This is Pagan folk metal from Finland at its best. Many people condemn the genre and many of its greatest bands as Renaissance festival nerds with cool guitars and war paint. But Ensiferum raises the bar ever so slightly with every release, making them pioneers of sorts in the folk metal game. One Man Army is a perfect example of the band’s unique approach to their genre.
Ensiferum (The Sword Bearer) never hold back when it comes to their powerful chorus driven war songs with their 1,000 year old feel, but fully embrace their heavy nature as well. Since they are a metal band at their core, they have to represent. The opening track, “March of War” is beautifully composed with an array of old-world string instruments, “Burden of the Fallen” could come straight out of the “Lord of the Rings” or “Hobbit” films, and the closing track “Neito Pohjolan” naturally has its Finnish roots, but can at times be easily mistaken for an American country/western tune. The whole album is full of their usual bells and whistles, choirs singing backup harmonies reminiscent of blockbuster soundtracks like “Braveheart” and plenty of references to the very heart of the band’s name and their love of their heritage; clashing swords and bloody battlefields. Fans of this genre won’t be disappointed, but those weary on folk metal may not appreciate 11 straight tracks with said formula.
“Axe of Judgment” forces the listener into an all-out war zone. “Cry For the Earthbound” and “Warrior Without A War” transport you back to ancient bloodstained ruins, despite Earthbound’s borderline poppy female vocals in the bridge. “Two of Spades” is an upbeat Celtic dance party, which instantly had me thinking of Bilbo Baggins’s 111th birthday party in “The Fellowship of the Ring”. And, wouldn’t you know it? Ensiferum decide to throw you a curveball and end the album with a cover of the theme from Rawhide.
So, once again, any avid listener of folk metal can’t hate this album. Metal purists will either hate it, be bored with it, or both (presumably), and those who simply dabble in folk metal might grow tired of Ensiferum’s consistent battle anthem formula. But all in all, I think this is a great opportunity for those open to taking the “folk metal challenge”, to open their hearts and minds to this wonderfully fun genre! Cheers!
Key tracks: One Man Army, Cry For the Earthbound, Burden of the Fallen