With Epic and Folk Metal gaining ever more in popularity, and with the number of newcomer bands playing these styles, veterans ENSIFERUM offer their latest release to remind everyone how this is done.
On “From Afar,” ENSIFERUM deliver their trademark style, only more epic. Touring keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen makes her full-member debut here, and it is her contribution that provides the most immediately noticeable progression in the band’s sound. Contrasted with the Folk melodies played with this instrument on previous releases, the keys here are much more sweeping and majestic. Particularly on the longer tracks, the sound is more symphonic, giving the songs a bit more bombast. “Heathen Throne” in particular, crescendos near the end, and it is the melodic keys that fill in whatever empty spaces may have existed as the song approaches its climax.
In a similar vein, ENSIFERUM have increased their use of choral vocals to great effect. The melodies sung in this fashion are infectious, and the imagery that they conjure is not of solitary warriors, but of a band of brothers. The vocals romanticize this image and engage the listener more viscerally. Furthermore, the group vocals encourage the listener to sing along, transforming him from mere observer to full participant.
If there is a flaw on this, it is the ill-conceived “Stone Cold Metal,” an homage to a gunslinger in the American Old West. To compliment the lyrical subject matter, Gen Autry-style Country and Western rhythms and melodies are employed. While the band are to be commended both for recognizing the epic (in a literary sense) qualities of Old West folklore and for wanting to stretch their boundaries, this particular piece, while not bad, is out of place and disrupts the continuity of the album.
This complaint aside, ENSIFERUM have stepped up their game. A band that has always valued melodicism, they have created some of their best songs ever. They have furthermore refined their skill in combining lyrics, composition, and imagery into a product that is more than the sum of its parts. Well-done, and well worth owning.
(Online October 21, 2009)