From the chilly Scandinavian homeland which they draw their inspiration, Ensiferum sits atop the heap of modern folk-metal bands. Along with other genre standbys Tyr and Eluveitie, Ensiferum have built their reputation with heroic lyrics, power-metal riffs, and raspy guttural vocals. And while their new album fails to let the band grow out of this mold, longtime fans of the band and the genre will be very satisfied with Unsung Heroes. Ensiferum also strikes me as a band who feels confident in the skin (or should I say loincloth?) they've chosen to wear , and from what I remember when I saw them in 2008's Pagan Fest (part of that year's New England Metal and Hardcore Fest), it is a mantle they carry with pride.
In My Sword I Trust gives the album a catchy start and is followed by the equally engaging and crushing grooves of Unsung Heroes. One cannot deny that Ensiferum sit at the front of their class, with a dazzling ability to blend traditional sounds with the swirling guitar harmonies and harsh vocals characteristic of extreme Metal. An immediate favorite of mine, Burning Leaves fits this blend perfectly, with both glorious chorus lines and excellent guitar work. Other highlights include the thrashy Retribution Shall Be Mine, and the epic ending piece Passion Proof Power. Passion shows the band allowing to let their sound explore a bit, with spacey guitar-fx, German soundbites, and several other elements thrown in. At over an hour in length, the album plays like a long composition, meant to be played from front-to-back. Even though I'd say it contains some unnecessary filler, it retains enough strength to be a consistently entertaining listen.
For a band like Ensiferum, the old cliche' holds true: you either like them or you don't. For me, the extreme folk-metal sound has its appeal, though its comes and goes with my mood. But like The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, this appeal has its limits. Though tales of "ancient glory" and "fallen warriors" can be a fun novelty for some listeners (like me), they are an enormous turn-off or others. But for those sword-rattling types out there- mount the longboats, light the torches, and prepare for battle!
7 out of 10
Favorite songs: In My Sword I Trust, Unsung Heroes, Burning Leaves, Retribution Shall Be Mine, and Passion Proof Power
Check out the video below for In My Sword I Trust: