Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: Ensiferum - Unsung Heroes

Ensiferum have had a good run in the Viking/folk metal scene over the last seventeen years, the Finnish ensemble having formed in 1995. With a catalog of releases that have always failed to disappoint, the band reached the climax of their career with 2009's From Afar, which shone a light on how Ensiferum can reinvent themselves in various ways and still have a firm hold onto what makes them who they are. Needless to say, Unsung Heroes has high expectations to fill as well as a three year void. Have Ensiferum managed to hang onto their win streak, or will things fade with this fifth full-length installment?

Genre: Viking/Folk Metal
Label: Spinefarm Records
Release Date: August 24th, 2012
  1. Symbols
  2. In My Sword I Trust
  3. Unsung Heroes
  4. Burning Leaves
  5. Celestial Bond
  6. Retribution Shall Be Mine
  7. Star Queen (Celestial Bond part II)
  8. Pohjola
  9. Last Breath
  10. Passion, Proof, Power
Total Playtime: 01 hour, 01 minute, 20 seconds






Rating: 5.0/10







Ensiferum have had a good run in the Viking/folk metal scene over the last seventeen years, the Finnish ensemble having formed in 1995. With a catalog of releases that have always failed to disappoint, the band reached the climax of their career with 2009's From Afar, which shone a light on how Ensiferum can reinvent themselves in various ways and still have a firm hold onto what makes them who they are. Needless to say, Unsung Heroes has high expectations to fill as well as a three year void. Have Ensiferum managed to hang onto their win streak, or will things fade with this fifth full-length installment?

From the beginning of Unsung Heroes there is a clearly heard lack of energy. The whole thing comes off a bit Turisas styled since Ensiferum have decided to include gratuitous amounts of clean vocals and synthesizer elements, making this their most generically melodic album yet. "Symbols" starts the album off with a synthesizer introduction that casually builds up with a noble melody, complete with horns and deep drums. The intro leads into "In My Sword I Trust", this track is easily one of the few highlights on the material and it has a decent melody and a catchy clean sung chorus. The title track "Unsung Heroes" is another mediocre mention, followed by "Burning Leaves" which is a track filled with hooky guitar rhythms. In this song Ensiferum show a standard transition between their melodic death metal style into their well known folk elements, but nowhere near as the transitional prowess demonstrated on From Afar


"Celestial Bond" is where the album takes a new turn and the content completely slows down into a female fronted folk ballad. Laura Dziadulewicz lends her voice to this track and her clean vocals are backed by deep, pounding traditional drums and acoustic guitars with hints of a light flute from time to time. The vocalist delivers a great performance, entwining seamlessly with the tenor male vocals that join in during parts of the composition. However the problem with this is that the same style is presented in the same way multiple times throughout the content. Songs "Star Queen (Celestial Bond part II)" and "Last Breath" have the same slow ballad tone. "Star Queen" isn't quite as snore-worthy as its predecessor, but it still feeds the slow, draining feeling of Unsung Heroes, only this time by using clean male vocals and more than just traditional instruments. The band try to heat things up again through the one track that lies between these two parts, "Retribution Shall be Mine", but this effort is mediocre at best. The song isn't bad, nor is it particularly good, but it's the only one that actually offers up something close to what Ensiferum are capable of and what they generally sound like. The downside being that it's buried between two slowest tracks of the album.

There's an uneven balance between Ensiferum's death metal syle and their traditional folk style in Unsung Heroes that tips the album more in favor of traditional folk. The album comes off lacking a sense of direction and purpose at times on top of packing some tediously unoriginal material. Sometimes the clean male vocals are strained to achieve an octave here or there, like in "Last Breath". A big chunk of the album lies in the final song, "Passion, Proof, Power", and it is also the longest singular Ensiferum song created clocking in at seventeen minutes even. There are a few style mix ups through this exceedingly long track and an incorporation of all types of vocal elements found in the preceding tracks, but again this track favors trudging slowness and nauseating unoriginality. 

Unsung Heroes is by far the worst Ensiferum release to date, full of disappointment in every track and an audible regression in talent, production, capability and style. There is a heavy lack of energy that is draining on the listener and most people will find themselves either skipping tracks or not sticking it out after the first four songs. Those who do make it through the entire hour long track list will not find themselves keen on an immediate, if ever, replay. From Afar was a great demonstration of how Ensiferum can branch off into different styles and still maintain power and creativity, Unsung Heroes is a great demonstration on what the band shouldn't attempt to do again and is a poor Turisas knock-off style record with soft ballads and less than mediocre highlight songs. A definite pass on one of the worst highly anticipated albums from 2012.

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