Three years after their acclaimed “From Afar” album, ENSIFERUM’s fifth full-length album “Unsung Heroes” easily is one of the most anticipated of the year, especially since former member Jari Mäenpää finally seems to be getting his second WINTERSUN album in gear this year as well.
With their last album they had ramped up the symphonic factor already and they continue to follow down that road with their latest effort as well, further moving away from their earlier Folk influences and went even more epic than before. What struck the most at first listen was that there is not much up-tempo to be found, good parts of the album stick to slow- to midpaced speeds, which on the one hand aids the epic character of “Unsung Heroes”, but at the same time also lead to a few dragging moments.
Leaving out the intro “Symbols”, “In My Sword I Trust” does kick things off with a driving beat, ultimately catchy melodies and an epic chorus that will have you shout along in no time, but after that the Finns turn down the speed for a few songs. Both the title track and even more so “Burning Leaves” bear these typically Finnish melancholic melodies in them, which is something that I am not quite used to from ENSIFERUM yet, but especially in the latter brings in a beautifully different touch.
“Celestial Bond” then enters a little different waters with keyboarder Emmi Silvennoinen stepping up to the microphone, lending her at times almost frail voice to the calm and reflective track that has an almost medieval touch to it with its acoustic guitars and soft keyboards. After that, though we get one of the two up-tempo eruptions in form of “Retribution Shall Be Mine” (“Pohjola” being the other), with fairly raucous riffing and double-bass driving the track forward, almost taking on a Melodic Death Metal feel, before returning to the measured tempos of “Star Queen (Celestial Bond Part II)”. Once more very calm “Last Breath”, unfortunately, I have to mention separately as well, since here Markus or Sami (whoever of them took care of the clean vocals on this one) at times teeter on the brink of being out of tune, which does not add to the expressiveness of the song.
Closing 17-minute “Passion Proof Power” undoubtedly is the most ambitious track the Finns have ever put together, and also one of the most challenging. The beginning almost sounds like the opening of a western movie, with birds and crickets, rhythm and melody, which seems a little out of place at first, but strangely enough has its own appeal even within the ENSIFERUM spectrum, since they go back towards their more traditional sound as well. Throughout the seventeen minutes the song crosses over into Progressive waters more than once, including speech samples (even some German courtesy of DIE APOKALYPTISCHEN REITER), operatic vocals, timing changes, some medieval touches, big choirs and more, which makes the whole song hard to take in during the first listens and it will require some time and attention, yet in the end it starts making sense, if you are willing to put in the “work”.
I notice that I mention a lot of single songs and this has a reason, because I have not yet found a common theme that would hold the whole album together other than an ultimately epic feel. That aside, though, “Unsung Heroes” is by no means a weak album, yet the legacy it is being measured against seems a little too high, at the same time I have to commend the band, though, that they are not trying to take the easy way out and just rehash their former albums. A good album, but I had expected more.
(Online August 10, 2012)