Ensiferum - _From Afar_
(Spinefarm Records, 2009)
by: Colleen Burton (
With only a handful of albums, Ensiferum have managed to express themselves quite variously as they play around with their medley of folk-influenced power metal and death vocals, and they surely cannot be said to grow stale between releases. Waxing more maturely on folk-soaked albums like _Iron_, yet the group releases many hits on the in-your-face _Victory Songs_. For me, they've strengthened themselves in many respects since the heavy speed-metal work of their earliest release, crafting excellent (though cheesy) songs and bringing about a form of Viking metal which they can call their own. In spite of my preferences, each of the three full-lengths has come highly rated and recommended by many fans. (Apart from those who begrudge Norther's Petri Lindroos filling in for Jari Mäenpää. Be fair: Lindroos hardly detracts from the mission statement and Mäenpää is allowed to indulge in a project the likes of Wintersun, at any rate.)_From Afar_ begins gently on a thoughtful note and then blasts disconcertingly into the speedy title track, which comes across as a bit "samey", so grin and bear it until the obligatory drinking song begins: "Twilight Tavern", in which Lindroos' voice is pushed up above the mix of bouncy, merry riffs. Changing tactics, Ensiferum pump out the more visceral and bass-driven "Heathen Throne". Be patient with "Stone Cold Metal" -- it has a surprisingly successful component that brings to mind the visual landscapes of the barren, ramshackle towns of the American Midwest as only Sergio Leone could portray them. "The Longest Journey" serves as a grandiose high point near the end of the album, a bit drawn-out but winningly dramatic in their characteristic manner.Choral vocals abound, as is typical of the group, in an obvious attempt to whip up the fans of the earliest material; and in true Ensiferum fashion, reflective instrumentals swap off with shrieks, chants, pulsing drums and catchy guitar licks, lending this album all the zest of speed / power metal -- but no longer the folk anthems to send one into battle. Fans who have approved of Ensiferum's development will no doubt feel irked by this sudden regression to older techniques._From Afar_ fails to differentiate itself from former works and seems content to sift through the selling points of albums past. Even the lyrics seem to parallel the themes that came before -- compare "Smoking Ruins" with "Wanderer", as an example. And when offered a lovely bit of folk, such as "Tuuman Virran Taa", it seems too short-lived; so brief as to feel quite random. Some of the arrangements may be more elaborate, but it's not nearly as enjoyable as some of their decidedly cheesy music, and in their slapdash songwriting here, absent is any sort of leitmotif.
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