Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ensiferum - Victory Songs

Quit yer bellyachin'

Yes, Jari Maenpaa left. Yes, Petri Lindroos from Norther is the replacement. You can stop crying now. I'll be the first to admit, Maenpaa is years ahead of Lindroos in the vocal department, but he is a decent replacement and fills in the shoes adequately. Is it enough to mark the album down purely because Maenpaa is no longer part of the band? No, not at all. It seems a lot of flak gets thrown at this album because when he left, he apparently took all of the magic with him, and then wanked with it all over Wintersun.

This is far from the truth, when given the chance, Victory Songs is a great record on par with the previous two. I've rated it the highest out of the three, but that's because this is the most consistent. Bitch and moan all you want, but there are only two tracks that aren't as good as the rest on this one. I had the same problem with Iron, so shouldn't the lesser number of tracks warrant a lower score than that one? No, because while Raised by the Sword and The New Dawn may be mediocre in comparison to the rest, they aren't anywhere near the shit burgers that were Lost in Despair and Tears.

The music as a whole seems to alternate between a tad faster than on Iron, to about the same pace as Old Man or Little Dreamer from the debut. Blood is the Price of Glory opens as the first full song with furious double bass destruction, an energetic yowl from our new vocalist, and a signature folk melody that will get stuck in your head for days. Upon hearing this, I wondered why everybody was saying that all of the magic was gone. If all of the complaints were that they haven't progressed as a band, I believe it could have a smidgen of merit, but this is not a step down from the last record at all! I am not complaining that they aren't changing though, mainly because I believe that if you find a formula that works wonderfully, there is no need to change. Don't fix what ain't broken I guess. Ensiferum's speedy blend of folk metal works brilliantly to me, and I see nothing wrong with continuing the ass kickage.

Now I'd like to address what I DON'T like about the album, and they are tracks 7 and 8. Raised by the Sword tries to lull you into a false sense of security before punching you in the balls. Well, it gets point A across, but ends up missing your groin and accidentally punches you in the shin. Sure, it'll sting for a bit, but it goes away fairly quickly. The New Dawn on the other hand goes straight for the throat, but once again misses and pokes you in the eye. I'm not a sadomasochist, so I don't know for sure, but I can never imagine eye gouging to be a pleasureful kind of pain. The songs aren't horrible.... they're not failing grade, but they don't really fit into the album in the sense that they.... well, just aren't very good. As I've said earlier, mediocre. The melodies aren't as strong or catchy here, and the riffs under them fails to make up for the melodic shortcomings.

Another thing that seems to piss people off, are the quasi-ballads Wanderer and Victory Song. I can see why people dislike them, but I think they pull them off magnificently. The former is a very restrained song, which is strange for Ensiferum. Even on Old Man they have melodies all over the damn place, here the riffs sound like they are being held back from what they want to become. This actually works out wonderfully, as huge, galloping, speedy folk riffs would not sound right on a song like this. Wanderer is catchy and memorable, so it is a classic in my book. Victory Song breaks the ten minute mark, officially making it the "epic" of the album. Although it takes nearly three minutes to fully pick up, it never feels like it is meandering or lost. The acoustic intro sets up the victorious distorted progression, which again leads into the explosive verse riff. Victorious may be a bizarre adjective to use when describing a riff, but it really fits. The whole song continually progresses and never falls into the pit of "okay, I want the song to be longer, what do I do? ATMOSPHERIC BULLSHIT!!" ala Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Finnish passage is great as well, it's hard not to sing along, even when you have no freakin' clue what they are saying.

I can't really delve into each song, as they are all vastly different (Ahti is a more straightforward headbanger, Deathbringer from the Sky has some heavy power metal stylings, One More Magic Potion is one of the most overtly folky, et cetera) but trust me when I say there is something for almost any metal fan here. I think it just may be Ensiferum's crowning achievement, but I'm still torn between Victory Songs and Iron. This scored four percent higher because the two obligatory boring tracks aren't nearly as bad as the two from Iron, but the great songs aren't as magnificent as Iron's were. It's a toss up really, it's up to you to decide. If you can get past the fact that the main songwriter / vocalist / guitarist is gone, and take the music for it's own merit, you'll find yourself enjoying a top notch Ensiferum record.

RATING - 91%

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