Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ensiferum, Unsung Heroes Review

I know this is coming a bit late, since Unsung Heroes came out quite some time ago and might  not even be considered a 'new' album. Anyways, I have nonetheless decided to write down my thoughts on this, the fifth full length album from the heroic, Finnish folk metal masters, Ensiferum.

I was as giddy as a school boy waiting for this album, listening to every live version of as many of the songs as I could (it was really just "Burning Leaves). When the video for "In My Sword I Trust" was released I watched that too much as well. I was a bit excited for this release.

When the album came out, I had to wait a couple days still because my order was coming from Finland, so I was forced to stream it off of YouTube while I waited. My first reactions were not as pleasant as I might had hoped. The songs at first did not seem to connect as well as those did on From Afar. Slow, emotional songs were preceded by fast and powerful, boisterous songs, metal in every sense. The bombastic and epic "Pohjola", with its massive Finnish verses and orchestration was followed by an emotional song of glorious defeat and death on the battlefield. And then there is "Passion Proof Power"...I'll get to that later on. My first impression was not quite the best, but that is not to say that I disliked it. "Burning Leaves" quickly rose up the ranks of my favorite songs of all time and "Pohjola" was my victory song after turning in a large research paper on the Winter War. I nonetheless needed to give the album as a whole some time.

I listened to this album many times, going from song to song in order and at random, listening to them on their own and in the sense of the album as a whole. I once saw an interview with Sammi in which he explained that Ensiferum was not happy with Victory Songs and wanted their next album to be their best to reflect this, and that they also wanted to tone it down a bit from From Afar. I don't know what they're talking about about Victory Songs...I absolutely love that album. Yes, From Afar is a bit spaghetti and good, bad, and ugly, but it may be my favorite album of all time--or at least pretty close. Nonetheless, Unsung Heroes does not disappoint, joining the ranks of great folk metal albums, among their previous releases and those of other great folk metal bands.

Unsung heroes has something for everyone. Ensiferum proves their depth and talent in creating an album that perfectly blends various types of songs. A slow song sung by a female vocalist stands proud with the boisterous "Pohjola." A song perfectly brought from the folk tradition into the world of metal follows two epic, truy metal songs about heroes and swords and stuff. Even "Passion Proof Power" impresses when you give it time, harkening to some of metals great long songs.

I guess now is a good time for my long-winded opinion of this song...feel free to skip this, it might get a little messy. "Passion Proof Power" pains me. It is such a beautiful and masterful song, with meaning deep within its lyrics and powerful, finely tuned guitars. Ensiferum has crafted this epic using everything in their arsenal. But it is so difficult to listen to. It is seventeen minutes and one second long. That is five minutes longer than their previous long album ender, the great and legendary "The Longest Journey." I love "Passion Proof Power," but it took hours of listening to it and the entire album for me to do so. When I first listened to it, I don't think I got five minutes in before I skipped back to the beginning of the album again. Please don't get me wrong,
I do love
this song, but it is because of my love for this song that I am angry about it. I wish it was three minutes shorter, I wish the intro was shorter and there wasn't a break in the middle (what's up Die Apokalyptischen Reiter). I wish that the singing began sooner and that the great guitar work didn't wait so long. I fear that Ensiferum may have alienated some of their fans with this song, as  t briefly did for me. To listen to this song, you do need to devote seventeen minutes to it, which  can be difficult (I can complete my commute to school in half the time this song takes). I am only  saying this because I want this song to be one of Ensiferum's best, because it is. It is an opera, a  masterpiece, but even masterpieces have their faults sometimes. I will always enjoy this song, and   hope you give it a chance if you haven't already. Okay, deep breath, back to the album.  

I love Unsung Heroes. It begins with a medieval sounding intro, one of Ensiferum's best, which I saying a lot because each of their full length albums begins with a great intro. Once the beautiful intro is complete, the album charges into battle with its sword held high. "In My Sword I Trust" should be a sign to all that Ensiferum has not lost its roots, its heroic beginnings with the likes of "Battle Song" and "Into Battle." Next the title track, a powerful and emotional call to those forgotten in history and time. "Unsung Heroes," does not disappoint, bringing forth talented guitar work, shadowed by slight orchestration, and the powerful metal vocals of Petri. Don't be fooled, this is still a meaningful song as it slips into the slower, choral chorus. I love this song... "Burning
Leaves" speaks for itself, as the folk song made metal, the ancient tradition perfectly brought forth into the modern world. Opening with Marcus' dulcimer, the main, folk melody opens the song peacefully, then with a slap as the same melody is taken up by Petri and his powerful guitar. This is song about defeat in defending a tradition, a sacred tree in this case. The emotion and meaning come forth in the chorus, cleanly sung by Marcus and Sammi, is deep and moving, while the harshly song lead vocals come from Petri with epic, heroic inspiration. A truly great song.

From there, Ensiferum moves into ground they have broken on a few occasions, and well I think. “Celestial Bond,” is sung beautifully by Laura Dziaduledwicz. I have to point out, though, that although I do not agree with this, there are some who are alienated by this song, citing it as an example against the virtues of Unsung Heroes. Nonetheless it is a beautiful song, and those worried about the ‘metal’ integrity of the band have their fears dispelled as soon as this song ends and the next song begins. “Retribution Shall be Mine” is another great among Eniferum’s arsenal of faster, heavier songs. The band quickly moves back into meaning over ‘metal’ with the following track, “Star Queen.” I am quite partial to this song, myself, with its emotional chorus and moving verses. This is one of my favorite songs from this album, a great example of a lighter folk metal song. “Pohjola” is an epic song, in every sense. About a distant realm from Finnish mythology, this bombastic and epic song, sung entirely in Finnish, is just...great. Listen to the epic chorus’ and the grand orchestration and see for yourself. More meaning comes from the next song, “Last Breath,” a moving song about a warrior’s last words, as he lies bleeding on the battlefield. “Don’t cry for me, my son,” Sammi sings, for he isn’t the only warrior on the ground that day. This song will bring a tear to the manliest tears to the eye of any listener. Next is “Passion Proof Power,” see above for my opinion on this song...

I apologize for rambling a bit, but I had a lot to say about this album, and I did my best to do so. Please give this album a chance if you have no already. If some of the songs rub you the wrong way at first, simply skip to the next one and return later to give it another chance. Open your ears and your mind to Ensiferum and there is a beautiful, epic, heroic world waiting for you, in Unsung Heroes just as much as in any of their previous great works.