Album Review – Ensiferum / One Man Army (2015)

Another good heavy music album by one of the most influential Folk Metal armies from Finland.


ensiferum_one man armyWhen Folk Metal came into prominence in the early 2000’s, more specifically due to several promising bands from Finland such as Finntroll, Korpiklaani and Turisas, we all knew that was a subgenre of heavy music that was definitely here to stay. However, despite each band having their own characteristics, the nature and limitations of Folk Metal made it clear it was going to be really tough for all bands to reinvent themselves over the years and to avoid becoming stale or ostracized, a terrible curse upon any type of artist in the world. Even with this dark shadow over every band who decided to follow the path of folk and heavy music, Finnish Epic Folk Metal band Ensiferum have managed somehow to remain relevant and kept delivering decent albums like One Man Army, the sixth full-length album in their career.

Fans of the band will agree with me when I say that Ensiferum (the Latin word for “Sword Bearer” in case you don’t know it) have as their main attribute their ability to always craft melodic and epic songs, it doesn’t matter the album nor the speed or length of the song. One Man Army, featuring a great album art by renowned illustrator Gyula Havancsák, is no exception to that and will surely please most admirers of epic metal music. Far from being a masterpiece, perhaps the biggest problem with One Man Army is that some of its songs sound too repetitive and in some cases too epic (even knowing this feature is deeply rooted in their music), but that doesn’t mean you cannot grab you sword and shield or maybe enjoy a huge pint of barley wine while listening to it.

Although the intro March Of War sounds more like “Western Folk” than pure folk music, that doesn’t make it less fun nor harms the next track, the faster and more violent than usual Axe Of Judgment. Can it be called Blackened Epic Folk Metal? Anyway, the harsh screams by Petri Lindroos are quite effective, with the keyboards by Emmi Silvennoinen and its backing vocals adding more “epicness” to this battle tune. Then we have a truly awesome Epic Metal song entitled Heaten Horde, where the 100% Manowar chorus sung by Ensiferum’s “horde” is its highlight for sure and will thrill all fans during their live concerts (“All heathen hearts, / Answer the call, / God of thunder bless our swords, / Our heathen horde, / Will never fall, / We are hungry for blood, steel and war”), not to mention they even used an Old Norse poem in the lyrics as an amazing “bonus”.

One Man Army, the first single of the album, showcases riffs and double bass that couldn’t sound more Scandinavian metal, and again they abuse of the backing vocals in a good way. In addition, it’s kind of impressive how bands like Ensiferum can sing about battles and war in each and every song they record and still sound fresh in many cases. But getting back to the album, after the nice folk intro Burden Of The Fallen, perfect for enjoying around the fire pit while roasting a leg of goose and having a cold beer, Ensiferum offer us Warrior Without A War, which despite its epic start and all the band’s efforts to make it even more epic, especially the “Oh-oh-oh!” in the background, is just an average song with not much to offer to the listener.

ensiferumAnd the boring Cry For The Earth Bounds follows a similar formula: another epic battle intro done by some kind of choir, lyrics talking about war, keyboards giving it an extra touch of magic and so on, but nothing that makes the song outstanding. Quite the contrary, it gets really tiring and falls totally flat after a while. In the excellent Two Of Spades, they finally sing about something that’s not a medieval battle, but a more contemporary type of war: gambling! Its truly exciting riffs and vocals are good indicators they should invest more on this type of raw and direct metal, with its disco beats and Finnish lines being interesting elements added to the song.

The following two tracks, My Ancestor’s Blood and Descendants, Defiance, Domination , form one song name “Heathen Throne Part III”. The first song is pretty boring, with its riffs sounding too generic and its rhythm being as monotone as possible, while the second part is even worse: there was no doubt an 11-minute tune would sound epic, sorrowful and imposing, but the overall result is extremely disappointing due to the lack of energy and entrenchment. In other words, the song just goes on and on forever, with its instrumental parts being very basic, and you even forget to follow the storyline at a given point. Fortunately, Neito Pohjolan closes the regular version of the album beautifully with its awesome lyrics (“Eessä myrskytuulien / Eessä elon taistojen / Aina sydämessäin oon / Neito pohjolan”, or in English “In front of storm clouds / In front of battles of life / In my heart I’ll always be / Lady of the North”). It is as folk as it can be, with Emmi leading the singing and more important than that, in Finnish, making it a very enjoyable tune.

And if you’re in doubt about purchasing One Man Army or not, or which version of the album is the most suitable for your collection, I suggest you go for the limited edition with its four witty bonus tracks. I would say the best ones are the fun Rawhide and the violent Warmetal, which by the way are better than 90% of the songs from the regular version of the album. In summary, Ensiferum might not exactly be a “one man army” as the name of the album says nor the most creative band in the world, but they’re indeed a solid and interesting Folk Metal army that will keep you entertained and ready for battle with their epic and melodic heavy music.

Best moments of the album: Heaten Horde, One Man Army and Two Of Spades.

Worst moments of the album: Cry For The Earth Bounds, My Ancestor’s Blood and Descendants, Defiance, Domination.

Released in 2015 Metal Blade Records

Track listing
1. March Of War 1:32
2. Axe Of Judgment 4:33
3. Heathen Horde 4:12
4. One Man Army 4:25
5. Burden Of The Fallen 1:49
6. Warrior Without A War 5:24
7. Cry For The Earth Bounds 7:31
8. Two Of Spades 3:39
9. My Ancestors’ Blood (Heathen Throne Рart III) 4:30
10. Descendants, Defiance, Domination (Heathen Throne Рart III) 11:20
11. Neito Pohjolan 4:10

Limited Edition bonus tracks
12. Candour And Lies 4:11
13. Rawhide 2:35
14. Warmetal 2:54
15. Bonus Song 4:29

Band members
Petri Lindroos – harsh vocals, guitars
Markus Toivonen – guitars, backing vocals, clean vocals
Sami Hinkka – bass, clean vocals
Emmi Silvennoinen – keyboards, backing vocals
Janne Parviainen – drums