Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ensiferum - Ensiferum

They have no idea what they're doing at this point

Jari Maenpaa is regarded as a musical genius, and he only deserves about 10% of that title. When he's on the ball, he can really smoke face, but the problem is that he is great at one thing while ranging from mediocre to bad at virtually everything else. He is heralded for the variety of music he's penned in his short career, and I can't take that away from him. He's covered folk/power metal blends, epic melodic death metal, touches of black (although nothing too profound), straight up Finnish folk and others throughout his work with both Ensiferum and Wintersun. The problem is that he's only really good at the first two styles. Ensiferum's self titled debut focuses mainly on the folk/power mix with some straight folk areas here and there, but it's one of the most wildly inconsistent albums I've ever laid ears upon. One of the most important things to understand in the world of music is the difference between variety and inconsistency. While there is doubtlessly a variety of styles on display here, the drastic peaks and valleys when it comes to their quality is staggering. City is varied, The Human Equation is inconsistent. Duke Lion Fights the Terror is varied, Nightfall in Middle-Earth is inconsistent.

The inconsistency is the Achilles heel of Ensiferum, and it makes listening to the whole album in one sitting actually fairly tedious. I always appreciate breaks and interludes when they're necessary, but the slower, folkier, cleaner sections clash with the fast paced, double bass fury of the highlights. Tracks like "Eternal Wait", and "Old Man" slow the galloping warrior to a boring stroll. Even the songs that switch around like "Abandoned" end up sounding weird and forced. Hell, the entire last two minutes of the aforementioned song are an out of place attempt at epicism that just hurts the album and keeps it from moving along. The awkward pacing makes it sound like the album and band just can't make up their minds as to what they want to do. The fact of the matter is that Ensiferum just flat out didn't know how to write songs very well at this point in their career. They noodle around with a lot of different ideas, about a little over half are actually good ones, and they manage to craft a couple masterpieces, but the album as a whole is horrendously flawed and uncomfortable.

Despite this incredibly annoying tendency, Ensiferum is a worthy listen if only for the good tracks. The first three proper songs are some of the best that the band has ever released, all of them blending folk melodies, metallic aggression, and a bombastic and epic feeling perfectly. "Guardians of Fate" is probably the best as it is (with the exception of maybe "Slayer of Light" or "Ahti" from later albums) the least fluffed up track the band has ever recorded. It relies less on soaring keys and twangy instruments and more on sharp riffing and pure attitude. The drumming is especially powerful when pushed to the forefront and is one of the main reasons the faster songs are so much better than the slow ones. It's not that the drummer is particularly talented, it's just that he seems to convey a bit more passion when he's running on all cylinders. The folk overtones are strange, as they seem to be more prominent on quicker, better tracks like "Windrider" and "Battle Song", but contrary to what I may have implied, they're never irritating or overdone. In fact, the fact that they're less noticeable on the ballads may well be another key factor in determining why the slow songs suck so much and the fast ones slay so much.

This isn't a bad album, per se, just an annoying one. All of the best songs are of one main style, while all of the bad ones are of another. To me, this clearly signifies what the band is good at and what they should stop dicking around with. It seems that Ensiferum never fully realized this and constantly tried to knock around slower half ballads for every record they've ever made. Surprise, they're always the weakest points of the albums. From this point, they only get better. They focus more and more on the epic metal and the songwriting gets more and more ambitious. The good songs on display (the first three, "Windrider", "Battle Song", and maybe half of "Little Dreamer") are pretty much the best they've ever done, but the other half of the album is fairly shit. As a result, we are left with the weakest Ensiferum album. If you don't mind having some slime and boogers on your gold, this is worth checking out.

RATING - 61%

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