Monday, September 10, 2012

Ensiferum - Unsung Heroes

The Finnish band Ensiferum are, in my opinion, one of the three strongest Viking metal bands still active in the world (alongside Moonsorrow and Månegarm). They have four very good albums already out, and they released their fifth full-length just a couple weeks ago. They also happen to be one of my favorite bands.

Which leads me to the bad part of this post. I hate writing negative reviews about bands I like, but I'm afraid I may have to do a bit of that today. While the band's typical formula of catchy folk-based tunes blended with some sweeping Viking epics is still basically intact here, the overall effort falls somewhat short of expectations. The band does a solid job on the slow, "epic" tracks, with some very pleasant folk interludes and effective (though possibly excessive) use of baritone chants. That side of things isn't the problem. The problem is that Ensiferum's strongest suit has never been the slower end of their music. Other bands do the sweeping sagas better, but Ensiferum are masters of balancing those tracks out with punchy, exciting, ridiculously catchy songs to keep the album's energy levels high. Here, though, the usual enthusiasm seems somewhat lacking. The riffs are occasionally catchy, though not to the levels of many previous albums. More importantly, the band members just sound a little . . . well . . . bored. They sound like a group that is tired of doing what they're doing. Perhaps that's why the bonus closer Bamboleo, which is essentially meant to be a joke, actually sounds more interesting and energetic than most of the main album.

Now I'm not writing these guys off by any means, and this album isn't a total waste. In fact, it's not really  even a bad record. There are some good moments, and some of the songs (like the title track) are pretty enjoyable. The music is well composed, the style is the same as they've successfully employed for years, and all the musicians know their jobs and do them well. The bass actually makes a more noticeable appearance here than on any of their other albums, and the folk portions of the record are as good as any the band has ever produced. The energy level just isn't there for most of the record, though, making this clearly the weakest entry in their otherwise very strong catalog. I have high hopes for the future, since the band hasn't made any catastrophic sellout moves or anything, so I'm confident they can still crank out some very good material. But before they can do that, I think they need to find their passion again.

Grade: C+ or B- (it's right on the line).
This is acceptable, by-the-numbers Viking metal by a good band who know what they're doing, but I can't recommend it over any of their previous albums.

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