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It was always going to be difficult for Ensiferum to follow up a masterpiece like From Afar. Everything that is great and awesome about Ensiferum is doled out in gluttonous proportions on From Afar. it's big and epic, living up to it's identity without slipping into parody like folk metallers often do. So where do they go from there? Well, nowhere too interesting, it seems.
Right from the start, Unsung Heroes just doesn't grab the listener the way previous Ensiferum albums have done. From Hero in a Dream, to Iron, From Afar and Blood is the Price of Glory, the opening track of an Ensiferum album has always been an absolute burner, tearing out of the intro like a herd of stampeding horses. Sadly, the tradition dies this time around. In My Sword I Trust is a subdued, half-tempo offering that, while being catchy, is ultimately forgettable. And that's a major problem with Unsung Heroes as a whole; a lot of it feels like filler.
That's not to say it's a terrible album, or even a bad one. It's just very bloody average. For instance, Burning Leaves, for my two penneth, is a very good song, featuring a booming clean-vocal chorus and a nifty little guitar solo. It then plays beautifully into Celestial Bond, before falling flat with Retribution Shall Be Mine. The odd weak track would be tolerable in itself, but the problem here is that there are no gamebreaker tracks to hold them up. There is nothing as fun and eclectic as Stone Cold Metal. Nothing as grandiose as The Longest Journey. That doesn't mean they didn't try, mind you. They did. They tried to take a massive bite of epic pie with the album's closer, Passion Proof Power.
In many ways, the song Passion Proof Power is an interesting microcosm for the album itself (if you can overlook the dubious use of the word 'microcosm'; Passion Proof Power clocks in at a whopping seventeen minutes). Whereas Stone Cold Metal whipped along like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Passion Proof Power labours along like The Godfather 3. It's boxy, cumbersome and structureless, and seems like a cut and paste of about four different songs. It even stops altogether about ten minutes in for a dialogue section. It has it's moments, some very good sections in among the mess, but it doesn't have enough, and doesn't put them together fluidly enough to create a great song.
If you have a genuine love for the music of Ensiferum as many do, reheat some leftovers from the fridge and give Unsung Heroes a spin. You'll find absolutely nothing new on here, (besides the occasional nod to Edgar Winter) but you will find one, maybe two tracks that might be worthy of your Ensiferum Playlist.
How did this band fail to the 9th degree? Why did they bother releasing this album? What possessed them to write songs that are utterly worthless and recruit someone from the pop industry to record them. There is just about nothing redeemable on this album. It was possibly the most unsatisfying listen and biggest let down for any high expectation album next to Wintersun's Time.
What makes this album so bad is the inane same old, same old approach to the songwriting. So regressive is the songwriting, it sounds as if it was an amateurish debut. The only thing that stands out on this album is the somewhat annoying clean vocals and a general lack of Petri's harsh vocals. Far too many songs are what I would call filler, stupid slow acoustic pieces that sound possibly like a failed actual folk band's project. The keyboards are overbearing, the guitar is thin, and the bass is muffled and droning. Is this a possible sellout effort? I shouldn't think so as they are already pretty well-known. Is it some experimental effort? Fuck, well if it is, it's a goddamn failure.
Other things that make this album redundant is the lack of any fast-paced, folksy numbers that is what make Ensiferum an entertaining theatrical beast. They replaced their fast-paced songs with slow, boring, acoustics, and weak vocal monotony. Calling this album 'epic!' would be a total misnomer as it is actually quite the opposite. Unsung Heroes is missing anything that songs such as "Deathbringer", "One More Magic Potion", or "LAI LAI HEI" possess; those songs seem to possess a certain fun and inspiration. This album contains 99% none of that.
I'm not sure what happened to this band after four brilliant albums and a more than adequate EP, but fuck, this album is poor and I wouldn't recommend it if you paid me. I suggest if you haven't already got any of their previous albums, get them and just try to forget this one even existed.
Best bit - the first 4 seconds of "Burning Leaves".
After exploding onto the scene with their magnificent debut and then gifting us with 2004's masterpiece 'Iron', it is no wonder that Ensiferum are very well respected in the realms of folk metal. One had to wonder after Jari's departure if the band would ever recover, but 'Victory Songs' proved that Ensiferum was still in the game. We now have have 'Unsung Heroes', which is a compelling listen if not somewhat controversial. I use this word because in the past the band have always been about galloping drums, heroic vocals, and legendary, lightning speed guitar work. Some of that is present here, but this album is generally deeper and darker in both sound and lyrical themes. Allow me to explain.
We start off with 'Symbols', a delicate little intro that has an oriental feel to it. Nothing fancy here, just a nice and atmospheric opener that sets the story. When the first full song kicks in, it is very similar to past releases and diehard fans will be most pleased. In fact, the first three songs will not cease to keep devout followers happy as they all have heroic choruses and awesome riffs full of melody. 'Burning Leaves' is one of the band's finest songs to date, and like the intro it has an almost oriental feel to it. The vocal melodies in the chorus sound more serious and mature than in the times of old. After the chorus, the verse almost seems to 'march' back in, much like the army that the song describes.
It is in the latter half of the album that Ensiferum start to show their deeper side. There are all kinds of songs here, from haunting female vocals to lightning fast gallops. 'Star Queen' is the album's finest song with a melancholy chorus and some beautiful instrumental sections. The whole album seems to sound bleak and somber. This is a good thing though as it shows that they can stray from their usual formula without losing the quality of the music. 'Pohjola' is very reminiscent of 'Dragonheads' with its rich, robust male choirs and folksy guitar parts.
As with most albums, there are inevitably some flaws here. The whole album is excellent with the exception of some shoddy vocals on 'Last Breath'. The song itself could have been good, but the awesome melodies are ruined by the vocals trying to reach heights they cannot. It is a relatively minor fault and does in no way let the album down. When the final track kicks in you will forget about this though, as it is one big folk metal experiment. A very successful experiment in fact. It sums up what this whole album is about, moody and haunting melodies that showcase Ensiferum's talent for diversity. The tempo on most of this album may be slower, but it still delivers that epic kick.
If at first you are disappointed with 'Unsung Heroes', approach it differently. Give it time and you will see it for what it is: a bold new step into a different side of folk metal. I am intrigued to see where these battle-hardened warriors will go from here.
My title perfectly sums up what you’re about to read. This is not a review, this is an autopsy; a look into just what the fuck happened here and what killed this record. If you want a review, here it is: Unsung Heroes is a lazy, overproduced and boring album that was neither worth the money or the time it took for it to arrive in the mail. If this is a good album then I don’t know what bad is. Now, if we’re splitting hairs, I’ll say this is not a –horrible- album, or the worst of the year by any means, and it is a tremendous letdown.
Before I begin the autopsy, I’ll start with saying I was reasonably hyped for Unsung Heroes. I followed Ensiferum on Facebook as they updated us fans about how it was coming along. I watched the interviews with the band and slowly but surely, my hopes were starting to deteriorate. First off, in an interview, the bassist and sometime- vocalist Sami Hinkka flat out said that some of the songs were constructed from old material the band had written. That was the first big red flag. In the studio diaries (that came with the CD) during the first week of recording, when asked about what Unsung Heroes was like, Sami replied with something along the lines of, “Same old shit.”
