One Man Army

Written by: AP on 25/04/2015 16:20:55

Having stumbled across Ensiferum at an early stage in their career (more specifically in 2001, via the singles “Token of Time” and “Battle Song” off the group’s self-titled debut album), the Finnish folk/melodic death metal purveyors have always held a special place in my heart - this despite the fact that I’ve never been too fond of folk metal. But then, Ensiferum’s usage of the folk element is different to most, in that it only manifests itself as a traditional Finnish touch to the melodies. Indeed, if one was to nitpick, the music of Ensiferum is more closely aligned with battle metal - the term coined by their countrymen Turisas - and to some extent Viking themed metal; but even then, it is rather the melodic death metal in it that occupies the driver’s seat. So it has always been, and so it continues to be on the group’s sixth full-length “One Man Army” which, in keeping with tradition, opens in majestic style with the instrumental “March of War”, a theatrical piece playing like the soundtrack to a looming epic battle scene.

The stage is thus set for another grandiose journey through folk-laced, warfare-themed extreme metal that, from experience, should deliver memorable songs aplenty. But although the subtle reprise of “Token of Time”’s signature acoustic melody in the first song proper, “Axe of Judgement”, brings a smile to my face, there is immediately something to the production values that bothers me. It is as though the synths and joint battle cries have taken precedence over Petri Lindroos & Markus Toivonen’s brilliant guitar work, forcing upon the music an atmosphere which is a little too lofty for my liking; and the fact that said track suffers from the absence of striking hooks does little to help the impression. When the synth element is toned down in the following “Heathen Horde”, however, with Emmi Silvennoinen substituting her profuse ooh-s and aah-s for a recognisable melody, the outcome is at once more successful, the galloping riffs, tempered use of double pedal and gloriously chanted chorus (”All heathen hearts answer the call. God of thunder, bless our swords! Our heathen horde will never fall. We are hungry for blood, steel and war.”) combining to form the sort of anthem for which Ensiferum are renowned.

Contributing a dash of speed metal to the fray, the following title track emerges as another highlight; the harsh, thrash-fueled rhythmic foundation and power chord arrangements evoking memories of Kalmah as well as Lindroos' former band Norther - added Ensiferum's trademark cinematic vastitude of course. The quirky "Two of Spades" four songs further on also marks itself as a standout moment,the infectious gang-roared chorus of "I, I'm a high roller! Gambling my life every single day. I'm not a poser, because the card of my life is two of spades." and 90's themed interlude complete with a disco beat and lyrics sung in Finnish initially fooling me into believing the song a cover in the vein of Turisas' quasi-legendary take on Boney M's "Rasputin". It is worrying, however, that such a tongue-in-cheek pick should be one of the most memorable occasions on the LP given Ensiferum's track record of writing ambitious, high grade metal, particularly as their taste for the majestic seems only to have grown over the years.

Strictly speaking, the monumental progressive epic "Cry for the Earth Bounds" represents the most accomplished song writing "One Man Army" has to offer. But the depth, beauty and complexity of these songs is difficult truly to appreciate, when fleshed out by material that by Ensiferum's usual standards should be called misfires elsewhere across the record. Indeed, while the Finns' music remains dramatic as ever, "One Man Army" longs for the immediacy of previous albums; what consolidated "Iron" (2004) and "From Afar" (2009) as crucial albums for any connoisseur of melodic metal. As such, despite the fact that Ensiferum's creations could only foolishly be dismissed as drab, knowing they're capable of so much more paints "One Man Army" in somewhat disappointing colours overall.


Download: Heathen Horde, One Man Army, Cry for the Earth Bounds, Two of Spades
For the fans of: Amon Amarth, Kalmah, Turisas, Wintersun
Listen: Facebook

Release date 20.02.2015
Metal Blade Records

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