There was a time when bands who sung about swords, snow and ravens were reserved for a niche fraternity slapped with the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ label, while kids who greeted each other as ‘Squire’ and had a drinking horn strapped to their belt were simply seen as supporters of novelty warrior soundtracks and dusty folklore.
But in the true spirit of heroism, folk metal never died and nor did it whimper: in fact, as the years have rolled on, the genre has become a bolder and more refined beast daring to forego its snarling machismo in favour of big productions and progressive nuances – culminating in a scene that is healthier than ever and pulling in crowds like you wouldn’t believe. Blame it on TV shows like Game Of Thrones and Vikings, or simply that Scandinavian knack for being one step ahead of the musical curve, but in 2015 writing songs about war is kind of… cool.
Ensiferum have always been on the cusp of something big, and ‘big’ is the word for their sixth album, One Man Army. Beginning with the baritone chant of a thousand men with their swords held high and smashing in with full force at a speed that would make Dragonforce wince, their intro is not only a statement of ambition but a sign of things to come. Loftier and more grandiose than the comparatively tinny Unsung Heroes, the overall feel of One Man Army is one of a band who have taken elements of Turisas, Epica and Stratovarius and ploughed them into one glorious journey of breakneck operatic battle metal.
Less than 10 minutes in and they’ve already whipped out the Maiden-esque ‘Wooooaaahh’ singalong, a dazzler of a guitar solo and bigger-than-life riff-and-choir hooks that have you wishing you were straddling a stallion riding northbound to Valhalla. On Heathen Horde Petri Lindroos’s grisly vocals reach new heroic heights, backed by a triumphant chorus, and the title track is as much a homage to Slayer as it is to symphonic metal. By the midway point these Finns are riding the crest of a rampant battle metal wave and showing no signs of letting up. If Ensiferum had balls before, they’ve now got cojones the size of watermelons.
While it should be mentioned that One Man Army was recorded mostly in analogue, meaning there’s more pressure on the musicians to play a perfect take and less on the producer – in this case Anssi Kippo, who’s worked regularly with Children Of Bodom, as well as more roughed-up Finns such as Impaled Nazarene and Rotten Sound – to splice and modify the tracks to death, it’s kind of irrelevant. Ensiferum have produced their most polished album to date; one that bulges with bombast and rages with frostbitten grit. Not super-folky like Eluveitie or as black as Moonsorrow, but with jovial nods to Turisas in the disco(!) beat of Two Of Spades and their thigh-slapping cover of Rawhide (done as a bonus track), these northern sword-wielders are close to finding the perfect recipe for taking folk into the mainstream of metal – all without losing a shred of authenticity.
Via Metal Blade
YOU SAID THE RECORDING SESSION WAS LONG AND DIFFICULT. IN WHAT WAY?
“Well, it lasted over five weeks, six days per week and an average day was 14 hours. But I would call the session hard; it was very rewarding rather than difficult.”
WHAT INSPIRED THE DOMINANT USE OF CHOIRS?
“Obviously we like big and dramatic choirs but it’s not like a ‘standard’ that they have to be used on every song. For this album songs just turned out to be so epic that they needed more big choirs than clean solo vocals.”
DOES FOLK METAL PLAY A MAJOR PART IN TODAY’S METAL SCENE?
“Absolutely. Folk metal bands may never play for sold-out stadiums but the scene seems to grow bigger every year. It’s here to stay.”