This is both true and false, in my opinion. Half the album is very similar to material taken from their previous release, From Afar. That wouldn’t even be a bad thing, but the major difference was that the band wanted to be bigger with this album. They wanted to be more epic! Be more like Turisas or Nightwish, or whoever the fuck else. This becomes blaringly apparent when obnoxious female opera vocals are thrown over the clean vocals during the choruses of In My Sword I Trust and the unforgivably boring and mediocre title track, Unsung Heroes. It’s cheap, it’s distracting, and it does nothing but take away from the song. It’s like having some asshole waving his arms in front of me trying to remind me of how epic and grand the song is.
Beneath the stupid choir vocals that get thrown over the choruses, half the album feels very much like same ol’ Ensiferum. If you’ve heard Victory Songs and From Afar, you’ve heard all this. If you like Victory Songs and From Afar, there is some enjoyment to be found here. The problem is, there isn’t enough to keep you coming back for more. Sure, I liked In My Sword I Trust and Burning Leaves during my first few listens, but now I feel like I could go the rest of my life without hearing these songs and not care at all. They did it before and they did better previously. Don’t even get me started on just how fucking far below Unsung Heroes is to Iron and their self-titled album. This isn’t a step back from the Jari-era, this is a fucking backflip off a cliff. I can just picture Jari sitting on his throne of unreleased copies of the second half of Time, laughing himself into a stupor at Unsung Heroes.
The second half of the album is… I don’t even know where to fucking begin. It’s like half of Unsung Heroes is just acoustic ballads, and it’s hard to say much about them because it may as well be a whole different band playing. Take Celestial Bond for example. This is not an Ensiferum song. This is some woman with a gorgeous voice backed with great acoustic instrumentals. If I show this to an Ensiferum fan not familiar with this album, they’re not going to like this song because it’s NOT Ensiferum. Same goes for Star Queen (which has the worst chorus out of any song Enisferum’s ever released) and Last Breath. Last Breath gets a special mention for having more cheese in it than a Dragonforce ballad. Seriously, the song is fucking cringe worthy.
Next we step to Passion, Proof, Power, a song I have a lot to say about when I feel like I don’t deserve to say anything. What do I mean by that? Well, I have never listened to the whole thing all the way through. That’s right; I cannot bring myself to finish Passion, Proof, Power. Why? Because it’s fucking boring and more than ten minutes longer than it should be. When a band makes a song longer than say, twelve minutes, they –better- have some good ideas here or the listener is going to get bored and just move onto another track. Bands like Moonsorrow and Wolves In the Throne Room can pull these long songs off. They have an atmosphere you find yourself lost in; they build up and leave you excited as the song builds and flows naturally; and most of all they don’t feel like six songs in one. Amidst Passion, Proof, Power, Enisferum goes from starting as Moonsorrow, turning to Nightwish, then to Rush, then to Dream Theater, back to Rush at some point, back to Nightwish with some Turisas thrown in, then into… fucking Finntroll? At the point where the song turns into Visor Om Slutet is where I stop listening. This song is just a sloppy mess of unrelated ideas and inspiration all crammed into one overly long mess that only for a few fleeting moments actually sounds like Ensiferum.
I can basically say the highlights of this album don’t count in Ensiferum’s favor because they have so little to do with the actual band. For example, the band Varg has a song that features Jonne Järvelä doing guest vocals. I like that song because I like Jonne Järvelä, not because I like Varg. That’s how Unsung Heroes feels to me at times.
Giving this album such a harsh review was hard for me because Ensiferum has played such a big role in helping me get into a genre I have fallen in love with. All the folk metal bands I absolutely love would have forever remained unknown to me if it weren’t for first hearing the song Guardians of Fate off lastFM one faithful day and eventually falling in love. At this point, the band’s steep decline has absolutely nothing to do with Jari no longer being in the band. To blame his absence on this failure is absurd. I think Ensiferum’s Victory Songs showcased that they didn’t need him to be a successful group. If anything, it really helped them branch out since the focus was no longer on the guitars and vocals with little else.
Unsung Heroes reeks of the band writing and recording their parts and giving it an apathetic shrug before saying, “Yeah, good enough.” The best part of this was the studio diaries that came with the album. They were by far more entertaining than the music itself. If you’re looking into picking up Unsung Heroes, I would recommend it just for the DVD disc and… pretty much nothing else.
You know, I really wanted this to be a great album. I wanted to look at all these negative reviews and just shake my head in disappointment. “Surely they’re all just elitists who hate folk metal!” I thought. No, it’s the actual fans that are turned away from Unsung Heroes.
We know Ensiferum can do better than this.
First of all, do people actually take this crap seriously? I mean, come on! Once you see a picture of all these shirtless chumps (and one clothed broad) dressed up in leather kilts with big brown boots playing under the genre of "folk metal", you begin to wonder if these fuckers just might be two cans short of a six pack. Am I right? I must be right, because if you watched the band's "studio diary's", you may have picked up on some pretty bizarre moments. There are instances in which band members are running around snowy fields completely naked along with creepy renditions of the Wizard of Oz. Oh, and what you got more than anything was the main songwriter boasting to the camera his beer of the hour. Yes, the guy had to be smashed out of his mind to write this nonfunctional steaming pile of gorilla shit.
To get on with it...This album sucks. It's everything you've already heard from this band. They are simply rehashing all their previous material and attempting to turn them into new songs. In short, it's just their same old folky riffs along with the never-ending stupid lyrics that revolve around Vikings, heroes, battles and what not. This is a "metal" band for World of Warcraft-loving nerds and theatrical nimrods who think that just because you dress up like a bunch of attention-seeking morons, you somehow are special. Well, I got a message for Ensiferum - Your costumes suck and so does your new album!
Now I will explain why this all has gotten on my nerves. I always hate to see an artist release the same album twice, but in Ensiferum's case, it's been 4 times in a row after their debut. Even all of their cover artwork looks the same. There definitely comes a time in which a band could try a little bit of evolution. Of course, Ensiferum has yet to evolve into something else. Sure, they've tried one thing different about this album, and that is using hints of death metal vocals, which unfortunately is rather bland.
After the intro, the first song is 'In My Sword I Trust'. This song sounds like something that would be written by an Ensiferum wannabe band rather than the real Ensiferum. It contains some goofy chants and a riff that gets old after the first listen. There is a decent solo involved, but it's not enough to save this song's sorry ass. It's the kind of song you would only want to hear after you've drank a whole bottle of bourbon and are now swinging around a stick pretending as if it were a some sort of sword.
Afterwards, we have the titles track Unsung Heroes. This too sounds as if it weren't even an Ensiferum written track. How so? Because it sounds as if someone just listened to Tale of Revenge off of the Iron album and completely ripped it off. Another great example, the next song up is Burning Leaves. Guess where Burning Leaves gets its inspiration from? Sword Chant off of the Iron album as well! The two intros are almost identical! Also, there is Retribution Shall Be Mine. I wonder where the fast, thrash-esque beginning got its inspiration from? Perhaps from Slayer of Light off of the Iron album as well?
