Let’s put to one side for a moment the shameful amount of misguided bollocks which issues forth under the highly-saleable ‘pagan’ metal tag. I feel like I could write a book on it. Chapter one would be very short. The CD front covers: why are many of them so appallingly bad? Why would you encourage my nagging instinct that this is the heavy metal version of strawberry flavoured bubble gum by putting a brightly coloured, cartoonish character with a sword on the front? My problem with this entire genre is that when it is good it can be extremely enjoyable and submersive but when it is bad…
I’ll admit I’ve never completely fathomed Ensiferum’s sizeable and loyal fan base. At times they seem to stray dangerously close to the abyss in to which so many of the bands in this sub-genre so deservedly fall. But I’ve always seen them as providing a song-writing benchmark (by which I mean they have actually bothered to write some) and there are some real gems in their back catalogue. My first encounter with Ensiferum was 2004’s Iron and I’ve dipped in and out ever since although never considered myself a fan. To be honest, after hearing Unsung Heroes I wish I’d been paying a bit more attention. Over the past three albums they’ve progressed into an ever more reliable source of hook-laden, entry-level, heathen power metal that serves as an end in itself but that I’m pretty sure for many fans also leads on to harder stuff. At times this is a stunning example of what Ensiferum can do.
From the brilliant cinematic, Spaghetti Western-style riff and choral backing of the first track In My Sword I Trust, the Nordic chant of Burning Leaves and rip-roaring Retribution Shall Be Mine I have no hesitation recommending this to anyone who has had even a passing interest in these guys over the years. The more I think about it I even like the front cover (nice sky), cartoonish though it may be. You can’t argue with a band that seems to make a virtue of drawing you in with the obvious, adding a few layers to catch unawares on repeated listens before chucking in something slightly darker and mysterious that is undeniably Ensiferum. I still have some cynical reservations and they never ever veer too far from their chosen sound. But overall they make a fine art out of being masters in their narrow field and it all serves as a fine flagship for the more accessible end of the ‘pagan’ metal market. If only the other bands in this genre would take note and write some songs before inflicting their dross on us all.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)