Ensiferum – One Man Army

 

Metal Blade Records

Released February 24th 2015

Review by Suzi H

This review is extremely late. One Man Army – which I have been eagerly anticipating since September 2014 – landed in my inbox for review at the end of January.  Unfortunately I was extremely ill at the time and after eventually landing myself in hospital, and having to spend a week on bed rest, followed by another month and a half of doing not much more than my day job I’ve only just managed to get round to writing it up.  So to colleagues and readers, I’m dreadfully sorry, because really you guys should have read this months ago and been rampaging your way around the world listening to this album since.

Anyway, enough with the pity party and excuses and onto the music. Ensiferum are my third favourite Finnish band of all time – of course Turisas are first, Korpiklaani are second, and my Bloodstock 2015 ticket was purchased on the strength of the Ensiferum announcement. So, yeah, One Man Army has been hotly anticipated in the southern tower of Wyrd Ways Castle for quite some time.

I’m never much fussed about the *how* of music being produced – if sitting under a waterfall wrapped in a bullhide gets your juices flowing and leads to a kick arse album that’s fine by me.  Similarly, I couldn’t give any body part of a monkey if your preferred production method is to binge on Red Bull and blue Smarties and bash it out in one take.

Ensiferum have made much though of the production for this album as they tried to move away from digitally produced songs towards arrangements where every instrument actually got played.  The result is, I have to say, staggering.  Kicking off with March of War you are first gently grabbed by the music – the intro is all a bit Game of Thrones, full of penny whistles and strings and sweeping epic arrangements that are all evocative and bring to mind imagery of an army yomping through the forest renaissance stylee.  But then Axe of Judgement begins and you are bodyslammed into the front row and commanded to mosh and pillage until it’s all over.  Axe of Judgement is all brimstone and fury and catchy sing along “woahhwoaaah!” choruses, and if it doesn’t get played at BOA I’m going to lead a one woman riot in protest.

Moving on, you get carried along slam bang into Heathen Horde which has about the folkiest opening I’ve heard in 2015.  With lyrics like: “All heathen hearts/ Answer the call/ God of thunder bless our swords”, it’s full of fighting talk and promises a good punch up against a side fuelled on righteous fury and blessed by the Gods.

At this point I should point out that my attempts to actually write up my review have been significantly scuppered by the headbanging it engenders.  I’m not sure it’s especially hardcore to be sat at your desk, waving a pint of water around bellowing along, because my study is not a longhouse, I can’t quaff for shit (waste of good booze is quaffing) and being of a female persuasion, all my attempts to grow a beard have failed spectacularly, but this album doesn’t allow for sitting still. You have to just give it some and pretend that really your charging across the Northumbrian coast with a shield and axe and not sitting at home in your onesie.

Anyway, Heathen Horde is followed by One Man Army which is the traditional point where my attempts to say something sensible have degenerated into desk moshing.  So you can gather that the album’s title track is *rather good*. It’s all rousing vocals and epic instrumental sweeps and a screamy howley end. I like that in a song. Burden of the Fallen is a bit calmer.  It’s a ‘water break’ sort of track, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful and an all too brief glimpse into the softer side of the Finnish warriors.

Warrior Without A War is another heads down and mosh it out type track.  It is a little bit samey, however that doesn’t detract from it being thoroughly enjoyable.  Cry for the Earth Bounds changes things up again with a sort of medieval monasstic chant opening that really does make me think of soaring cathedrals, and solemn occasions.  It’s also got a rather awesome guitar riff in the middle.  Plus it’s 7 and a half minutes long, and I do like it when you get a decent saga condensed into a single album track.  Happy Days.

Two of Spades starts off faster paced than most of the album, with some fantastic drumming and for a folk metal track it’s a bit thrash really and is, I assumed at first, a tribute to Motörhead.  I’m not sure about the weird Viking Disco in the middle though.  It’s a bit too Saturday Night Fever for my liking. Anyway, from the discotheque we swiftly barrel into My Ancestors Blood where normality is restored, and all is well with the world again, as we return to sweeping riffs, epic vocals and a tune catchier than chlamydia on an 18-30 holiday.

The album rounds out with the doom laden intro of Descendants, Defiance, Domination  which picks up pace as it goes on, has an excellent spoken word section, and has one of the few clean male vocal tracks that I noticed. I mean, it’s only about 20 seconds in an 11 minute long track, but it stood out. There’s also about a minute of female vocals which are so Games of Thrones-esque I had to check I didn’t have another window open playing the theme tune.

I’ll be honest: the last non-bonus track Neito Pohjolan is the only one I didn’t like on the whole album. It was just… a bit strange and it didn’t quite fit, which is a shame because it had awesome vocals and I’d have liked to like it more.

There are four bonus tracks – a cover of Rawhide, Warmetal, Candour and Lies, and finally Bonus Song. They’re all good, although a little weird –  Candour and Lies is basically a country song and Bonus Song is Ensiferum Does A Glam Metal Track.  It’s quite good.  It reminds me of W.A.S.P!

All in, this is a superb album.  This has been one of the most time consuming write ups in my time at WWRS becuase I kept getting distracted with the desk moshing. Which is fun, but doesn’t get a review written. Even if you don’t like folk metal you’ll like this album. Of course, if you already like Ensiferum then you *should* love it, and I’ll see you down the front at Bloodstock!

******/5

They get a bonus star for having so many bonus tracks.

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