The guitar riffs are cheesy and uninspired. The lyrics are the same as they've always been and are really getting tiring. The artwork is being done by the same guy for every album (which pretty much tells us that this band refuses to try anything new). And the last song on this album clocks in at 17 minutes. Out of nowhere, the band decides to compose Dream Theater-length songs? This all confuses and upsets me simultaneously.
As you can tell, Ensiferum have really gone downhill in every way possible since they kicked out Mr. Wintersun. But knowing that prima donna, if he were still in the band, the fans would be withering away in the wind waiting a fucking millennium just to hear a new song. If you love hearing the same album (and songs) over and over and over again, then Unsung Heroes for you. But for me, there's nothing I hate more than to see a band copy themselves. Especially when it is done in such a blatant and careless manner, which is why I gave this such a low score.
So, here it is: “Unsung Heroes” – The long awaited newest output of Finland’s most successful pagan metal band. The name ENSIFERUM alone usually promises an absolute highlight, so let’s see what the guys have delivered this time.
I was really excited when I got to hear “Burning Leaves” beforehand, and since I really liked “From Afar”, my expectations were extremely high.
At first listen I was quite disappointed, to be honest. The fact that pretty much the whole album consists of mid- or down-tempo songs was quite a surprise. Only “Retribution Shall be mine” and “Pohjola” come up with some really fast parts. Nevertheless, there was also some kind of magic moment when I first listened to “Passion Proof Power”, which – I dare say – is the most exceptional song the band has ever done.
But first things first: The disappointment from the beginning soon began to fade as I listened to the CD again and again. As soon as I accepted that “Unsung Heroes” does not really continue the way that “From Afar” ended, the album started to work very well for me.
With “Symbols” we have, of course, the obligatory intro that every Ensiferum output has; so nothing really new here, but good, though. Then, “In my sword I trust” fires a broadside of epicness, that might not kick you in the guts like “Blood is the price of Glory” did back then, but that simply makes a lot of fun. I guess this will be a live classic very soon. What happens now, is what I mentioned before: The album starts to get stuck in mid- and down-tempo with songs like the title track, the beautiful “Celestial Bond” two-piece or “Last Breath”. For me that is perfectly well, because it is not always all about speed and heavyness. Plus, the songs are well thought-out, arranged and very epic. Some might think it a bit cheesy in some parts, but that is a matter of taste.
Another song that deserves credit is “Pohjola”, for is able to sound somehow typical Ensiferum on the one hand and completely fresh and new on the other hand. The choirs that go together with some nice blastbeats are simply outstanding here.
The grand finale is a song that is different in all respects. I still remember my thoughts when the band released the tracklist for “Unsung heroes”: “Passion Proof Power”? What a strange title…I still think so, but the song, too, is very strange. The band has my deepest respect for having the balls to write such a wonderful song. It has all the typical elements Ensiferum have developed over the years, but it also shows so much more. It is epic, is has some very progressive and groovy elements and at times it is just hilarious (you will know what I mean).
To put it in a nutshell: “Unsung Heroes” is a very epic and atmospheric album (even though there is a decreased use of orchestral elements, but instead more female vocals). It is focused on slower songs and contains not too many pure neckbreaking riffs. I guess, those who were too true to like anything but “Iron” and the first album will bash “Unsung Heroes” again. But those who are open-minded and give the album a serious chance will find out that it has quite a lot to offer. Once again, Ensiferum have kept up their high quality standards and delivered a highly satisfying album. I may add, that with a playing time of over 60 minutes (without any fillers), “Unsung Heroes” contains much more material than it is usual nowadays. It is as simple as that: In Ensiferum you can trust.
Originally written for www.northwind-promotion.org
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. 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.
(Originally published on beardsetc.blogspot.com)
Expectation as much as the actual quality of the product being examined can be hugely important in colouring a consumer’s satisfaction. Order a steak at a restaurant and find yourself with a bowl of spaghetti in front of you and it won’t matter how delicious a pasta product it turns out to be – you wanted a steak, damnit, and everyone’s going to hear about it.
Such seems to be the case with Ensiferum’s 5th CD, ‘Unsung heroes’ which has met with at least a degree of fan disillusionment despite the by now expected glowing praise from the metal press at large. Chief among the complaints is that the vibrant ferocity has left the music, with the overall tempo much decreased as the band pushes the epic and atmospheric approach they brought in on ‘From afar’ to the maximum.
These grievances are hardly unjustified, but it shouldn’t exactly have come as surprise to an experienced Ensiferum listener as it’s not as if this shift hasn’t been gradual and well signposted. Change by itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, despite still being a good listen in its own right, it would be hard to argue that this easily the weakest CD they have released to date.
The fear I had going as far back as ‘Victory songs’ that the new multi-singer arrangement would lead to a predictable set-up of growled verse/melodic chorus proved to be unfounded at the time but is more or less the law as far as this CD is concerned. Clean vocals are all over the place, with nearly every chorus a massive sing-a-long. In this respect they are starting to sound in places like the modern incarnation of their old influence Amorphis, notable on “Burning leaves” and particularly “Star queen”, where the dreamy, melancholy chorus bears great similarity to something their fellow Finns might have come up with in their place.
This isn’t by itself a bad thing though, as Markus Toivonen’s vocals are sounding better than ever, and bassist Sami Hinkka’s growing influence sees him getting a fair share of the singing at last, his booming baritone offering something different to Toivonen’s rather limited range. Hinkka even muscles in on the harsh vocals from time to time, and his guttural bellows also provide a decent counterpoint to Petri Lindroos’ yelping shrieks.
Lindroos is actually starting to seem a bit like the odd man out here, and a degree of sympathy can be felt for someone who is really only the nominal frontman nowadays. The reduced speed across the CD also takes the sting out of his performance and leaves his vocal contributions sounding flatter than they ever have, and a lack of guitar solos reduces his role even further.
Despite a largely agreeable rota of songs, the problem isn’t so much the new elements that have been incorporated but rather the old ones that are conspicuous in their absence. One of the things that made Ensiferum such a wonder, especially in their early days, was how tightly-wound their songs were, maintaining a furious pace while still managing to cram in all sorts of twists and turns.
In contrast to this, “In my sword I trust”, the most sedate opening track the band have yet penned, follows a fairly standard structure with a traditional instrument-led bridge featuring Hinkka’s first harsh vocal contribution, and runs to nearly 5-1/2 minutes long. Back in the day, songs like “Token of time” and “Guardians of fate” managed to fit in all this and more into nearly half the time, and it leaves some of the songs on ‘Unsung heroes’ sounding a little hollow by comparison.
For example, “Retribution shall be mine” features a decent thrashy riff that it proceeds to completely ride into the ground with very little accompaniment to keep it fresh. That this is the only properly fast song on the CD leaves the feeling that it was included as a sort of concession to the fans of the faster stuff and that the band’s collective heart wasn’t really in it.
