Iron (Reissue)

Written by: GR on 07/12/2009 22:39:08

Following on from the review of Ensiferum's debut self-titled album, I present my thoughts on follow-up "Iron", and given my fairly lengthy introduction and overall review last time, I'll try to keep things a bit more swift here. "Iron" was recorded in 2003 at Copenhagen's famed Sweet Silence studios with producer Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Morbid Angel, Blind Guardian etc.) and originally released in 2004. The album was made with the same line-up as the previous effort, along with the addition of keyboardist Meiju Enho, but marked the last time they would record together, as frontman Jari Mäenpää left the band soon after "Iron" was completed, followed by bassist Jukka-Pekka Miettinen and drummer Oliver Fokin in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

Something I didn't mention in my last review is that whilst you'd think that assessing an album I know well would be easier than writing about the latest random release, it has actually proved harder in some respects. Having listened to an album by one of my favourite bands hundreds of times is all very well, but then having to articulate my thoughts into an 'objective' review that I feel does the music justice is somewhat more tricky. That said, reviewing these records has helped crystallise my opinions of them from a critical point of view - which always helps when the time comes to make a 'favourites' list! - and has actually increased my love of Ensiferum as a band.

With an outstanding debut under their belt I'm sure the band were keen to follow it up with something that would build on their initial success - and from the excellent album artwork and Viking-esque band photos alone it's clear that "Iron" is very much a continuation of what the previous album started. That's not to say the music contained within is exactly the same as before; whilst the sound is very much recognisable as Ensiferum, the overall feel is one of a more measured approach to song writing and delivery. "Ensiferum" was stuffed full of changing riffs and melodies and had a certain raw immediacy about it, whereas "Iron" seems to find the band taking a step back and aiming to define their sound with a more refined and balanced style. This generally translates to slightly simpler song structures and less flashy playing, in relative terms of course (this is no punk album!), but don't think this means Ensiferum have lost the knack of writing great songs - far from it. Fully-fledged acoustic intro "Ferrum Aeternum" starts as what seems to be a typical folk piece but soon gathers pace to a gallop that brings Western (i.e. cowboy) movies to mind, leading into one of Ensiferum's most well known songs; the title track. With an instantly recognisable riff and blast of synth the album is off to a high octane start that shows Ensiferum songs are not just about sword-wielding warriors - "Iron" (the track) is about a gunslinger; Wild West gun-shot sound effects and all.

From here on out the album is mostly what you'd be expecting from Ensiferum; catchy heavy riffing, acoustic folky passages, growled, clean, chanted and choral vocals, keyboard backing and an all-round heroic feel. Whilst there seems to be more of an emphasis on the galloping riffs and less infectious melodies than before, each track is a strong display of the band's song-writing chops, with memorable tunes ranging from emotive slower numbers "Tale of Revenge" and "Lost in Despair" (featuring clean vocals throughout) to the fast and furious "Slayer of Light". With mention of the clean vocals, it has to be noted that these are used a lot more than on the debut - ranging from a deep 'Viking choir' style to something akin to shrieking power metal from Jari at times - and along with a 'synthy' keyboard sound and a more restricted set of influences than before, perhaps make this album more accessible and less 'extreme'. Whether it has something to do with producer Rasmussen or not (he did twiddle the knobs for "Ride The Lightning" and "Master Of Puppets after all), there is definitely a more thrashy feel to some of the songs, and (slightly) to the production as a whole - which is reinforced further by a cover of Metallica's "Battery" as the bonus track on this reissue.

The album draws to a close with the epic and catchy "LAI LAI HEi" - the first Ensiferum song I ever heard - which is a great sing-along track in a live environment (even the bits in Finnish, although I have no idea of the actual words) followed by "Tears". This ending song (bonus track aside) is rather different from the others, featuring only female vocals over a folk(ish) acoustic backing. It has quite an ethereal feel to it, conjuring up Lord Of The Rings type images, but seems a slightly strange way to end the album. With three less proper songs than on the first album (discounting the intro, interlude and bonus track) "Iron" is fairly compact, so it's a shame the band didn't have one or two high-energy tracks on which to finish, although only if these were of a high standard of course.

This is a great album, no doubt about it, but for me it doesn't quite match the inventiveness, dynamism or passion of the debut. While the song-writing is still strong and memorable and there are no bad moments, it just doesn't stimulate me to the same level. If I'm being honest this is my least favourite Ensiferum album (some people seem to knock "Victory Songs"; I bloody love it), but it's still head and shoulders above many of its contemporaries. The excitement level may have dropped slightly, but this is still a record that you need in your collection, so why not buy it today and see if you agree?

Download: Iron, Tale of Revenge, LAI LAI HEI
For the fans of: Wintersun, Finntroll, Equilibrium
Listen: Myspace

Release date 07.04.09 (Originally released 2004)

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