Ensiferum - One Man ArmyEnsiferum isn’t Finland’s most popular or well-loved melodic folk/viking metal band, but they certainly are a band whose legacy cannot be ignored. For me, they revolutionized the music I was listening to in 2001 with their immense self-titled debut Ensiferum, which took Children of Bodom and made it fruitier. It was a revelation for me and my group of friends. Impressed with their songwriting and self-presentation, though, I was forced to wait 8 years before I got another record from the band that genuinely inflamed my enthusiasm. I’m sure die-hard fans will consider it to be blasphemy, but neither Iron nor Victory Songs flared the deep love that I had for the debut even if they were good records. However, when they released From Afar in 2009 I was convinced that they were back on the proverbial longboat, ready to conquer, pillage and convert to Christianity when they settled in Ireland all that pagan horde stuff. Alas, rather than pounding listeners with full-on thrash attack like From AfarUnsung Heroes was a plodding, if enjoyable, release that didn’t inspire a lot of return listens. But 2015 is upon us, Ensiferum has signed with Metal Blade and have unleashed their newest record on the world: One Man Army.

On its face One Man Army is a straight-forward release: it’s a no-frills Ensiferum record. The band executes mid-to-fast-paced melodic folk metal with alacrity. The Drunken Finnish Man-Choir bombasts its way1 through immense choruses like on “Warrior without a War,” “Cry for the Earth Bounds” and “Heathen Horde” and litter mid-paced tracks with unforgettable melodies. Long-time fans know the score, here: these songs are built to support epic choruses carried by what sounds like a pagan horde swaying their drinking horns and belting lyrics. These more plodding moments are offset by the occasional soft parts—keyboards, violins, mandolins and female vocals offering contrast and respite from the epic highs. Despite being a rather slow record across the board, Ensiferum‘s europower influenced breakneck speed makes an appearance on opener “Axe of Judgement” and the 8th track “Two of Spades.” Even here, hopes that Ensiferum might take up the athletic speed of From Afar is quashed when the latter track breaks into an absolutely ridiculous (but totally awesome) Boney M./eurodisco breakdown, and these two songs basically mark the beginning and end of the band’s need for speed.

Ensiferum 2015

Despite being a record that’s made up of mid-paced orchestral tracks—which place the band a lot closer to Turisas than I’d remembered—One Man Army is an engaging album. On the other hand, one gets the feeling that the band wants to break out of its mold but doesn’t know where to go. Two of the most engaging moments on the album are the track with the aforementioned funk breakdown (“Two of Spades”) and Netta Skog’s totally awesome/ridiculous Finnish tango “Neito Pohjolan”2 which is the first time I’ve heard a Finnish band just drop the pretenses and seriously rock the slide guitar and accordion. These two distinct moments are engaging—and combined with the bombastic Drunken Finnish Man-Choir’s melodic they help to hold things together—but they leave me wondering whether or not Ensiferum shouldn’t “pull a Nygård” and just start making weird-ass music with which their fanbase can develop a love/hate relationship.

For all this, One Man Army is essentially on par Unsung Heroes. I liked Unsung Heroes quite a bit at the time, and while one could easily say that One Man Army outshines it, I’m not sure it demonstrates the skill for album building that its predecessor had. Still, the songs are stronger and with “Axe of Judgement,” “Heathen Horde,” and—my personal favorite—”Warrior without a War,” One Man Army is still a worthy addition to the Ensiferum discography. While it doesn’t pop with the sheer excitement and virtuosity of From Afar, it reminds me quite a bit of Victory Songs; that is to say, it’s a solid record with solid writing from a solid band that doesn’t revolutionize the band’s sound or improve on what’s gone before. This record won’t change how you feel about Ensiferum, but fans of the style and the band will find plenty to love.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: EnsiferumOfficial | Facebook.com/Ensiferum
Release Dates: EU: 2015.02.20NA: 02.24.2015

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Heh. I verbed.
  2. Which reminds me a lot of Swedish dansband, anyone know if there’s a connection? Or is it more associated with the Russian “get drunk and cry” influences?
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  • Wow, I thought for sure this would have gotten a higher score and been in the running for ROTM for February. Sure, its not incredbly original, and the band doesn’t stray too far away from the formula thats worked for them before, but for my money, this is a solid record! Its nice to get an album where you start it off having high expectations and having them met.