It has to be said that though that, despite some faffing around that make the running time seem to be deliberately and needlessly drawn out by a few minutes, the 17-minute closer “Passion, proof, power” is a really impressive piece of work. Comprising as many different segments as a song of such size would need to remain fresh, it features plenty of rampaging fast sections and great vocal interplay, as well as a dazzling neoclassical guitar solo the likes of which hasn’t been heard since Jari Mäenpää’s days. All the things anyone would want to hear from Esiferum are in this song somewhere, and it’s just a shame really that they couldn’t have portioned this sort of stuff out more evenly through the CD as a whole.
‘From afar’ seemed at times to be the sound of a band in transition, and with ‘Unsung heroes’ that chrysalis period seems to have ended with a different outfit coming out the far end. What it really does though, is throw into sharper contrast the niggling notion that Ensiferum have been on a gentle, but inexorable decline ever since their debut, but even with a comparatively weak offering here, they’re nowhere near the bottom yet.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
It has been three years since From Afar and expectations for Ensiferum's next release were obviously very high. For me, those expectations have been met. The album was definitely different than I was expecting, but it was different in a good way. With a focus more on folk/acoustics and atmosphere, those expecting an album filled with speedy 'battle songs' will be sorely disappointed with their first couple of listens to this album. This is a fairly unique addition to Ensiferum's discography, and I'm glad the album turned out the way it did.
When you listen to this album for the first time don't expect speedy metal with a constant display of riffs that will 'melt your face'. To expect what was found in From Afar will not lead to a good listening experience either. There are definitely moments that incorporate those things in this album, but it is not the main focus here.
I often see the album described as a cinematic experience, and I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. As stated earlier, the 'folk/acoustic' presence is felt a lot more here than on their previous releases. The album is more deserving of the 'folk metal' label than any other Ensiferum release yet. It is a very immersive album. Though the run time is 61 minutes, the album feels nowhere near that long when you listen to it. It grabs you and doesn't let go. I didn't want the album to end. It is very rare for an album to have me listening three times in a row back to back.
The almost constant use of keyboard/orchestra and choir found in From Afar is now used a little more sparingly and subtly for most of Unsung Heroes. For the most part the instruments take center stage and the orchestra is used subtly and in the background. There are moments when the orchestra does take over though and I feel that the more subtle use throughout the rest of the album makes these moments that much better.
The use of keyboard/orchestra and choir is also used more on this album to add atmosphere and to create build ups that can easily be described as epic. There are moments when Petri's vocals do this as well. You can find an example of the build ups right from the get go with the intro 'Symbols'. Another example is found near the beginning of the very next song, 'In My Sword I Trust'. With each repetition of the main riff the backing orchestra and choir build up more and more to make the chorus an even more climactic and satisfying affair. The album features many sections like this. Petri's vocal contribution to the build up feeling is felt especially In Pohjola. The subtle use of the keyboard and the increasingly intense vocals from Petri right before the chorus at around the 2 minute mark all work together to give the chorus a driving and epic feeling.
There are a variety of vocal styles on display here in this album. Be it spoken word/narration, clean singing or harsh vocals, each style features more than one variation.
Overall, this is one of 2012's best albums for me. The album came as a big surprise and It helped re-invigorate my love for Ensiferum's music. This is a unique addition to Ensiferum's discography and I believe that in time it will come to be even more widely appreciated.
I would like to say beforehand I am a huge Ensiferum fan and was ready to piss my pants when I read there was a new Ensiferum album coming out.
So I pre-ordered this album, insanely excited at the time and it ended up coming in 3 weeks late (which got me less excited than ever to hear it). When I picked it up, I didn't listen to it because I chose to listen to Katatonia's new album instead on the way home instead. I finally popped it in on my way to work one day, which gave me enough time to listen to about the first 5 or 6 songs. All I can say is I was pissed off all day at work.
The beginning of the album sets the mood for some sort of knight ceremony which I found bizarre because this is supposed to be Viking metal and sounds nothing like it. Sort of an out of place introductory song, as it doesn't really serve a purpose on the album or even tie into the next song. The album starts off slow and stays that way for the vast majority of its hour length, so if you were anticipating the Twilight Tavern/From Afar head banging Petri Lindroos version of Ensiferum, you might be disappointed with this release. I find none of the songs to really have any sort of climax and are all rather slow and repetitive, excluding a couple. Petri's vocals sound like they don't belong on this album, although he does a really good job with slower Ensiferum songs. When I listen to this album, all I can imagine (also with From Afar) is what it would sound like with Jari's vocals, or what would have been done differently.
There are only few things I praise on this album. The choruses on most of the songs are brilliantly catchy, although there are a couple that you can't wait to end. In sections of tracks on this album where choruses and riffs will soar with excellence, others will crumble. Every song has its high and low points, but there is a world of difference between those two ends. But the thing is I find myself listening to this album more and more, though my initial reaction to it is an overall dislike; it has this addicting sense to it like it's going to grow on me or something, but at the same time I know it won't. There are a lot of negative things I could say about this album that I won't, so I'll only point out the major flaw: no excitement. The whole album seems to drag on endlessly and at times you catch yourself saying "when is this going to end?” There is an overall bore to this album and most of the songs take a few listens to actually get a feel for, but after listening to this album around ten times I still find myself skipping songs because I know what's coming: inevitable disapproval.
There are a few songs that really stand out on the album while all the others to me are easily forgettable. There are two songs I love to hear back to back and they are the title track and Burning Leaves. I actually thought the third song was called Frozen Tear until I looked it up in my iTunes. I think these are by far the best songs on the album. Unsung Heroes taking first place for the best chorus with any other part in the song having the endless journey feel to it which I can't get enough of. I think Petri's singing sounds absolutely amazing in this song. I think of it as an over the top example of a modern slower Ensiferum song. The song after, Burning Leaves, has by far the catchiest, most amazing riffs in it that want to make you head bang like a fucking ape on LSD. The chorus is lacking something and sounds a lot different than the other song, but overall I love this track. There is a song with female vocals and one thing I would like to say that does this song great justice is that it has no introduction and they just go straight to singing. I think with an acoustic intro the song would be far too slow to start and a lot harder to get into. The song is alright, the main thing I just crave from this song is the chorus. It is bone-chilling and stabs into your heart every time you hear it. I wish I knew her name to give her some credit because she does have a great voice.
Two songs I really didn't understand were Last Breath, which sounds like one of those Turisas songs you will never know the name of unless you are a hardcore fan, and Bambaleo, the bonus track. This song sounds like it belongs in a movie and I find it to be more of a joke if anything, although the song does have a very 'complete' feel to it, which I find most of the other songs are deeply lacking.
My conclusion to this all is, in my eyes, Ensiferum is on a very steep slide to the grave without Jari Maenpaa, and on a side note, Norther is on the same slide without Petri Lindroos. From Afar is brilliant, but I find this album is really lacking completion for the most part. It is lacking excitement everywhere and it has no focal points or anything spectacular to look forward to. I say this to myself every time I listen to Ensiferum or Norther now, if only...IF ONLY Jari could still be the vocalist for Ensiferum and Petri would go back to Norther, the world would be a much, much better place.
