I grew up on Heavy Metal and I still try to keep up on the new wave of metal. Today, many of the best bands seem to be coming from Scandinavia. Today's band, Ensiferum hails from Helsinki, Finland.
This group of Finnish heavy metal musicians have been lableled as folk metal, death metal and viking metal. Their name literally means in latin "Sword Bearing". They started playing together in 1995. (This section of the review is from information obtained at Wikipedia). My friend, Mikko, who turned me on to the band said, Mark, you've got to listen to this. He has Finnish roots and loves heavy metal. He also keeps me up to date on the latest bands from Finland, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. Ensiferum has a sound that reminds me of Vikings, and I understand that they actually have done a heavy metal version of Kalevala, that fans of Classical music will recocngize as one of the epic compositions of Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.
Victory Songs is the band's third album, released in 2007. I've already asked my friend if he has the first two albums! The lineup on the band for this album is founding guitar player Markus Toivonen, Bass Player Sami Hinkaa, Drummer Janne Parvainen and guitars Petri Lindroos. All but the drummer participate in the blend of vocals. Like many death metal bands, Ensiferum switches between screaming "clean" vocals, easily understood and growling "harsh vocals". Guitarist Toivonen sings the understandable lyrics while Petri Lindroos growls out the harsh vocals. Now departed (to another band) keyboard player Meiju Enho rounded out the band's sound on this album.
The cover art for the album depicts the band's name and logo, a highly stylizes script. A picture of a viking on a large horse tramples over the slain bodies of the defeated with his sword high in the air. The Finnish flag is on his shield, and a beatiful forest and cabin are in the background under a sinister red sky. It reminds me of the art of Frank Frazetta.
Ad Victorium / Blood is the Price of Glory, Death Bringer from the Sky / Ahti / One More Magic Potion / Wanderer / Raised by the Sword / The New Dawn / Victory Song are the nine songs that make up this 50 minute album.
First, for a death metal band, Ensiferum is quite melodic. Two, the title of the album is quite accurate. The general rhythm and tone of the album is very upbeat, almost cheerful. It doesn't feature the endless monotony of some death metal bands wherein each song features the same blast beat drums and the same driving guitar chords with hardly a change. (When I was in college radio doing a heavy metal radio show, we'd regularly get such records mostly from the MetalBlade record label, some things never change).
Many songs have very melodical, almost classical sounding beginnings. Others have folk song like melodies. Yet each song is infused with the driving guitars and heavy drumming that define the genre. The blend works very well. For example, Raised by the Sword, starts with a beautiful keyboard solo, that would work in a movie soundtrack. Soon the drums and thrashing guitars crash in, but then during choruses, everyone works together very melodically. Both harsh and clean vocals can readily be heard.
Nevertheless, this is music you want to listen to LOUD. It begs for volume. This really is music that properly listened to will raise your metabolism and get your blood pumping. I could see listening to this music on the way to a football game or any kind of competition where you just want to get psyched up. It has a very Ride of the Valkries vibe to it. If you are looking to chill out and relax, this isn't the album for that, this is the one to charge you up.
The band sounds very cheerful as they sing songs of ancient myths, legends and wars. Although the band is Finnish, the lyrics are in English guaranteeing a wide audience.
For example, Deathbringer from the Sky
Deathbringer from the Sky
Hunting victims in the night
Feel the terror as flames are burning bright
There is... No tower as high or a cave so deep
That can save you from its endless spite
So bow down and face your wretched destiny
Good times, good times! Or from Raised by the Sword
As ye sow, as shall ye reap
We will turn your fields into death shining
Our blades smash all down
Guidance of cold winds
We complete the ancient rule
Each of us was created to kill
Listening to the music reminded me of watching Conan the Barbarian or reading Beowulf.
If you are into the death metal scene or heavy metal in general, keep your ears listening to the stuff coming from Finland and Sweden. Ensiferum is yet another example of a truly talented band that manages to blend the aggression of death metal with classical and folk music overtones. If you enjoy Finntroll or Nightwish, you should check out Ensiferum. If you coach a sports team, you may want to put this album on in the locker room to fire your team up to certain victory.
If you like Ensiferum, you may also want to check out:
Finntroll - Ur Jordens Djup or
Nightwish - End of an Era
Great Music to Listen to While crushing the opposition