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*Almost* tops their debut - 89%

stereo_typical213, October 6th, 2009

What an anticipated album this was for me! For a while I was in dire need of some new Ensiferum material and Victory Songs was quite a let down for me, as I didn't really enjoy Petri's songwriting and vocals in comparison to Jari's. I bought the album about 3 weeks after the album actually came out, and absolutely refused to download or listen to ANY of it. (Don't ask me why ..) All my friends were talking about how good and epic it is, and FINALLY it arrived in the mail. To be perfectly honest, I was expecting a little bit more from this release, but nevertheless, it's fantastic. It's what you'd expect from Ensiferum: Very fast, great atmosphere, guitar solos etc, but what sets this album apart from the others is the almost frequent use of sung vocals. On Ensiferum's other releases, the albums probably contained 2 or 3 songs that had sung vocals in it, but nearly every song on this album (They even have an a-Capella song!) contains sung vocals. It also has quite a limited amount of vocals from Petri, which to be honest is a good thing in my opinion. Petri's vocals have always been a let down for me, as they tend to be a bit to low for my liking. Jari's vocals are just to hard to top, and have a much larger vocal range.

One thing, which also differentiates itself from the bands previous efforts, is the song lengths. I worked it out: On the first 3 albums, the song lengths on average go for about 4-5 minutes, whereas on From Afar, it's about 7 minutes on average. There are even 2 songs that go for over 10 minutes, which they have only ever done once in the past. Even when they did make long songs, they tended to be quite monotonous and repetitive, but this isn't the case here. The songs are full of tempo changes and a wide array of riffs. You have your typical 'fast paced riff’, which is showcased on songs such as 'From Afar' and 'Twilight Tavern', and you also have you slower, more melodic riffs which are on 'Heathen Throne' and 'Smoking Ruins'. The album flows nicely with nothing extremely un-expected, which for a 4th release isn't a bad thing. (If they do the same thing for another 15 years, then we have a problem..) The songwriting of Petri has definitely come a long way from his Norther releases and Victory songs. One of my favourite riffs would have to be the beginning of 'Twilight Tavern’, which isn't like his usual power chord palm-muting chug fests. Like mentioned before, his vocals aren't bad, but I just don't particularly enjoy them. If you've listened to Ensiferum's other releases, there isn't much more here, you've still got those awesome synth runs, thrash-influenced drums and the occasional acoustic piece.

One thing that I wasn't too impressed about is the epic-ness. Yes, albums are great when they are epic, but I don't particularly enjoy it from Ensiferum. What I loved about the Jari-era Ensiferum was that the songs were fast, heavy and enjoyable, but had a slight pinch of melancholy about it. Songs like 'Guardians of Fate' and 'Windrider' always came across to me this way, and that is what I really enjoyed. It wasn't too melancholic, (save that for doom metal) but just enough to leave something fresh and new in our music libraries. This album is generally centered around 'sounding epic', which is probably because Petri is now in the band. There is a noticeable increase in orchestration and loud chants. It's not a BAD thing, but just makes it a little bit less enjoyable as their debut and Iron. The main perpetrators of this are the songs 'Stone Cold Metal', 'The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II)' and 'From Afar'. These songs are definitely great and worth every cent, but are simply missing something that I'm used to hearing from Ensiferum. I'm sure I will get used to this aspect, because bands do have to evolve.

Basically, it's a great album and you should definitely get your hands on it. It's better than 'Victory Songs', but not as good as 'Ensiferum' and 'Iron'. Every song on this album is good, but my favourites would have to be 'Twilight Tavern', 'Heathen Throne', 'Elusive Reaches’ and 'From Afar'. Definitely worth buying.