Ensiferum have had a good run in the Viking/folk metal scene over the last seventeen years, the Finnish ensemble having formed in 1995. With a catalog of releases that have always failed to disappoint, the band reached the climax of their career with 2009's From Afar, which shone a light on how Ensiferum can reinvent themselves in various ways and still have a firm hold onto what makes them who they are. Needless to say, Unsung Heroes has high expectations to fill as well as a three year void. Have Ensiferum managed to hang onto their win streak, or will things fade with this fifth full-length installment?
From the beginning of Unsung Heroes there is a clearly heard lack of energy. The whole thing comes off a bit Turisas styled since Ensiferum have decided to include gratuitous amounts of clean vocals and synthesizer elements, making this their most generically melodic album yet. "Symbols" starts the album off with a synthesizer introduction that casually builds up with a noble melody, complete with horns and deep drums. The intro leads into "In My Sword I Trust", this track is easily one of the few highlights on the material and it has a decent melody and a catchy clean sung chorus. The title track "Unsung Heroes" is another mediocre mention, followed by "Burning Leaves" which is a track filled with hooky guitar rhythms. In this song Ensiferum show a standard transition between their melodic death metal style into their well known folk elements, but nowhere near as the transitional prowess demonstrated on From Afar.
"Celestial Bond" is where the album takes a new turn and the content completely slows down into a female fronted folk ballad. Laura Dziadulewicz lends her voice to this track and her clean vocals are backed by deep, pounding traditional drums and acoustic guitars with hints of a light flute from time to time. The vocalist delivers a great performance, entwining seamlessly with the tenor male vocals that join in during parts of the composition. However the problem with this is that the same style is presented in the same way multiple times throughout the content. Songs "Star Queen (Celestial Bond part II)" and "Last Breath" have the same slow ballad tone. "Star Queen" isn't quite as snore-worthy as its predecessor, but it still feeds the slow, draining feeling of Unsung Heroes, only this time by using clean male vocals and more than just traditional instruments. The band try to heat things up again through the one track that lies between these two parts, "Retribution Shall be Mine", but this effort is mediocre at best. The song isn't bad, nor is it particularly good, but it's the only one that actually offers up something close to what Ensiferum are capable of and what they generally sound like. The downside being that it's buried between two slowest tracks of the album.
There's an uneven balance between Ensiferum's death metal syle and their traditional folk style in Unsung Heroes that tips the album more in favor of traditional folk. The album comes off lacking a sense of direction and purpose at times on top of packing some tediously unoriginal material. Sometimes the clean male vocals are strained to achieve an octave here or there, like in "Last Breath". A big chunk of the album lies in the final song, "Passion, Proof, Power", and it is also the longest singular Ensiferum song created clocking in at seventeen minutes even. There are a few style mix ups through this exceedingly long track and an incorporation of all types of vocal elements found in the preceding tracks, but again this track favors trudging slowness and nauseating unoriginality.
Unsung Heroes is by far the worst Ensiferum release to date, full of disappointment in every track and an audible regression in talent, production, capability and style. There is a heavy lack of energy that is draining on the listener and most people will find themselves either skipping tracks or not sticking it out after the first four songs. Those who do make it through the entire hour long track list will not find themselves keen on an immediate, if ever, replay. From Afar was a great demonstration of how Ensiferum can branch off into different styles and still maintain power and creativity, Unsung Heroes is a great demonstration on what the band shouldn't attempt to do again and is a poor Turisas knock-off style record with soft ballads and less than mediocre highlight songs. A definite pass on one of the worst highly anticipated albums from 2012.
- Villi Thorne
*hums tune to "Stone Cold Metal"*
You're all humming it now too, aren't you? That song is a very special one within Ensiferum's catalog because it shows that they can retain their trademark hooks and over-the-top theatrics while still trying something new. The Old West style saloon feel of that song really makes it stand out as one of their best, with the whistles and piano and twanging banjos replacing the more traditional folk instruments and symphonic ensembles that the band normally utilizes. It showed they can branch out from their comfort zone and make awesome, folksy power metal wherever they go, no matter how they try to do it. While some of the experiments on the previous album, From Afar, didn't really work as well as they'd hoped, the effort was clearly there, and it signified the dawn of a new era within Ensiferum's history.
And that is precisely what makes 2012's Unsung Heroes such a bloody kick in the nards. This is a very, very lame and uninspired regression back to the Victory Songs era, and just plain reeks of the band phoning it in. And when I say it goes back to Victory Songs, I really mean it goes back to the ideas of one track on that album, the ballad, "Wanderer". That is my favorite Ensiferum album and I think "Wanderer" is a great track, but one of the reasons it is so good is because it's the only track of its kind on the album. It stands as a unique look at the loneliness that these mythic warriors embarking on epic, world spanning quests that they normally write about really go through. It's a look on the more melancholy side of adventuring, and the music reflects the tone of the lyrics. It works great for what it is, a more restrained ode to our heroes. The issue with Unsung Heroes is that nearly 80% of the album follows the formulas set by "Wanderer" and the various other slow songs on the first two albums. If y'all don't remember, those have always been my least favorite aspects of the early albums. The plodding ballady songs that dominate nearly half of the self titled and break the flow of the otherwise stellar Iron. With Unsung Heroes, it's nearly the only kind of song on display.
I once again feel the need to point out the intro track, as I've noticed that my enjoyment of the album as a whole seems to be directly proportional to how much I like the signature folk intro track. All the previous ones have carried a nice melody or a sense of foreboding or urgency, whereas "Symbols" here goes in one ear and out a nostril. The pattern continues when "In My Sword I Trust" marches in. This seems to be the fan favorite on the album, with even the numerous vocal detractors that they album has garnered claiming this to be the most in tune with the spirit of the band's previous works. The chorus is a nice, rousing affair, I won't lie, and the solo is very flashy and entertaining, but otherwise it's a mid paced trot through a rather uninteresting area we've visited plenty of times before. The main riff also reminds me of "Tie Your Mother Down" by Queen, which is pretty cool I guess, anything that reminds me of Queen is a winner in my book, but that's always been a pretty good signal of quality. If the best things remind you of something better, it's a pretty good indication that what you're listening to probably doesn't have a whole lot of interesting things to say on their own. And with tracks like "Last Breath", "Burning Leaves", "Unsung Heroes", and the two "Celestial Bond" songs in addition to that opening song, it just cements the problem with the album. They all recall "Lost in Despair" or "Old Man" or "Eternal Wait" or "Tears" from previous albums. Essentially, they hearken back to the half of their old dichotomy that always bored me shitless. I can admit that the melodious female vocals in "Celestial Bond" are very pleasant and the male counterpart in "Star Queen" matches them in terms of smoothness, but the songs themselves just drag like an anchor behind a bicycle with no tires.