    The review doesn’t even mention track 10, “Descendants, Defiance, and Domination” an epic 11+ minute long track which is the album’s high point and one of the best songs Ensiferum has ever made (IMO of course).

    Sure, Nieto Pohjolan is a really creative and unique play on their sound, but “D, D, and D” really hits it out of the park for me!

    No, this is not a groundbreaking album, but its a REALLY solid release by a great band, and one of the best so far of 2015 IMO. Im going to put this in with “Ne Obliviscaris” as one that AMG himself got wrong! :-P

    • Oh, and come on….a metal version of Rawhide!!! I want to buy this album a second time! :)

    • madhare

      Totally agree that “Descendants, Defiance, and Domination” is close to being one of their best epic songs. It’s more epic, honest, and serious than, for example, Victory Song.

  • JJnetZach

    Tango has always been very popular in Finland. I don’t think it has anything to do with either dansband or mother Russia but came to Europe from Argentina in the early 1900’s. Another popular type of dance music is humppa (Finntroll use it a lot).

    Side note: I was exposed to a lot of “dansband” at one of my first summer jobs. Dansband totally blows.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Their debut is probably the one Ensiferum album I regularly return to. Sounds like the boys are having a lot of fun on this new one. I love when metal bands go goofy, so you had me at “Boney M”.

  • MeatWolf

    I mostly agree with the review but I’d give the album a higher score. The pros here are very good songwriting including such monsters as Heathen Horde, Cry for the Earth Bounds and especially Two of Spades, nice production and no sissy pseudoromantic whining or weird experiments of Unsung Heroes. It’s Ensiferum as we know it and it’s good.

    The cons are too much choirs (and not like Sami/Markus duet choirs) and a couple of tracks being completely off namely the title track and the ridiculous Neito Pohjolan which isn’t saved even in the English version with male cleans.

    • Whats interesting is that the English version of “Neito Pohjolan” has completely different lyrics. ‘Neito Pohjolan’ roughly translates to ‘Maiden of the North’. The English version of the song is called “Candour and Lies”. Its like they couldn’t get a literal English translation to make sense with the pace of the music, so they just came up with completely different lyrics.

  • Jukka Alanen

    3.0 is definitely spot on (closer to 2.5 than 3.5). Don’t think I’ll be returning much to this one.

  • One of the things I have noticed with Ensiferum is that they seem to desperately need a thicker production because their stuff sounds phenomenal live but somehow I find it hard to get excited about when I hear their records. Considering there is no mention in the review I must assume it was just adequate for this one. Must give it some time to listen.

  • Rob

    I like that they brought the speed back up to par, and the “organic” production is a nice touch, but I dunno…something is missing with this album for me. It’s not the weird western touches. Those are working for them in a bizarre way. I think the gang vocals should have way more punch, definitely. Maybe I haven’t fully absorbed “Descendants, Defiance and Domination” yet, but calling it part of the “Heathen Throne” cycle is tough for me to swallow, because “The Longest Journey” is one of the most epic songs ever written. This just doesn’t hold a candle. Overall, it’s a nice midpoint between “Iron” and “From Afar” as far as style goes. Maybe they’re just easing out of that “Unsung Heroes”mode. I think they have another masterpiece in them yet…

  • OzanCan

    The latest is greater than I’ve expected even though the last song kinda kills the whole mood of the album for me. Neeh I just skip it or stop playing the record :)

  • Feytalist

    Yeah, the review is pretty much spot on (except you’re totally wrong about Iron, of course :D).

    Basically Ensiferum doing Ensiferum-like things. Which is good! Wasn’t expecting much variation anyway, so what variation there is, is quite welcome.

