Unsung Heroes, the newest studio album from Finnish folk metal favorites Ensiferum, is due for North American release on September 18. Folk metal fans will have been eagerly awaiting this announcement, as the band’s last album, 2009’s From Afar, was definitely their strongest effort yet. Their sound is classic Finland – Take one part Children of Bodom, add a dash of Sonata Arctica’s catchiness and speed, and serve with liberal lashings of folk music a la Finntroll. There you have it – Ensiferum pud.
Reviews of Unsung Heroes have been mixed – many reviewers calling it Ensiferum’s weakest album yet, while others praising their slower-paced, less Fable folkesque approach. I was definitely curious to give this a listen and decide for myself.
The opening track, “Symbols” starts off with promise – a classic Ensiferum accoustic tune, a mounful folk song, swelling and changing as different instruments fade in and out of the melody. It’s a bit like a “meet the cast” of their musical oeuvre. The next song, “In My Sword I Trust” is a classic for the band – leading you straight through thick, chunky riffs to a catchy, singalong chorus that’ll make most metalheads raise swords or drinking horns. Standout tracks are “Burning Leaves”, a powerful mix of chunky rock guitar and languid softness, and “Celestrial Bond”, where a haunting flute and acoustic guitar meld with one of the most beautiful female melodies I’ve heard in some time. This track gets stuck on repeat in my house.
The main problem with this album is that it sounds a bit like the outtakes from all their previous efforts – all the miscellaneous riffs and half-conceived ideas that weren’t quite good enough to fit anywhere else. They’ve been drawn out and expanded and layered into competent, catchy mid-paced/slow songs, but there’s little hint of that speed and power that made albums like Iron and From Afar genre classics. Songs like “Unsung Heroes”, “Star Queen (Celestrial Bond Pt II)” and “Last Breath” fall flat, and the limitations of Petri Lindroos’ voice become more evident as he strains for several notes.
However, Unsung Heroes grows on you. Many fans might dismiss it as mediocre after a couple of listens, but if you’re willing to give it a chance, it rewards you with a more meandering, back-door approach to folk metal. The first half of the album is definitely the stronger, but with songs like “Retribution Shall Be Mine” and “Pohjola” hinting at that Bodom-inspired Finnish speed sound Ensiferum perfected, there is more than enough material here to enjoy. In fact, although I think the vocals in the verses need work, “Pohjola” definitely deserves a mention as a standout track.
If this were the first Ensiferum album you heard, I think you’d absolutely love it. All the aspects that make Ensiferum one of the most enduring Finnish folk metal acts are present, albeit in increasingly diminished forms; the gruff vocals, the female melody, the galloping riffs, and the folk-inspired badassitry. But overall I’m still yearning for more of the rough-and-tumble releases of the earlier career. Nevertheless, Ensiferum don’t lose themselves in the big, chunky sound they’ve created, and I’ll be curious to see where they take this sound in future releases.
This week only, Guitar World is steaming Unsung Heroes in it’s entirety, and I urge you to pop over, have a listen, and judge for yourself. You can also catch up with the latest Ensiferum news through the Official Ensiferum Facebook page.