Basically what this album lacks is energy. One thing you could never take away from the band was their dedication to the pomp and bombast that permeates all of their best songs. Ensiferum was always on top of their game when cranking out high tempo rockers with very strikingly thick symphonics and Finnish folk melodies. Even songs that featured slower, folkier parts would build into a victorious fanfare that made the slow parts worth it, as the payoff would be nothing with out it (See "Lai Lai Hei" and "Victory Song" for prime examples). Everything would build and explode, or it would leave the gate in a sprint and not slow down until long after it had crossed the logical finish line. Now with Unsung Heroes, we're treated to a host of dull sightseeing tours, with the band trolling along at a slow pace, occasionally pointing at things and saying "Isn't that pretty?". It's lame, it's not fun, it's not even interesting, the lack of conviction really makes it feel like the band didn't give much of a shit when it came to this album. It's a series of mainly inconsequential, low tempo dullards with nothing interesting happening inside, even if Markus Toivonen is finally getting more and more opportunities to sing.
Now this album isn't without its merits, there are a couple songs I have yet to mention. "Pohjola" is also a midpaced track, but unlike the previous treks, this one has some bounce and energy to it. The folky overtones complement the strong guitar work and actually manage to capture some of the lost fire that this album sorely lacks. There's also a small segment of narration, and the narrator sounds like Christopher Lee. I know I just said that it's bad when the good things remind you of something better, but there's a charm about hearing Saruman describe epic battles over bombastic power metal that I'll adore no matter who he's rambling over. The 17 minute epic track, "Passion Proof Power" is also surprisingly well done after an album full of lifeless slumps, as it manages to build itself up to a fun climax on more than one occasion. Essentially every idea the album toys with is fully realized within this closing epic, and if the energy and dedication that the band put into this track had been prominent throughout the previous 45 minutes, you'd be looking at a much more generous score at the top of the page here, even if it does end roughly five minutes after it should. And then there's "Retribution Shall Be Mine", which is this album's answer to "Slayer of Light", "The New Dawn", and "Elusive Reaches". It retains the bludgeoning aggression of those previous tracks, but fleshes it out amongst a much longer span of time and keeps the folk elements higher and the guitar with some much freer noodling. The guitar soloing is actually a bit of an anomaly within Unsung Heroes actually, as it really stands out as a greater cog in the gears that make the album tick. It was never a huge, prominent feature with Ensiferum previously, but it is here, and it's a nice touch that keeps the album listenable during the dull songs that take up so much of the time.
Essentially, there are only three tracks out of nine proper that contain anything enjoyable, and they're all in the latter half of the album. It takes nearly 23 minutes before the first worthwhile track rears its head. And the best track is honestly the bonus track, "Bamboleo". It's a Gypsy Kings cover, whom I've never heard of, nor have I ever heard the original version of this song, but if I gave any less of a shit about that, I'd be taking one. The song is presented in a straight up death metal fashion, chock full of blast beats and the harsh vocals consisting entirely of low death growls (which I honestly though Petri was always pretty good at pulling off), with a fun mariachi style chorus. It's by far the most memorable track on the album, hands down, and even if you hate the song I find it hard to disagree with that. At least something happens in it.
Unsung Heroes is easily the least interesting, and overall most disappointing Ensiferum album to date. I don't blame the departure of Jari Maenpaa for this like so many others have been doing across the internet, as this has really always been Toivonen's band, and he fared very well for the first two albums with Petri. I just think that the band as a whole is running out of ideas, as this entire album feels phoned-in and obligatory, as opposed to the band being excited about writing new songs they were proud of. So yes, the popular opinion is right on the money here. If you're new to the band, start with any of the first three albums, if you're an established fan, feel free to listen to this but be prepared for the album to finish with you scratching your head, wondering where Ensiferum went.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
Ensiferum's new output received rather mixed and mostly even negative critics but in my humble opinion this album is clearly better than the previous faceless release "From Afar" and the overall quite boring "Victory Songs". Of course, this release doesn't top the energizing first two releases and genre highlights in the original line-up that are "Ensiferum" and "Iron" but it's the best one since the important line-up changes that occured around eight years ago now.
I must admit that the critics are though right about the epic "Passion Proof Power" that is in fact as stupid as its title suggests. The track simply goes nowhere over seventen minutes and has no gripping passages at all. The narrative passages in German towards the end add the cherry on the top of the cheese cake and sound completely ridicolous and filled with the most stupid stereotypes. Role play gamers might laugh about it but anybody else just feels ashamed. I'm not a role play gamer.
The other songs though pardon for this epic fail. One gets a good mixture of heavier tracks such as the fast paced "Retribution Shall Be Mine" and more laid back folk anthems based around acoustic guitars, chilling choirs and some enchanting female vocals as in "Celestial Bond" for example. The band simply resumes everything it stands for and portrays its vast potential and diverse style and genre variations on this record.
At some points, I'm though missing something like a clear guiding line and there might even be too much diversity on this release and quantity doesn't always pair with quality. I might also add that the calmer, epic and melodic folk parts are clearly more frequent than the more metal driven songs which might frustrate fans of the ealier days. This album is more in the vein of its two precedessors musically but the quality on this one here is definitely higher than before.
With the energizing "In My Sword I Trust" and the epic single "Burning Leaves", the band even has two of its catchiest tracks ever on board. Add to this that the bonus track "Bamboleo", a Gipsy Kings cover, is the best cover track the band has ever done and a really brutal metal song in the energizing verses while the chorus is really catchy, festive and powerful. The band experiments with rumba and flamenca sounds in this song which is something completely new to them and it works surprisingly well.
In the end, "Unsung Heroes" is a versatile and energizing record and easily the best album of the new Ensiferum era. The record would even get a better rating or some more praise by the critics if there were not a little bit too many calm tracks and especially if the Finnish band hadn't included the horrible "Passion Proof Power" on this release that represents more than one quarter of the entire record. That's why my final rating isn't that elevated even though I'm positive about this album and see a promising development of the band. Personally, I simply skip the worst track and enjoy most of the rest and I hope and suggest everybody to do so and give this record another fair try.
Unsung Heroes starts off with a beautiful instrumental which has a very mellow tone to it. It sets up the album very well, being so peaceful at the start yet growing throughout. My favorite chorus on the album is actually in the very first song, “In My Sword I Trust”, and is probably exactly what you’re thinking it sounds like. Nice layered vocals chanting “in my sword I trust…” and given the band’s name literally means “Sword Bearer”, would you expect anything less? A little too cheesy for you? Then you shouldn’t be listening to folk metal! The clean vocals in this track are fantastic and the riffs and drums are galloping and hard to ignore… definitely understandable why the band chose this track as their first single.
The harsh vocals are still very prominent in the entire album, but I feel as if the clean vocals are used to really drive the songs home. Personally I am a very lyrically focused listener so I appreciate the fact that I can truly feel a song on a higher level other than only a harsh scream. They’ve done a great job at linking the keyboards in with the vocal melodies, especially in tracks like “Unsung Heroes” and “Star Queen (Celestial Bond Part II)” which are a bit slower tracks than the band is known for, but still beautiful works of art, to each their own. I’d say for a band so well known for their epic tales set to heavy and fast folk metal, this album may be a step in a new direction.