    Except they should totally pull a Nygård. It will be awesome.

  • madhare

    On the other hand, one gets the feeling that the band wants to break out of its mold but doesn’t know where to go.

    I quite enjoy the new album but I also agree with you completely on this comment. You mention the odd songs “Two of Spades” and “Neito Pohjolan” as “two of the most engaging moments” I believe they are only interesting right now, during the first month of the album, they stand out. But in the long run, they are just curiosity pieces.

    Basically they are “jumping the shark”, or as I like to call it in music the Nessun Dorma moment. It’s the moment when the band decides it’s time to do something “completely different”. Perhaps they have earlier taken influences from other genres and now they decide to go all out and try that genre on their own. “Hey guys, let’s have some fun!”

    Nobody usually wants to hear these songs after a little while. The band will never play them after the first tour, and the fans never listen to them. Everyone tries their best to forget them. (Except for that one weird cousin, who isn’t really into metal anyway.)

    Nobody needs Ensiferum doing schlager (or iskelmä in Finnish). Just like we don’t need Eric Adams singing Nessun Dorma. These genres the bands venture in to already have much better professionals doing them. So the novelty these songs have usually turns into cringe-worthy embarrassment quite soon.

    I just hope the fact that this album features not just one but several Nessun Dorma moments is not a sign of what Ensiferum’s future holds.

    Still going to see them this week and rock my head off, though! :D

    • madhare

      Oh yeah, one more thing. I just remembered the discussion about overly long albums. In this case, if they would cut all the “funny songs” (*cough*shit*cough*) out, this could be a really cool 46 minute album containing songs 1–7 and 9–10. It would build beautifully to an epic ending with “Descendants, Defiance, Domination”. And instead of giggling we would be left feeling slightly melancholic and epic. I definitely recommend listening to it like this.

      But yeah, I get that for lot of people Ensiferum is all about having some fun. But hell, they could easily be an awesome serious band as well.

    • madhare

      Hah! They just played an awesome show and the crowd went completely apeshit. They did play “Two of Spades” but not the other funny stuff. Before starting it, Petri said that “this is a proper disco piece and we want to see you dance!” …but in the end, it was the only song when the audience actually DIDN’T move much at all, left everyone a bit baffled.

  • Kryopsis

    I generally agree with this review. Mike Eckman mentioned this album in the Furor Gallico discussion and given how much I liked ‘Iron’ and ‘From Afar’, I expected to like it. This said, it really sounds like Ensiferum started emulating Turisas and the result is disappointing. I do not expect to still listen to ‘One Man Army’ a month from now.

    • Kryopsis

      I have to admit that I was not entirely fair in my earlier assessment of this album. After repeat listens I was forced to conclude that it is a good, thematically-consistent effort from a Folk Metal band that values texture, pacing and composition above gimmicky olde worlde instruments. I still would not rate this album above ‘good’ (and nowhete near ‘Iron’) but that Boney M breakdown is quite something!

  • Doomdeathrosh

    Dont know how many will agree, but I find this quite a bit different as compared to their previous releases….but its a good solid record nevertheless!

  • Martin Knap

    I would kill Korpiklaani, have sex with Arkona and merry Ensiferum …

  • Feeblejocks

    I personally didn’t like Victory Songs, From Afar, or Unsung Heroes much at all, but listening to the embedded track is really making me remember why I used to love these guys. I actually first heard their EP Dragonheads, which remains the favorite work of theirs I’ve yet heard. But I’m definitely going to go listen to this album now. It sounds like it has much more promise than any of their post-Dragonheads work.

    Also, I fucking loved Iron. Just saying.

  • jow

    I didn’t get into it right away, but after a few listens this is my favorite Ensiferum record, just after From Afar (which I still listen to regularly). A lot of the songs bear very infectious melodies, and a true sense of might and epicness. I found the massive choirs to be profoundly transporting and atmospheric. I don’t really know what more I could wish for from this album. And yeah, Two of Spades… Up there with Stone Cold Metal!