Branded as Epic Folk Metal, Ensiferum’s journey has indeed been epic. And it gets more epic with every album – as time dictates it should. The band are the embodiment of epic, their music, lyrics, image – all epic, and “Thalassic” takes it another epic step onward, forward, reshaping their trademark epic style, finding new ways to be even more…Epic. With a stable core line-up since 2004, a keyboard/clean vocal change in the shape of Pekka Montin and the introduction of more genuine orchestration heralds another slight shift in direction for the newest chapter in the band’s history – but is “Thalassic” a classic? (Yeah, like I’ll be the only reviewer to use THAT line…). One thing for certain is that it will be epic.

And, of course, it is. Complete with epic intro (what other kind could it be?), “Thalassic” wastes no time in unleashing its ferocity in typical time-honoured Ensiferum tradition with what appears to be a philosophical musing on maritime voyages and recreation entitled “Rum, Women, Victory”. It’s about pirates – Alestorm and Running Wild would be proud! Which leads me nicely onto the main difference (and possible contentious point) in the band’s overall sound this time around – which are the aforementioned clean vocals. It’s always been something Ensiferum have used, but new guy Pekka Montin is rather bloody great at them! As he should be being the frontman for metallers Judas Avenger, but I can predict a few die-hard fans worrying about this being a step too near Power Metal for them, but I disagree. This is a natural step by a unique band who are just expanding their sound in as many exciting directions as possible. Besides, there’s still plenty of expertly delivered harsh vocals to go around.

There’s a theme to all the songs on this album for the first time. That theme is The Sea…or Water. Now this isn’t a concept – it’s a THEME, which is basically the many tribulations of things aquatic. Which to be honest, suits the band perfectly – they can be Vikings, Pirates, Romans, Ancient Greeks…basically anyone who has built (or sunk) a boat throughout history and mythology. It’s no fluke though that the mood of the music on each track really does seem to match the era of sea-fairing that the lyrics portray. There’s still that underlying folk influence to each track but Ensiferum mix it up in their own inimitable way throughout the album – from the Korpiklaani style beer-fuelled frivolity of “Midsummer Magic” through the Gamma Ray-edged double-kick barrage of “Run From The Crushing Tide” and even with the more reflective Celtic flavour of “One With The Sea”, this album has everything any Ensiferum album should have. The digi version even has a cover of obscure 60’s hit ‘I’ll Stay By Your Side’ originally by the Lollipops. Ensiferum, of course, make it much more epic, obviously.

The overall sound of “Thalassic” is as full and rounded as Ensiferum have ever sounded. The production is huge, the songs bombastic and, yes, the whole thing is utterly epic! The added real orchestration is never overpowering or obtrusive, it’s used to enhance, highlight and exaggerate the dynamics of each individual song to great effect. This is still an album that is 100% Ensiferum, but you could say it’s a more mature, more world-wise Ensiferum, a band that has embarked on many an epic voyage so far – before and during “Thalassic” – returning to shore once more with a wealth of treasures to bestow on their patient, loyal subjects.

(9/10 Andy Barker)