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You And What Army? - 85%

Larry6990, May 8th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Metal Blade Records

Ensiferum: Finland's finest folk export. One of the few Finnish folk metal bands who remained stylistically loyal (Moonsorrow got a bit black metal, and Turisas got a bit...lost) have received enough disparagement for their recent outputs. Okay, "Unsung Heroes" was a sight misfire - but every band is allowed to experiment with their sound as a sort of mid-life crisis! For god's sake, there wasn't this much negativity when Kreator released "Endorama"! Well I'm happy to declare the naysayers are totally wrong about Ensiferum's newest release "One Man Army". What we have here is a perfectly sound, yet bombastic, effort from a seriously talented band who clearly possess the spirit of the warriors they sing of.

The production quality is an easy target for cynics, as this is certainly the main flaw of "One Man Army". The guitars come across as being tinny, whilst the snare drum sounds as if it actually might be made of tin! This results in the weightier riffs, such as "Two of Spades", sounding about as meaty as a Tesco Value sausage. The choirs are also a tad diluted, detracting from their power. Listen to "The Varangian Way" by Turisas for a 'how to' guide on fusing choirs with metal. Thankfully, Petri Lindroos' barbarian vocals are perfectly mixed - and he is sounding as decipherable and dramatic as ever - especially in the bolting opener "Axe of Judgement": "This is war! So make them suffer!!"

As has become tradition, Ensiferum choose to open this LP with a short heralding instrumental: "March of War". Far removed from the dreamy folk of previous intros like "By The Dividing Stream", this establishes the atmosphere of the album perfectly with its war-like trumpets and military drumming. The one-two punch of the intro leading into the firecracker that is "Axe of Judgement" is exactly how any Ensiferum album should commence!

The Finns always manage to achieve diversity on their albums - every song carrying a different weight and dynamic. After the frenetic opening, the album relaxes into a controlled march on the anthemic "Heathen Horde" and the galloping title-track. A well-placed interlude ("Burden of the Fallen") makes way for two moodier, more progressive tracks ("Warrior Without a War" and "Cry For The Earth Bounds") - of which the former cleverly repeats the lyrical theme of "Burden of the Fallen". See what I'm getting at here? The album actually feels thematically consistent and almost journey-esque. Especially with epic climax of "Descendants, Defiance, Domination" - an 11-minute finale that earns its length.

Lyrically, Ensiferum haven't all. This is still the same old 'ancestors/swords/steel/warriors' affair. This is no major foible, but maybe a re-invention of their lyrical concepts would hoist the band's cynics out of the quagmire of negativity. Much like Iron Fire did when they suddenly decided to delve into outer space on the excellent "Voyage of the Damned". The symphonic elements of the band are thankfully left alone. They are brilliantly performed by Emmi Silvennoinen, who seems to know exactly when to pierce the wall of sound, and when to fade into the music like sugar in tea.

I remain optimistic towards the future of Ensiferum. "One Man Army" stands as a testament to a band who can easily hold their own sound and constantly refine it album-by-album. This may not be as youthfully energetic as "Victory Songs", or as expansively mature as "From Afar", but I can see songs from this album being remembered as classics of their catalogue for years to come.

"Our heathen horde will never fall.
We're hungry for blood, steel and war!"