The beginning half of the album is definitely the best, they put their strongest foot first. Each song features each band member very well, showing off their honed skills individually. As the album goes on however I feel it does lose its momentum as the songs impress me less and less. The last song is a 17-minute long epic (which I believe to be a new record for the band) that has beautiful moments, but also has a few awkward moments mixed in… like with the voice over. It’s a great concept I just wish the recording sounded a bit more rounded and less like it was recorded in a closet. There is a “phaser” effect throughout this song that really throws me off and makes me uncertain of what the goal was.
The faster, more thrash influenced drumming is definitely lacking in the album, such as the style found in 2007’s album Victory Songs. There are very little moments of double bass from Janne in this new album, though the moments he uses the technique definitely deserve them, I feel as though the album could have used a bit more of his typical hard hitting style. This new, more galloping style, is found more in traditional power metal than anything else… a bad thing? Not at all! I also feel like the guitars are very under-utilized. This band is lucky enough to have some extremely talented guitarists, but the guitar solos and true hard-hitting riffs are too few and far between in this synth-heavy album. On a lighter note, as always, Ensiferum is extremely successful in capturing the bass and keyboards perfectly on recording. I absolutely love how they write their bass melodies to mingle in with the keys. To my ears at least, they are spot on throughout the entire album.
There are moments in this album where I feel completely lost in another, more beautiful world than ours, and then there are moments where I’m not quite sure what the band was trying to accomplish. All in all though, a great release. This band has managed to release album after album getting rave reviews, and this one should be no exception. As a huge fan of power metal I am definitely excited to see where this band goes in the future. If as I’m predicting they take on a more melodic sound, they will definitely have sunken their metal teeth under my skin, and will have a fan hooked for life.
[Originally written for Metalwani.com]
The ascension or decline of any band is largely a question of degrees, particularly when either of the two occurring is so self-evident that a denial becomes dubiously contrarian. The latter eventuality can be a delicate matter as an overly hyperbolic reaction can deceive the reader unintentionally. This is relevant because barring a strong degree of loyalty without question, Ensiferum’s latest offering can be counting among many attempts at branching out and going a bit awry in the process and it is important to point out that this decline in quality that has resulted is an incremental one. It is so in relation to the last 2 albums, both of which struggled (more successfully in the case of “From Afar”) to rekindle the magic that was lost when Jari jumped from the dragon boat.
To be fully forthcoming, the outward workings of “From Afar” did foreshadow a growing interest in symphonic sounds in addition to the assortment of folksy themes and period instruments, though said album brought these in as additives rather than replacing the high energy brilliance of “Iron” with a restrained character that bears a good deal of similarity to Luca Turilli’s “The Infinite Wonders Of Creation” and Judas Priest’s “Nostradamus”. This slower approach actually results in some fairly listenable, albeit inferior works in the cases of the title song and “Burning Leaves”, the latter of which served as a preview a few months prior to this album’s release as a single. The balladic elements are definitely pronounced, but they avoid completely ruling the roost.
Unfortunately, a good amount of what comes along with moderately slow but still metallic anthems of the aforementioned variety is a fair amount of convoluted or somniferous meandering, taking on some elements of the ballad work heard out of Epica and the progressive semi-folksy ramblings of Tyr. The greatest offenders in the former category are “Celestial Bond” and “Star Queen (Celestial Bond Pt. 2)”, both of which put a good deal of emphasis on clean vocals and acoustic balladry, much more than the average fan of this band would expect or likely tolerate. In congress with the latter category is “Passion Power Proof”, which is all over the place and seems to be attempting to rope in a few stragglers from the Wuthering Heights camp, but fails at truly capture the energy that said band exudes even on their long winded numbers.
Granted, this album isn’t a total wash and occasionally gets things into gear. The two shinning points of this otherwise faded affair are “In My Sword I Trust” and “Pohjola”, both of which are fairly mid-tempo by the standards of past work, but still manage to play up the glorious parts of the band’s arsenal and falls back on symphonic sounds only to bolster an already solid foundation. Petri’s harsh shouts have been de-emphasized a good bit to make room for a host of narrated passages, clean vocal choruses and bombastic instrumental sections, which would definitely explain a negative reaction in the band’s base at present. There is one little glimpse of high octane thrashing to be found in “Retribution Shall Be Mine”, a song that sounds like a b-side from “Victory Songs” and actually allows the band’s latent melodic death metal roots to shine through for a few minutes.
The hard truth is, when a band spends 4 albums following a very consistent formula, and drastic changes will be met with either bewilderment or outright hostility. The author of this review doesn’t quite feel either of these, but there is definitely a strong decline in the former consistency that this band has been known for. This isn’t an issue of being over-produced or under-produced, nor is it one of a band losing its ability to get the job done on their instruments, but more one of allowing oneself to drift away from his roots like a wandering dryad leaving the forest for the open plains and being pretty well out of her element. This will probably sound better to those who like lighter listening folk outfits within Ensiferum’s ranks, but the rank and file who want a glory ride amid a charge of berserkers will definitely be disappointed.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on August 29, 2012.
To say I was excited for this record would be a massive understatement. Ensiferum have never let me down, have never been anything less than absolutely incredible. Even From Afar was well done, as even though it opted for a more grandiose, epic sound, it did it tastefully, integrating the bombastic heroics that made Victory Songs so instantly memorable. Thus, it is with legitimate pain that I report to have been utterly disappointed by this release, in every conceivable way.
Now, to be fair, I don’t think Unsung Heroes is ‘bad’, necessarily, but it is painfully, overwhelmingly average, an unacceptable trait for an Ensiferum album. The problem, as I see it, is one of girth. Unsung Heroes is made up almost entirely of unnecessary padding, a bloated, underwhelming affair where overblown symphonics and acoustics rule. The concise, melodic folk hooks have been almost entirely removed. In fact, the only song that even remotely feels like a fun, romping, memorable Ensiferum song is In My Sword I Trust, but it feels more like pale mockery than legitimate passion, like a sad attempt at appeasing the Victory Songs fan with one ‘traditional’ number. It reeks of half-heartedness, of ‘we need a single that sounds like Ensiferum’, so they created one, but without any sense of creativity or innovation. Retribution Shall Be Mine is also a decent attempt, but feels very dry, and lacks the innovative leads or swelling, memorable chorus in order to have any real staying power.
The rest of the album has the air of the clone brush about it, as well, as if Ensiferum have gathered every instance in which a song of their has meandered away from the tasty core, and inflated them into an entire record, the end result being directionless in a misguided attempt at being as ‘epic’ as possible. The majority of this album has serious pacing issues, with songs that just sort of float along, without building into any meaningful apex. As an album full of epics, it falls flat, especially the 17 minute Passion Proof Power, which is a perfect example of all that this album does wrong. It’s unstructured, unexciting, and even after around 20 listens, doesn’t even begin to embed itself in my memory. From Afar succeeded because it kept the warrior core of Ensiferum alive with gloriously memorable choruses and unwavering bombast, whereas Unsung Heroes is just content to snore contentedly underneath a tree, humming about the stars. That’s not Ensiferum, Ensiferum would grab the stars by the balls and harness their power to slay the enemy! There is no fiery passion, it’s all mid-paced, pseudo-epic, fluffy pretense, and it’s unbelievably frustrating.
