Ensiferum // Unsung Heroes 
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Not so unsung, these Ensiferum kids.
Label: Spinefarm
Websites: ensiferum.com | facebook.com/ensiferum
Release Dates: EU: 2012.08.27/28 | NA: 09.18.2012

Ensiferum - Unsung HeroesEnsiferum isn’t small fries when it comes to the folk metal scene. Since their debut record in 2001, they have been one of the favorites of the Finnish scene for everyone who loves good folk metal. Their unique approach – well, at the time anyway – of blending Children of Bodom solos and Sonata Arctica speed with folk music influences and instruments is one that has been eminently successful for them. I’ve always had a soft spot for these guys, to be honest, and I’ve always thought they improved with time. Their style is powerful, their melodies catchy and while not every song on every record is a slam dunk, they’ve not succumbed to deterioration in quality. Though, frankly, they set a pretty high bar with 2009’s From Afar – which was a mile a minute in speed and packed to the brim with exciting anthems.

Unsung Heroes is not a sequel to From Afar by any means. Instead, Unsung Heroes is split into two types of tracks: the former, which starts with opening anthem “In My Sword I Trust,” are mid-paced, often backed with Jani Parvialainen’s simple rock beats and simple, chunky riffs on the guitars. The first three tracks – the aforementioned “In My Sword I Trust,” as well as title track “Unsung Heroes” and “Burning Leaves” – all follow this pattern, never getting up to the blistering speed we’ve come to expect from Ensiferum. The other type of track are the slow, almost melancholy tracks. Here you have “Celestial Bond,” which is made up of beautiful female vocals and a dramatic chorus, its brother “Star Queen (Celestial Bond II),” and finally “Last Breath.”  These songs sport folk melodies, acoustics and sad stories – but here the vocal constraints of singer Petri Lindroos (I think) get in the way of the songs being enjoyable. While “Star Queen” isn’t bad, the vocal performance on “Last Breath” gets painful as he strains his voice to try to hit the notes – with middling success. “Celestial Bond,” on the other hand, is gorgeous and genius: a real winner.

Ensiferum - 2012The only place where the heavy, fast Ensiferum we’ve come to know and love really comes to a head are on the tracks “Retribution Shall Be Mine,” which is straight up thrash in its staccato riffing, and “Pojhola” which sounds like a mix of the high octane Ensiferum with Turisas‘s later material. The choirs are immense and the orchestrations work perfectly.

Still, while I was a bit disappointed at first, I kept coming back to Unsung Heroes again and again. The core of what Ensiferum is – Finnish folk metal, with all the idiosyncrasies of that particular idiom – is still intact and these songs grow. The riffs that seemed boring at first proved infectious in the long run, and the preponderance of clean vocals just gives a Drunk Metal Guys more to chant while raising a glass. And while the record as a whole clocks in at over an hour, you hardly notice the time passing by because the musicianship is so strong.

So aside from a poor “Last Breath,” which is easily skippable, Unsung Heroes is a record that changes the game for Ensiferum, but doesn’t really succumb to Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™. In going through my Ensiferum collection, Unsung Heroes feels like some of the material on Ensiferum and Iron than the band’s later material. This should please older fans, and should at least keep the angry newer fans who want something bigger at bay. Pay special attention to the epic track “Passion Proof Power.” While the German dialogue and stuff in the middle is pretty stupid, the song itself is probably one of the better epics the band has written and a perfect end to the record. I especially love the Tuonela-era Amorphis breakdown in the middle of the track.

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  • Unsurprisingly, you and I share a very similar opinion of this album. I suspect that it may grow on me with repeated listens, and it’s certainly not a disappointment on the level of, say, the most recent Sear Bliss album, but it could have been better.

    • It could have been better. I’d’ve given From Afar a 4 or 4.5 even. But I still like this, it’s a really good record. Fun, enjoyable, not a lot to complain about.

  • Tarık Ay

    Hey AMG, wouldn’t it be great if Elvenking gets a vocalist that sings similar to long-forgotten Jari and then make an album like Iron? I can’t seem to like their newer stuff. The structure in most of the songs sound a bit cheesy and mediocre to me. Then I find myself listening to Iron or the debut again. I gave From Afar maybe a hundred listens. Still nothing.

    • Well, I actually don’t like the Jari records as well as Victory Songs and From Afar.

