Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ensiferum: 'Victory Songs'

Finns are Funn! When other Scandiavians tap into their heritage for metal inspiration, you get the church-burning shenanigans of tr00 black metal, or less extreme, the sculling-beer-and-slaying-christians exuberance of Amon Amarth. With the Finns, however, you get the glorious polka-metal hoot that is Finntroll, and, just as wonderfully cheessy if less of a novelty act, Ensiferum's giddily-gallopping brand of folk metal. Combining rollicking folksy melodies with propulsive metal rhythms, and screechy/growly vocals backed by heroic male choruses, they achieve a rather amusing blend of earnest tunefulness and catchy metal posturing that works more often than not, on its own terms. The atmospheric intro, 'Ad Victoriam', sets the tone perfectly, with its soaring, striviing synth-flute melodies and slow build. 'Deathbringer From The Sky' boasts some genuinely cool riffing and a neat transition into acoustic folk melodies, while 'Ahti', an ode to a deity from the Finnish pantheon is surprisingly effective for essentially being the same melody played for nearly 4 minutes with different metal band dynamics to vary things. 'Wanderer' is almost affecting at times with its mid-tempo heroism, but things do begin to stale halfway through the album. This style is very close to the predictable romps of Gothenburg bands like Children Of Bodom or In Flames. For a listener like me, those incessant galloping rhythms and we-don-tknow-no-diminisheds melodies, without a single exotic note choice, can get pretty stultifying after some time, like a shoving in a whole CD of jigs & reels in the middle of a mosh session. One problem I have with these bands is that they go too gllefully for the easy hook and melody, without really challenging you or themselves with unexpected harmonic combinations or tonal choices. It's pretty much vanilla European tunesmithery throughout, and that can pall a bit. The album-closing title song, at a length of 10 and a half minutes exposes the limits of this approach. Rather than seeming epic, it becomes merely tedious with its lack of surprise or even the slightest variation from a set path. That chorus will probably lodge in your head for a while, but a lot more balls and innovation would help. This certainly isn't on par with bands like Skyclad and the likes who brought real inventiveness to their folk metal music, and a lyrical sensibility that went beyond recounting past glories, or Slough Feg, who combine essentially the same approach as Ensiferum with a much more gutsy and raw NOWBHM touch.

To sum up, decent cheese, but not the best.

1 comment:

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Actually, I had a lot of fun with this one. I reviewed it for my column in AMP, and I made parallels to how Manowar has pretty much opened the gates up in Europe and Scandinavia but done jack shit in the States.