For some time ago I visited a dentist. Vision of a long waiting in the queue made me take my CD-player with me and I was sure, that ENSIFERUM’s second release would be nothing less than a good remedy for long boring minutes outside the dentist’s surgery…
Before I proceed with reviewing “Iron,” I would like to say that Finns’ first album made a huge impression on me. I truly enjoyed these galloping guitars, folk influences and hymn-like compositions which all created a unique atmosphere. It was surely music to remember and an additional thing I really appreciated there was also the fact that ENSIFERUM were inspired by Finnish national pole-book “Kalevala” as well as romanticism in general. In this case it is obviously needless to say that my expectations about their self-titled album’s follow-up were huge. When I went through the whole new stuff I realized how huge these expectations were.
“Iron” starts with an intro which lasts a bit too long in my view. Nevertheless, this one is quite ok and after that, the party is getting really started. The title track has exactly the same energetic and vigorous guitar riffs known from the debut and it takes just few whiles to become sure that this is ENSIFERUM: heavy, untamed guitars and forceful drums are supported by keyboard passages in a folk music fashion. As regards the vocals, it is usually the harsh and brutal singing that dominates but there are some moments with clean vocals as well (not only male I have to add). Finns’ style is recognizable, no doubt about that, though something is wrong. I have of course heard similar things on the previous release but strangely enough they were of much better quality. What I mean by saying this is that it seems as if the Finnish bards ran out of ideas and were only capable of making a copy of their debut. An unsuccessful one unfortunately. Take a look for example at the third track called “Sword Chant” where an acoustic intro leads us into a well known mix which I have described above. This time however the combination is uninteresting and even the viking choir in the middle part of the song doesn’t help. What comes afterwards is a pointless instrumental keyboard interlude, the title of which (“Mourning Heart”) is as dully weepy as its music. Fortunately, my patience is rewarded with the next record called “Tale Of Revenge”. The formula used by ENSIFERUM is the same as always and the only difference is that this song simply stays in your mind already after the first listening, just like the songs from the debut.
The following piece is an excellent example of unsuccessful copying from “Ensiferum”. It is a ballad composition called “Lost In Despair” and it resembles of “Eternal Wait” or “Abandoned”. After opening sad sounding keys the most important role play the rather slow-paced guitars. Perhaps I would not complain that much if it was the first such song made by ENSIFERUM but in this case the only thing I can say is that this piece of music is just an abortive try at creating nostalgic, sublime atmosphere, and frankly speaking I can’t really fall into these slushy and maudlin melodies. Even though the atmosphere changes drastically on the next track which has probably the most aggressive and lively guitar work on the album I still have the feeling that there is nothing refreshing or worth remembering here. The things are getting only a bit better in “Into Battle” which begins with an epic intro including some army-like drumming. Apart from this, the chorus is perhaps the only remarkable fragment in this piece, though still not being any highlight.
One of the most strong moments on this – let’s face it again – average record is the track entitled “LAI LAI HEI”. Again the Finns did something to draw my attention as they created here very nice melodies full of power and folk atmosphere. Unluckily the closing song is one more slushy fragment on “Iron” and even though it has a medieval feeling and a female vocal to offer (which is unusual for ENSIFERUM) it can’t really make any good impression on me. Its calmness created mainly by synths and acoustic guitar makes me rather sleepy than eager to listen to this.
Contrary to “Ensiferum”, “Iron” doesn’t really surprise in any positive way. This album lacks this spark which was so typical of the first record as the music here is a bit boring and without a color. Ok, there are some descent moments like “Iron”, “Tale Of Revenge” or “LAI LAI HEI” (sung by the way partially in Finnish) but this is too little.
There is nothing to complain about the production of this album as everything seems to be in the right place. The thing is that there is no innovation here, no creativity. I hoped that ENSIFERUM would go one or even two steps further. Well, they did actually a step back.
What can I say in the end of this review? Perhaps I could quote the above-mentioned dentist who after my long waiting finally came out and said: “Next one, please”.
(Online February 21, 2008)