Of any offering by ENSIFERUM, save perhaps the early demo material, this is by far the most humble and purely Folk oriented. The dragon gazing up at the sky from the Viking longboat might suggest a telling of a grand epic tale, but in truth this is closer in spirit to a watchtower duty experience rather than an adventurous sea voyager into uncharted waters. The period instruments are not terribly prominent, nor are the galloping guitar heroics terribly prominent. It basically functions as a reminder to the band’s followers that they are still around, which tends to be the typical function of EPs.
The absence of Mäenpää from the fold is felt the most here, particularly in the downplaying of the band’s previous genre eclecticism and virtuoso musicianship. There is nothing on here that could qualify as Power or Thrash Metal inspired, though a pretty strong helping of Melodic Death influences main present, particularly on the songs taken from “Demo II”. One could almost say that this album listens pretty close to what you’d get from TURISAS, save a little bit faster and with less vocal emphasis. The vocal top end has also been removed from the background vocal arrangement, leaving an arrangement more in tune with a traditional male choir of tenors and baritones, while the gravely counter-tenor Halford emulations in the lead vocals as well.
The main thing that keeps things on here interesting is superb songwriting, both in the new material, as well as the re-recordings. While extremely formulaic, to the point of literally sounding like a distorted guitar version of a Folk dance, “Dragonheads” definitely gets the job done in the melody department, tossing out some classic tunes reminiscent of “Tale Of Revenge” and “Old Man”. The remake of “Warrior’s Quest” is a bit interesting as it largely resembles material heard on “Victory Songs”, especially considering it was written 8 years earlier. It isn’t merely in the vocal approach, but also in the overall mellowness to it and the lack of vocal gymnastics that were also present in the original version.
The standouts of the album are the ones that deviate a bit from the heavier Folk emphasis, not merely for reasons of stylistic contrast, but also in terms of a more intricate flow of ideas. The AMORPHIS cover mixes in some interesting Middle Eastern influences and a nice galloping groove reminiscent of IRON MAIDEN’S “Powerslave” at times, while also putting more of a straight up Power Metal feel to an album that otherwise lacks it. The ending gets a little bit more aggressive with a pretty standard Thrash riff, but all of the darker elements at play here are tempered with a sorrowful touch from Mejiu’s background orchestrations.
The remake of “White Storm” shows the band at their best, recapturing the spirit of the band’s debut with a series of really good ideas brought back to life with a much cleaner production. The best comparison to be made is to “Guardians Of Fate”, which this song is sort of a slightly longer and more in depth version of in many respects. This is particularly noticeable when comparing the super catchy chorus of the latter with the main instrumental theme of the former. But most of all, it the strength of this song is that we get more out of the lead guitars than a few droning Folk tunes, resulting in something that sounds a bit more intricate and heroic.
Though this functioned more as a teaser for the new sound that the band now has without Jari leading the charge, it is still worth checking into if you’ve owned and enjoyed any or all of the 3 full length albums the band has out. It may not have quite as much going on, but it definitely makes good use of what it has and doesn’t get boring. Absent the somewhat plodding “Finnish Medley”, which doesn’t sound very much like the band with a female guest vocalist largely ruling the arrangement, this is consistent with the band’s known sound, and is by no means a significant step down in the continuity of their superior musical output.
(Online March 13, 2009)