Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN - 10/12
Written by: PP on 27/10/2009 23:51:08
It takes exactly one listen to Ensiferum's fourth album "From Afar" to know you're listening to a classic-in-the-making. It's my job to convince you why, if you haven't checked out the album already, and if you have, it's my job to convince you that your opinion, to put it bluntly, rules. "Heroic folk metal" is how the band likes to describe its music, and though I'm not entirely sure about what they exactly mean with the 'heroic' part other than lyrical context, folk metal this is for sure..... actually scratch that, this is so much more than your regular folk metal album, as we shall see.
Quiet, folksy acoustic guitars open the album on "By The Dividing Stream", adding some flutes and other traditional instruments as the song progresses forward, creating a vividly Finnish folklore atmosphere straight away without the need of any additional instruments at this point. Even though the nearly four minute song is an all-instrumental introduction to the album, it already feels so genuinely folk and genuinely good that it foreshadows the greatness that's sure to come straight after. And the moment "From Afar" blasts through your stereos, it's straight into astonishing symphonies the size of Nightwish's "Dark Passion Play", galloping melodeath guitars delivered at folk metal rhythms, and the superior shrieked vocals of Petri Lindroos (caution: old fans may disagree). It's a fucking solid melody - and a damn fast one - but nothing particularly special or original there, you'll be thinking, and then hell breaks lose with crazy choirs on the background, gang shouts, insane keyboard melodies (think CoB but more folk), mammoth soundscapes that don't feel distant from you like the power metal releases despite a clearly audible influence of the genre, symphonic metal bits and pieces in places, and I swear I could hear some banjo in at least one section of the album as well.
Needless to say, I'm blown away at this point, and on each listen I uncover more breathtaking details.
The high tempo is kept almost throughout the album, only stopping for small sections like during the middle passage of "Stone Cold Metal", where the thunderous expression is exchanged with calm whistling and an atmosphere that makes you want to go wandering in the forests of Lapland. Need I say beautiful? Exceptions can be found during the 11-13 minute epic tracks "Heathen Throne" and "The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II)", where the band really takes their time to build a solid progressive folk metal foundation for each track, before eventually exploding into more galloping riffs.
But what really separates Ensiferum from the likes of Tyr and Amon Amarth is how incredibly versatile their expression is. Their musical direction will go from death metal to melodic death to folk metal to viking metal to quiet, subtle folk anthems, only return with vengeance in a symphonic metal platform. Throughout the whole disc you feel like Ensiferum are 100% in control of what's going on to the smallest detail of their massive soundscapes, best noticeable in how they combine acoustic guitar with the roaring folk-based melodeath guitars and the deafening synths and keyboard melodies. Maybe because every song is so different that the record feels and breathes like a full album instead of just a collection of great songs. It's as if Ensiferum took their beloved folk metal sound and pushed it to every direction without making too drastic changes to the sound.
But even though "From Afar" sounds heart-stoppingly stunning, I wouldn't dare call this the best folk metal album this year because I don't have the credentials to do so as a non-regular metal writer without having EW and the other way more metal writers breathing heavily on my neck. But that's also why you should take this review all the more seriously, because if an outsider like me can praise this record to the skies, then think about what real folk metallers will do. In fact, you could do a quick check across the web, and I'm pretty sure you'll find almost universal agreement that this album is amazing: the sheer amount of 9/10 and 10/10 ratings from almost all respectable underground and mainstream metal media should convince you if I haven't. To end the review with a punch line: if you think you've heard the most melodic metal band out there, then prepare to meet its grandfather.
Download: From Afar, Stone Cold Metal, Twilight Tavern
For the fans of: Wintersun, Moonsorrow, Tyr, Korpiklaani, Turisas
Release date 09.09.2009
Spinefarm Records / Universal