      • I usually agree with you on most things, but I definitely prefer the two Jari fronted albums to the stuff with Petri. I love the newer records, but “Ensiferum” and “Iron” are simply monumental in my eyes. Still, very excited about this new release.

        • SMOHLG

          Ditto on everything you just said. I love Victory Songs, but Jari-era Ensiferum can’t be topped IMO.

      • Kai

        That’s interesting. Petri’s vocals were always bothering me on the newer releases. Still gonna check it out ’cause hey, it’s a new Ensiferum album. Wonder how Jari’s new album gonna turn out this october.

        • AnymsDan

          Taking into account the previews, it will be absolutely incredible. Jari has amazing skill, vision, and musical talent- but more than that he has an absolute dedication to producing a perfect work that is supported by this being really only his project, and not a group’s. Already preordered time I :)

    • Pyltry

      It would be even better if they could convince Jari to rejoin Ensiferum!
      Even if Ensiferum would be a side project for him, let him rejoin!
      Ensiferum + Jari = critical mass

  • ” but here the vocal constraints of singer Petri Lindroos (I think) get in the way of the songs being enjoyable.” If you’re referring to clean vocals then it won’t be Petri. Will be Sami or Markus, probably Markus.

    • I think it is some guest vocalist. Does anyone know who it is?

  • I too agree with the others about Jari. It could be because I’m being biased (as I am a MAJOR Jari fangirl) but I always thought Jari’s vocals has more soul to it. You cannot compare a track like “Lai Lai Hei” to anything on the current albums. But, that’s just IMHO. Thanks for a great review, AMG! I can’t wait to pick up this album.

  • From Afar was a massive release, perhaps Ensiferum’s best album. So it was always going to be hard to follow it up. I’ve only heard the 2 pre-release songs on youtube, which is hardly the best yardstick, but they are pretty disappointing. The sight of Petri miming the clean vocals in ‘My Sword I Trust’ video is utterly painful, when we all know his massive vocal range is limited to his growls/grunts.

    I can’t wait to get the CD at the end of the month and hopefully with repeated listens to will be up there with Ensiferum’s best work.

  • Michael Imbornoni

    So, the album is streaming now. It’s definitely not better than Ensiferum or Iron (at least for me), but it has its moments. The one thing that really popped out at me while I was listening to it was a very Barren Earth-esque part in Passion Proof Power. I think it might just edge out From Afar for me. I didn’t realize that you held it at a 4, that seems a bit more than it deserves.

  • Eryops

    I enjoyed From Afar (caveat next) and hope to get into this album as well. However, I wish they had simply skipped the videos… The From Afar video is by far one of the lamest metal videos I’ve ever seen. I had some hopes for this one (In My Sword I Trust) since it was going to be done by Groupa 13, but again, a huge disappointment. I thought Groupa would have had more of a say, but I guess they just try to polish the artist’s vision. Behemoth moved to a whole new level in their videos when they started with them, but Ensiferum seems to have stayed at the bottom of the barrel.

  • SMOHLG

    I wouldn’t even be a huge metal fan today if it wasn’t for Ensiferum. I will buy their albums regardless, but I am happy to see a positive review.

  • Is it just me or is this album, and this band, all over the map? Their music is superlative, but I’m at odds with most people on AMG in that I despise the death/black gargling – I think they could be so much better with a capable vocalist. This is actually the first album that I’ve purchased in 20 years with that kind of vocals (lest you think I’m a pussy, my main bands are Doomsword, Candlemass, Dawnbringer, Altar of Oblivion… ok, I love the doom. And I love me a power metal romp, too).

    However, listening to this album again, I believe I have heard this band with a capable vocalist – “In My Sword I Trust” is so close to Sabaton’s “Gott mit Uns” that I can hear Joakim Broden singing the lyrics. The parallels between Carolus Rex and this album are crazy.

    Also crazy is Ensiferum in general. The influences (rip-offs?) they show on this album run the gamut – I hear Helloween, Falconer, Black Sabbath, Nightwish, and (most pleasantly!) Trevor Horn-era Yes on the title track (listen to Drama, especially “Machine Messiah,” and I dare you to NOT hear it). Takes some balls to go that eclectic.

    Sum total – this band is nutters, their music is to die for good, and there’s something about them that will grow on me in time… if they only got Joakim Broden to join, or maybe Chris Bay from Freedom Call, they would be lords of the world… not just Finland.