Folk metal might be viewed as a troll-slaying, ale-chugging gimmick of a genre by the uninitiated, but with a dedicated following and more diversity than the range of facial hair at a festival, it repeatedly churns out some of the most exhilarating stuff found in heavy music. Finland’s Ensiferum, nearly a decade and a half since their debut album, remain top of the pile, frequently emulated and yet to truly stumble.
New sixth record “One Man Army” seems set to turn more heads and propel them further than perhaps 2012’s slightly more mellow “Unsung Heroes” did though. Not that they’ve been resting on their laurels, not by a long shot, but “One Man Army” sees Ensiferum with something of a renewed fire within them, and good golly it’s worked wonders.
Ensiferum have always been distinctly metal compared to the accordion and hurdy-gurdy wielding likes of bands such as Korpiklaani, and “One Man Army” fucking rips. It’s harder-edged and somewhat more abrasive than the last few records, with a drum sound in particular that batters and maims, and this lends a more caustic tinge to some of their fastest material to date. There’s as much Slayer as there is Amorphis in the breathless burst of life in opener proper ‘Axe of Judgement’ and the rampant yet still truly epic violence of the jaw-dropping title track. This abrasiveness however doesn’t stop it from also being sonically massive, the grandiosity of the symphonic elements and the gargantuan choirs just as impactful.
‘Heathen Horde’ is the kind of call to arms sing-along that’ll become a live staple, and frankly the melodies across the whole record are lovely, from the stirring emotion of ‘Warrior Without a War’ to ‘Descendants, Defiance, Domination’ which continues the Ensiferum tradition of the long 10 plus minute epic on each record with aplomb. And then of course there are the moments that everyone will talk about, the points where Ensiferum are unafraid to deviate from their melodic folk metal template and throw a complete curveball. The bonus tracks contain an utterly bonkers rendition of ‘Rawhide’, and with its rolling train-like drumbeat and gorgeous female vocals closer ‘Neito Pohjolan’ is a stylish fusion of Finnish country and brief dips into Latin-like dance. ‘Two of Spades’ meanwhile is one of the most outrageous and joyously ridiculous metal songs we’re likely to be treated with all year. This jaunty full-speed rampage with its riotously fun chorus suddenly segues into a disco breakdown of all things which causes jaws to drop even if you’re aware it’s coming, sounding just as Boney M-like as Turisas’ famed ‘Rasputin’ cover and yet somehow working absolutely perfectly and seamlessly.
Ensiferum sound confident and on top of their game on “One Man Army”, and despite the disco part they not once sound like they’re joking. The run-time speeds by in a blur without a dull moment, and avoiding cliché it does leave a burning desire to relive it all over again. Folk metal aficionados will lap it up ravenously, and due to its unrestrained pure metal power there’s potential for cynics to find some enjoyment too. It’s a near career-best and proof that folk metal is not running out of ideas any time soon.