The Ensiferum I have grown to love is not present on this record. Contrary to what you may at this juncture believe, I do not require Ensiferum to be absolutely energetic and concise at all times. My love of From Afar proves this. I simply crave memorable songwriting and warrior spirit, both of which this album is pitifully lacking. Perhaps if I had never heard the band before, I would have enjoyed it. Certainly there’s nothing straight up horrible, or even legitimately bad, aside from the cover of Bamboleo… (ending the album with an elongated, blood-spackled fart would have been roughly as appropriate, and mildly less embarrassing), but there are almost no moments when they get my blood pumping or my spirit soaring, as nearly every single Ensiferum song has achieved historically with ease. It’s honestly heartbreaking, as they are one of my favorite bands. I’m still trying to find enjoyment in it, and perhaps one day I’ll calm down enough to accept it on its own merits, but as it stands, there is nothing here that the band hasn’t already done infinitely better on their previous albums.
Unsung Heroes is the biggest disappointment of the year. I haven't been this let down since Bodom decided to sacrifice their stunningly dynamic style in favor of simple, poppy metalcore. To be fair, it’s not outwardly offensive, but neither is it in any way exciting, invigorating, or most importantly, memorable. And despite what some may claim, this new direction is not experimental or innovative, it simply congeals the established calmer Ensiferum traits into one forgetful blob of an album. I feel no impetus to repeat any section of Unsung Heroes. And for a band that has historically and consistently kicked my ass and set my spirit ablaze, that is perhaps as damning a statement as I, a diehard fan of this band, could possibly utter. I just pray that this is a footnote, rather than a deathnote, and that the band somehow find their passion, creativity, and drive, because they sure aren’t present here.
Left Hand of Dog
This album is so frustrating that I am not even sure where to begin... I guess I will start with the biggest lack of subtlety I could possibly use in this review: It sucks. Plain and simple. I wish I could just end the review there, but I owe it to everyone reading it to explain why.
Let me first state that I have been a long term Ensiferum fan. The raw power and beauty of the Jari-era albums and the viking hymns of Victory Songs go nearly unmatched in terms of musical perfection. However with the release of From Afar, I became worried for Ensiferum's career, and the possibility that I may never again recieve new offerings of viking battle songs from the gods that were Ensiferum. With Unsung Heroes, that fear became a reality.
So what went wrong? Laziness, and boredom. Ensiferum is now devoid of any and all passion that they once had. The ferocious songs of old that made you want to jump up and charge into battle, crushing your foes into dust, have now been replaced by the most generic mid-paced clean guitar riffs one could possibly imagine. This is all topped off by utterly boring symphonics which are completely unnecessary, and in fact diminish the effect that Ensiferum's music has on the listener. It is a cheap attempt to sound more "epic". It is nothing more than a moneywhoring ploy to try to suck money out of idiotic fucks who cant recognize quality from schlock. "Epic" sells, and Ensiferum knows it.
This is not to say that the album doesnt have its highlights. It most certainly does, as with almost any album. However they are few and VERY far between. In fact, the only track that truly grabbed me was In My Sword I Trust, the single that they released a month or so prior to the album. This song has a legitimately catchy and upbeat chorus that will no doubt make a great live song. Sami is also featured doing some great harsh vocals which mark the highlight of the song. However everything that is not the chorus and the bridge still seems like filler.
In My Sword I Trust is the highlight of the album, and for an Ensiferum song, it still sucks. This would easily be the worst song had it been placed on any other album. It lacks grit, force, emotion, and enthusiasm. And herein lies the fundamental problem with the album.... No longer does Ensiferum make me feel as if I am standing amongst a vast viking horde, sword in hand, ready to crush anyone and anything in my path. Now it makes me feel like I am sitting down listening to a crappy album. Nothing here is memorable, new, or exciting. It is infected with mediocrity. You will NOT find thrashy, meat filled riffs here, and you will NOT find intersting folk melodies. What you will find, is a bunch of mid paced, boring, clean guitar riffs that are backed by vomit inducing symphonics, and stock drums.
The only reason I have given this even a 35% is because there are a few moments that I enjoyed. In My Sword I Trust is the only one that lasted long enough to make it worth mentioning. The others were all fleeting. Ensiferum is dead. RIP.
Having been a huge fan of Ensiferum, I have been waiting for this album for a while now, I did not watch the video clip for “In My Sword I Trust”, nor have I watched any teasers, I wanted the full joy of the album, I wanted to listen to it as a full masterpiece. But instead of the masterpiece what do I get? An overloaded snorefest with extra cheese and a plastic Viking hat! What a disappointment and grief has this album brought upon my thirsty heart!
This album was supposed to honor the lost heroes in a time of glory, but this record has nothing much to offer, same old Ensiferum clichés with extra orchestration in a failing attempt to make it sound more “epic”, Ensiferum does not need orchestration, they don’t need more than one song of clean vocals, and they gave us three: “Celestial Bond I and II and Last Breath”.
What Ensiferum needs is riffs, real folksy riffs that are so thick you can actually bite through, they need face ripping guitar solos with “few” acoustic pieces, but no. Not in this record, in this record you will find some rare actual original riffs in songs such as “Retribution Shall Be Mine” and few parts of “Burning Leaves” and of course in the middle of the song “Passion Proof Power”. Probably some beauty in the song “Celestial Bond” and few interesting chanting parts from “Pohjola”. Other than that you get nothing capturing or worth the wait.
One of the crappiest songs on the album is “Last Breath”. The vocal sounds terrible and worn out, except for the rescuing folksy part of the flute and violin, it’s a really painful song to listen to. It even reminds me of Alestorm at some point. It’s just annoying! Completely unworthy of their name.
Passion Proof Power. Man what a song this is! Its so contradictious, a 17 minute long paradox; its painfully and utterly boring in the first few minutes, after you almost fall asleep from boredom, some interesting riffs actually hit the spot, and the guitar solos also bring back some hope, but this hope quickly vanishes as the song ends with some chants as if they are saying farewell while stabbing away a huge part of your soul .
To think the agony has stopped here is just a mistake, as for the lucky ones of you who had the bonus track “Bamboleo”. That’s right folks, fucking Bamboleo! The worst decision the band could make is to cover this song, and with some speedy drumming and cool riffs you think they made it, but no! With the awful choruses and the inconsistent “spanish” tones the suffering continues all the way to the end of this terrible cover and finally to end the suffering.
This album almost gave me a heart attack, it has a few sparks of beauty and a whole lot more of cheese and fake glory. I really miss the old days of Ensiferum, and I know that after this album these days must be kissed goobye, for they will never return. The unsung heroes should have still been unsung, the ancestors are displeased, And so am I.