‘ vocals shined though, and he pulled off one difficult-looking extended low growl nicely. They regained my full admiration again with “Two of Spades,” being a newer favorite of mine, and their lively rendition brought a smile to my face as Skog and Toivonen goofed and danced around together and Hinkka let the bass funk reign from atop the speakers. The crowd chimed in during the “hoo-hah” and the Finnish lines, and the fog cannons helped add some style to the visuals. Also, I’ve always loved ENSKA for their lights – they often pick lighting that matches the song in question’s album art in color, and the blues and greens looked perfect in this track.
“King of Storms” had some surprisingly loud singing along from the crowd, for a new song and not one I’d have expected as an obvious singalong. Lindroos‘ growling was again the highlight while the clean vocals were not too bad. Then Hinkka started to play… “Enter Sandman” [METALLICA]? I guess it served as short bass interlude before “Treacherous Gods,” but the crowd began rowdy chanting, so maybe they were disappointed it wasn’t the full song. “Treacherous Gods” had some of the most notable parts from Skog‘s digital accordion, and the crowd showed their appreciation with a wall of death. “In My Sword I Trust” was one of the better songs off “Unsung Heroes” and was a fun inclusion even though Lindroos‘ vocals were a bit quiet at first.
Hinkka played another bass interlude before “One Man Army” that got the crowd dancing and goofing around again; the title track of 2015’s album proved yet another popular live track. At this point I was surprised how few old songs had been played, but the crowd didn’t seem to care. The female vocals in the back were again a bit out of balance in the mix.
There was an actual interlude then with a recording of “Tumman virran taa” from “From Afar” before they played “The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne pt. 2),” which was a welcome surprise as one of their better epics. “Way of the Warrior,” being one of my favorites from “Two Paths,” was also easily the live highlight of the new material. It’s not a surprise stylistically for ENSKA the way “Two of Spades” was on release, but feels like such a traditional, good ol’ ENSIFERUM song, and it’s properly catchy, so what’s really not to like? Beautiful blue and green lights again too.
Perhaps one of the oddest moments of the night was when Skog took the mic and spotlight for “Feast with Valkyries,” a very accordion-heavy track, and did not actually play the accordion. I guess the idea was to focus on singing well, but… all the guys are perfectly capable of singing and playing their instruments and jumping around. It was a nice performance and she sang well… but it felt kind of attention-grabby. To be fair though, an accordion is a lot heavier than a guitar, so perhaps that’s the reason.
The second legitimate interlude was the “Mourning Heart” track played on a full-green stage and the band came in for “Tale of Revenge.” “Victory Song” – another live classic to which I even saw a few happy couples dancing – was announced as the last song before the encore. We were left to guess if they’d play “Iron” or “Lai Lai Hei” after the short break, and Hinkka teased the crowd with a tune know from hockey games. They started up the encore with the always excellent “From Afar,” which sounded kinda cool with the accordion, and finished up with “Lai Lai Hei.”
I will have to say that the set was actually quite good on the whole in spite of my issues with the new material. They played most of their best tracks from over the years, even lacking greats like “Token of Time” and “Ahti,” but that’s the way it goes when your song base keeps growing. I’d have liked to leave pre-encore, but they kept dropping good songs and made it impossible to make it out before the crowd. And, considering they didn’t have their regular sound tech, I was glad to notice that the only sound issues I heard were also more or less present on the album too, so I suspect it was pretty close to how they wanted it. I do wonder why Hinkka and Toivonen‘s, and even Skog‘s vocals are still so much better and well-mixed in older songs like “Victory Songs” than the new stuff though. So, as I said, these guys remain at their best during album release shows, even if my overall approval of their music is waning.
1. Ajattomasta unesta
2. For Those About to Fight for Metal
3. Two Paths
4. Two of Spades
5. King of Storms
6. Treacherous Gods
7. In My Sword I Trust
8. One Man Army
9. Tumman virran taa (tape)
10. The Longest Journey (Heathen Theone pt. 2)
11. Way if the Warrior
12. Feast with Valkyries
13. Mourning Heart – Interlude (tape)
14. Tale of Revenge
15. Victory Song
16. From Afar (encore)
17. Lai Lai Hei (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Kirsti Leinonen