Ensiferum
Thalassic

Through every metal fad I’ve seen rise and fall over the years, I don’t think any swept me up so thoroughly in its current than the explosion of Folk Metal in the early/mid 2000’s. The mighty, but refreshingly upbeat and peppy sounds of bands like Finntroll and Turisas wormed their way into my ears and, for a while, I could not get enough of it. It even started bleeding its way into other bands and forms of metal, adding a whole new avenue of possibilities of what metal could be. Just look at the transition a band like Amorphis started to make with the arrival of Tomi Joutsen on Eclipse, that kickstarted a wave of nearly-absolute brilliance they’re still riding nearly a decade and a half later. As silly as it may seem to think about – they’ve got Folk Metal to thank for that.

But since that booming heyday of Folk Metal’s glory day, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. It may be one thing for a band to begin integrating folk elements to expand their own boundaries, but where do you go when you start squarely in the realm of fiddles, tin whistles and accordions? When your starting point is already a little bit “out-there” for metal, how do you progress?

Well, for one of Folk Metal’s more (relatively) consistent and successful acts, Finland’s Ensiferum took a more cautious approach toward change and experimentation, with later albums seeing the band seeming to attempt to take a more “mature” and “serious” approach to their sound, starting most notably on 2012’s uncharacteristically moody and mid-paced Unsung Heroes. Perhaps wondering if maybe they took things too far in that direction, the band returned three years later with One Man Army, bringing back a bit more of the more rollicking nature of their earlier work, but adding some… uh… quirky elements to their arsenal, most notably on the song “Two of Spades” which featured… there’s really no other way to put this… a disco-folk break mid-way through that, in what I believe was an attempt to be fun and cheeky, just came across as weird and ill-fitting. 2017’s Two Paths saw the band seeming to get the ship at least pointed back in a better direction, with more of an emphasis on frolicking, folky fun that made their earlier work so good, although not without its own bit of awkward growth – this time showing a greater willingness to run with clean vocals. This in and of itself isn’t an inherently bad thing, but the cleans just felt unpolished and not quite sure of themselves here.

I know it took me a long time to get to this point, but here’s the ultimate upshot to all this backstory: On Thelassic, Ensiferum have taken the lessons learned from an entire catalogue’s worth of successes and misses, smoothed out some of the jagged edges, and have finally put everything together into one complete, thoroughly entertaining and impressive album that, to me, is absolutely their best work yet.

First thing’s first – they certainly haven’t left the fun behind on this one – the album’s first proper track, “Rum, Women, Victory” serving as a prime example of what happens when these guys are able to put the whole package together. Wonderfully epic and infectious melodies, a super fun, sing-along hook, and some serious musical ability on full display has this album kicking in the door and blasting your skull with a 10 mega-ton hammer blow right from the jump. And credit where credit is due, the clean vocals (from new keyboardist Pekka Montin) on this track, and throughout the entire album, have been MASSIVELY improved, making for a truly enjoyable component to the band’s already vast repertoire.

I also love that the band seems to have simplified how they utilize their folk elements. They haven’t tried to make folk-disco or folk-funk or any other monstrous concoctions, they’ve just stuck to the basics and let the folk influences flow much more naturally into the song structures and melodies. As a result, songs like “Andromeda” and “For Sirens” carry a distinctively Amorphis-like vibe that totally make the more emotional moments on this album feel more deep and sincere. They also help create a beautiful balance to the more upbeat, bombastic tracks like “The Defense of the Sampo” and “Run From the Crushing Tide” that are more purpose-built for the kind of crowd-pleasing energy that has always made this band such an engaging listening experience. Conversely, the more folk-forward “Midsummer Magic” still manages to avoid feeling silly or misplaced – it’s a fun, beer-swilling, grab-your-buddy-and-sing-along tune that would feel right at home in some middle earth pub’s jukebox.

Ensiferum have pulled off a clever trick here – they’ve managed to blend the mead-chugging fun of Korpiklaani, the technical wizardry of Wintersun, and the epic might of Moonsorrow into one cohesive, expertly crafted package. They’ve managed to find that Amon Amarth sweet spot of being able to be sort of all things to all metalheads – a legit display of metal mastery, with enough accessibility to make this a truly memorable, lovable record. Grab your drinking horns, don your shields, and get those fists pumping in the air, friends! Ensiferum have made a truly awesome folk metal masterpiece.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
July 20th, 2020

Comments

  1. Commented by: Erik T

    Yeah this is a good return to form. new clean singer/keyboardist is good. Love the seafaring, almost pirate vibe


  2. Commented by: Steve K

    Yeah this is definitely a much more jaunty and fun-loving album. I didn’t realize the keyboardist/singer was new – explains a lot about the improved cleans!


Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.

  • Anaal Nathrakh - Endarkenment
  • Helion Prime - Question Everything
  • Ironflame - Blood Red Victory
  • Recorruptor - The Funeral Corridor
  • Ysengrin - Initiatio
  • Cytotoxin - Nuklearth
  • Black Crown Initiate - Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape
  • Hinayana - Death of The Cosmic EP
  • Inhalement - Eternally Stoned EP
  • Ahtme - Mephitic
  • Convocation - Ashes Coalesce
  • Serment - Chante, ô flamme de la liberté
  • Enslaved - Utgard
  • Stillbirth - Revive The Throne
  • River Of Souls - Usurper