Finland’s Ensiferum serve up another rowdy, folk basher on ‘Unsung Heroes’

I worry that not enough people listen to metal to have fun anymore, and at times, I probably can be counted among that number. When I discovered metal as a kid, I loved it because it was loud, different, shunned by much of the mainstream, and most important of all, a good time. Some of the best times I had growing up was going to see bands such as Megadeth, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, and Testament and getting lost in the moment.

These days, since they’ll give any asshole a blog, it seems there’s more judgment of other people and their tastes, as well as lambasting bands and their philosophies, than ever before. People don’t listen to the right black metal, they don’t understand the proper doom bands, they’re not kvlt enough, that band’s sold too many albums for anyone to care, that band tours with the wrong bands. There are so many accusations bandied about and accusations made that the essence of our fandom often gets lost. Remember putting on a record and enjoying it just because it’s fun? That’s still OK, right? To have fun?

I say all of this because I’m coming at you with “Unsung Heroes,” the fifth and latest album from Finnish Viking/folk metal titans Ensiferum. I don’t mean to lump them in with the vague examples I gave above, because I’m not sure how people perceive them on every multi-level of judgment rendering. I’m not that tied into the genre in which these guys play, and I always feel that because I’m not European, I can’t quite grasp what bands of this ilk are trying to do and what they mean to their fans. I always imagine that these folks go over big at an event such as Wacken, where people are drunk and baked and just want to … have fun. And that’s the angle from which I approach this band.

While I’m not a huge fan or collector of this style of metal, and a lot of the genre turns me off mostly because it just doesn’t translate with me, I dig Ensiferum. Their album covers always stood out to me, something that drew me to power metal growing up, and their music is charged up and full of enthusiasm. Their style makes me think back to when I was growing up and I didn’t care about politics, philosophies, what label a band was on, or any of that. I just cared about what the music sounded like, and Ensiferum help me remember that a bit.

This band’s music also pokes at my affinity for modern-day Amorphis and their huge, hearty melodies, as well as the drunken brawling aspect to Amon Amarth, another band I feel gets dismissed sometimes by people who take themselves way too seriously. That band kills, and their albums are a blast, and I get a lot of that same spirit with “Unsung Heroes.” The album certainly has the Euro folk dynamic going on, but the band doesn’t exactly smash you over the head with it (with the exception of the dual “Celestial Bond” tracks, the first featuring the wonderful Laura Dziadulewicz, that kind of get a little too “Lord of the Rings” in spots). Their music is heavy, growly, nasty at times, and full of energy, I can’t help but get caught up in the infectiousness of it all when I take on this record. I’m grateful for that.

After a dramatic intro cut “Symbols,” the record rips open with “In My Sword I Trust,” a big, riffy song that could be perfect soundtrack fodder for a Middle Ages battle videogame, where you bleed, fight, and free villages from the bad guys. It’s such an adrenaline rush of a track. The title cut is another big one, with horns, a huge chorus, a bit of classic rock swagger, some furious growled verses, and a giant dose of folk infusion. “Burning Leaves” has a main guitar riff that sounds a little same-y, but the mid-tempo approach and emotional performance make the song really stick out among the rest. It’s the one I have listened to most out of all 10. “Retribution Shall Be Mine” is perfect for a revenge-minded song, with fast, power metal-influenced guitar work, a neat prog-style keyboard solo, and a tempo that should make you want to throw a fireball out a window. “Pohjola” is in a similar vein and is the second heaviest song on here. Toward the end, there’s a dramatic reading by actor Vesa-Matti Moiri that sounds ripped from a movie, and it suits what’s going on perfectly. “Last Breath” is a cool song with a strong Celtic and punk rock vibe, right down to the raspy clean vocals and rowdy ambiance. Then, 16-minute closer “Passion Proof Power” acts as a true climax, with the band spilling in every stop, every thing they do so well, every peak and valley they possibly can traverse. It’s equal amounts powerful, rousing, silly, and yes, fun.

You always know what you’re going to get from Ensiferum, and that’s a good thing. It’s nice to have a band on which you can rely to capture and carry you off to a faraway land for some adventure and mischief. This band always delivers on that promise, and five records into their career, they’re hitting on all cylinders. Now, where’s my mead horn.

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