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Not the best path to go down - 69%

Valfars Ghost, November 2nd, 2017

After One Man Army showed the world a version of Ensiferum mostly stripped of its folk influences, the Finnish group returned this year with a desire to bring back some of the folkiness, which is perhaps best solidified by the presence of an accordion player in the band’s lineup. Unfortunately, this does not mean a return of the meaty riffs that made Ensiferum such a monstrous unit back in its heyday. Instead, this album takes far too many cues from flower metal groups like Twilight Force, slapping a coat of partially-baked symphonic grandeur over large swaths of this album, unfortunately robbing it of quite a bit of the vitality and power the band’s earlier efforts were stuffed with.

When it comes to capturing an epic feel, Ensiferum has a habit of going for broke. On Two Paths, that habit mainly manifests itself in the pouring of a shitload of studio tricks into the band's symphonic effects, which ironically renders all the elements that make up those moments, like the choruses of ‘Feast with Valkyries’ and ‘For Those About to Fight for Metal’, indistinct. Sure, they’re catchy but nothing in those sections has any punch because the mixing is so even that everything somehow feels like it’s in the background. The voices, the keys, the guitars (if they’re even being played during these sections), everything.

Those are just the choruses, right? And at that, not even all of them? Sure, but many of the other sections scattered throughout this album are fairly nondescript. ‘Two Paths and ‘I will Never Kneel’ sneak past you without leaving any sort of impression. There’s also a singer on here (either Markus Toivonen or Sami Hinkka) whose clean vocals in ‘Don’t You Say’ and the chorus of ‘I Will Never Kneel’ are awkward, only capable of delivering a melody that always manages to be slightly off.

Despite a few bizarre or ill-conceived ideas regarding the production and execution, the writing is decent for the most part, despite the lack of focus on strong riffs. ‘Way of the Warrior’ is the only song here placing a lot of focus on said riffs (even if they’re quite similar to the ones from ‘One More Magic Potion’) and, not coincidentally, is the best track and the only one more than a little reminiscent of what the band was doing around the time Jari left. This album packs a few other notable treats, like the danceable, accordion-infused ‘God is Dead’ and ‘King of Storms’, a song that strikes a satisfying balance between fast riffs and Rhapsody of Fire-esque keyboard flourishes that actually manage not to drown out the guitars. With nice, understated vocals from accordionist Netta Skog in the verses and a nice folky gallop in the bridges, ‘Feast with Valkyries’ is a reasonably solid tune as well, despite the underwhelming chorus.

This album contains a lot of good and a lot of not-so-good. So how does it measure up overall, you ask? Well if you strictly want the sort of stuff that sounds like it could have been on Iron, you’re out of luck, but you no doubt already knew that. This is a latter-day Ensiferum release with an overly-polished sound and a lot of symphonic trappings. While the lack of biting riffs is a problem, it ultimately isn’t one that deals a fatal blow to the album. Two Paths is worthwhile overall, though it contains a few duds, and most of the better songs still have some unfortunate production and performance choices that keep the music from shining like the gems the group used to be known for.