A passing reference to Ensiferum was given to me on an internet forum about two or three years ago. I was asking for metal bands (I wasn't quite new to the genre per se, I have metal parents, but at the time all I really listened to was Metallica, Pantera, and Megadeth... I blame it on my young age), and somebody said I'd probably enjoy a certain brand of viking metal and recommended Ensiferum, Asmegin, and Wintersun among others. I dismissed it and assumed it would be stupid. Ensiferum is the band that proved my young ears wrong, and essentially turned me into what/who I am today.
Why review Iron first? I was going to review Victory Songs to try and convince people that it isn't as bad as they make it out to be, but Iron is a very sentimental album to me and I feel that there is no better place to start. From the ethereal introduction of Ferrrum Aeternum, to the blistering fury of Tale of Revenge, to the melodic Finnish lines of Lai Lai Hei, to the almost power metallish stylings of Sword Chant, this album does very few things wrong... in fact, the closing ballad, Tears, Slayer of Light, and Lost in Despair are the only tracks that aren't almost perfect to my ears. The remaining 8 tracks are glory incarnate. Ensiferum seems to be one of the few folk metal bands that don't throw in goofy folk instruments purely because they can, almost everything they do fits the songs wonderfully.
Let's address the band members for a second, this album has the man that everybody seems to love, Mr. Jari Maenpaa. He is indeed a wonderful vocalist, but am I the only person who hates his clean screaming on Sword Chant? It's technically atrocious, but he somehow makes it a ton of fun and you find yourself not caring that he sounds like Corpsegrinder trying to imitate Rob Halford (that's all speculation though, for all I know George has a wonderful falsetto, but it's a pretty safe assumption that he doesn't). Anyways, Maenpaa is a masterful songwriter, and this seems to be his last hurrah before he got a little too self indulgent with Wintersun. Tale of Revenge and Into Battle are beautifully crafted and actually epic... they are years ahead of some of the faux epic pap he'd later write.
Anyways, other than maybe the other guitarist, Markus Toivonen, nobody in the band is really noteworthy. They are all great and fit the sound perfectly, but nothing spectacular really.
But when you think about it, that's what makes a band great. Bands like Dream Theater fail to hold my interest, despite the fact that all of the members are gods of their respective instruments. When a group of musicians can come together and write amazing music, it ceases to matter how technically proficient they are.
On the subject of the music, it's hard to say. It's hard for me to actually list the qualities that make them so great. Could it be the insidiously catchy folk melodies? Could it be Maenpaa's sinister snarl? The intensity? The hookiness? You can throw pretty much any positive quality in the air and it would doubtlessly land on Ensiferum somewhere. So to avoid constant repetition, I'll point out some of the downfalls.
All I can say about Lost in Despair is.... you're doing it wrong. It's slow, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't work. It is the only song that is not memorable, not to mention it is needlessly overlong, and I believe the album could be infinitely better if this was cut. And as if to make up for the ploddingness of that one, it is followed by Slayer of Light, arguably the fastest song on here. While it is a noticeable step up from the previous track, it doesn't seem to do as much as the first few songs did. It's over quickly, which usually wouldn't be change anything, except it doesn't seem to do what it wants to do. It's like the album's redheaded stepchild. "Hey, can I go out and party with Lai Lai Hei and Into Battle?" "No, fuck you kid, go wash the dishes". Keep in mind it's a very minor step down, but a step down nonetheless.
And the only other downpoint would be the closer, Tears. I honestly don't know what they were thinking with this one. It never gets cool, it never gets catchy, it's actually not even that beautiful. I don't know, this one doesn't evoke the feeling that I'm listening to masterful art like other slower songs do, you know?
On the plus sides, the two instrumental numbers are awesome, the title track destroys and is a blast to sing along with (I swear he says DOOM 2 SUCKS ASS!! at about 1:22), and the same goes for Sword Chant. You haven't lived 'till you've heard a room full of drunk folk scream along with that one. Into Battle is pretty much the perfect song, it's fast, catchy, furious, essentially the quintessential song for the fast speed/folk school of viking metal. The epic Lai Lai Hei is a monster as well, and let's not forget the perfection that is Tale of Revenge, which, after the somewhat shaky start, becomes one of the best Ensiferum songs ever.
RATING - 87%