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An Album that will Divide
on 27 August 2012
Ensiferum's journey continues as 3 years following what is my favorite album, From Afar, the Battle-Anthem producing Finns deliver their fifth opus, "Unsung Heroes". A few things to make clear, in no way is this is a sequel or a continuation from Afar, or any other Ensiferum album. Truly its own entity for better or worse, Unsung Heroes is a unique, strange and diverse offering of Ensiferum's battle anthem work with female led folk, songs of battle and heroes and the usual fanfare of instrumental work, heavy thrashers and of course the finale epic. This album will do many things, it will make some fans happy, it will make others scratch their heads in confusion, others will cheer, others will groan. A grower - yes? A good album, on first try I think it is with some problems abound.
So we begin with the opening standard, an instrumental. "Symbols" is shorter than the usual Ensiferum opener and is more symphonic than folk, more in the "Ad Victoriam" vein of warm-ups. It's a good track to begin with, pulling us in despite the fact nothing is new here, but the piece itself builds up nicely.
We then get the second track and our opening battle anthem "In My Sword I Trust." Whilst at first this was disappointing as it doesn't build up that much speed or power like "From Afar" it is a grower and there are plenty of components that make is a good track. The chorus, albeit cheesy is irresistible to sing along to and the guitar solo is excellent, as are Sammie's vocals. Petri on the other hand, well, I was fine with him On Victory Songs, impressed at times on "From Afar", here, he sounds tired, spent and this is a major problem on this album, he just doesn't have the old power. Despite this being the only real problem on this song, it's still a good track and grows over time.
We then get the title track - "Unsung Heroes," a somewhat slow and methodical song with some excellent instrumental backing with Petri's vocals still not quite getting up there. The choir backing is pretty good, as are the lyrics (certainly less cheesy then the prior track) and symphonic elements work in the song's favor as opposed to potentially undermining it. Overall, slow and another grower.
"Burning Leaves" - I love this song. Beginning with a soft folk melody and then kicking off with the heavy guitars on a great riff, this song was the first released and an excellent addition to Ensiferum's live set and discography. The song is powerful, Petri actually isn't bad here and the chorus sung mainly by Markus is excellent as are the symphonic backing and solo. It's a great song for its power, speed and feels very much like Amorphis' later material, which discredits it not. Lyrically and musically good, the best song on the record.
"Celestial Bond" breaks off the metal side of things and we get a folk song with graceful, soaring female vocals with good lyrics and a steady pace. It builds up gently over time but never really breaks out of its soft and delicate scope. Another great song which definitely catches off guard and is a definite show of Ensiferum's willingness to diversify.
And then we get a straight up thrash song which hearkens to the days of Iron. "Retribution Shall be Mine" is fast, furious, pounding and well accompanied by clean vocal work and the symphonic arrangements, as well as being a stripped down piece of brutal Folk Metal which works, running over "Celestial Bond's" calm in two seconds flat. Despite this though it's quite forgettable, with Petri being somewhat iffy here at times and the solo all too short. An enjoyable track nonetheless and again, a grower, certainly for me.
Celestial Bond continues with its brother "Star Queen" which begins like a slower "Burning Leaves." The clean vocals here are good, the song plays slowly like its counterpart and it whilst it doesn't go anywhere until the final half minute, it still is a good, solid track concluding the third of Ensiferum's two-parters.
"Pohjola" is the next track and comes in with more choir work, a struggling Petri and some plain strange elements after a good enough riff. There's a spoke segment after the fourth minute, there's plenty of orchestral work behind the guitars which like on the second track, never quite get up to speed. The choir work here is quite strange yet fun to listen to and the song feels almost too trying as it pulls off little, but is solid and probably, like others, will grow.
And now we get the last two tracks and things get really strange here. "Last Breath" is an acoustic track which, I have no idea how to feel. A man drones throughout it and I feel like Lou Reed stumbled into the studio. However as soon as he shuts his mouth the song actually gets pretty good with a decent instrumental acoustic section and a storming in choir arriving, before the song goes back to him again for the last half minute and he drones more. And then we get "Passion Proof Power" This is the strangest song Ensiferum have ever created. After a minute and a half of assorted sound effects we get a good enough intro with a slow accumulating guitar which is pretty good and then ... - it goes mad. Clean vocals are first with the guitar work is fine and it seems to be building up to something, then Petri sings some parts, more instrumental, then we get an opera vocalist (not making it up it sounds like Tarja is tired of solo careers and has joined the Vikings) before some more jiggery-pokery instrumental work, then Petri and then a speech in German. At this point, 12 minutes in I have nothing to say. The German speech makes no sense and sounds just strange, and the song feels devoid, the build up worthless. It's a weird finale track and then it goes away before going back to the guitars for more vocals, more Petri and choir work before finishing on a dissolve. "Passion Proof Power" is just strange and isn't the best way to finish an album or be an epic with its disjointed feel and mixed segments of quality.
So there you have it the fifth Ensiferum album. I don't like it when albums end badly, which this one does, but there's enough redeeming value for me to come back to it, good songs, songs that will in time grow, why? Because I keep coming back to them and seeing new elements I like every time. Yes it will divide fans, and yes it will not be for everyone, but I put it in as a solid effort.