Three years it has been since a Finnish band took my Metal heart by storm. ENSIFERUM released their almost legendary self titled debut, which for me is one of the best Viking Metal albums of all time. If I may quote myself: “Supermelodic Black/Death Metal, in all speeds between slow-paced and hyperspeed (with soooooooo great double-bass!!!), incredible melodies from traditional Metal (the riffs) and folk, rough vocals and brilliantststst choirs, which would have secured the Vikings victory on any battle-field...”
As much as I love this album, as big was my fear when I finally held “Iron” in my hands, because I had feared that they might destroy this magical feeling with a weaker second output or at least damage it. That the sound would be more than ok already was taken care of by the choice of producer, because they travelled to Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, to record the ten songs here in the Sweet Silence Studios under the direction of none other than Flemming Rasmussen (as we all know, responsible fort he production of “Master Of Puppets“ and “Ride The Lightning“). Everything was mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios and for the cover they once more could win over Kristian Wåhlin.
But now the big, the very big question, how do the songs themselves fare? “Ferrum Aeternum” is an opening instrumental that sounds somewhat medieval, with keyboards, flutes and everything, good start, but only the title track will show, how ENSIFERUM really sound anno 2004. And what should I say? Great, simply great! Galloping, with keyboards, mostly rough vocals by Jari, but also some clean vocals and some choirs, very melodic again and with a refreshing energy and power, then acoustic guitars and flute, so to say taken over from the intro, sounding a bit different than “Ensiferum”, but I definitely won’t complain! “Sword Chant” thunders through with a lot of double-bass, has a certain Power Metal list, which also fits ENSIFERUM, with gruff vocals over a very straight rhythm, while after the short instrumental interlude “Mourning Heart-Interlude” we get some sort of half ballad with “Tale Of Revenge”, very moody and melodic, but also with some harsh vocals that go hand in hand with Jari’s excellent clear voice, in the second half the band then speeds things up a lot to finally reach the usual ENSIFERUM tempo.
“Lost In Despair“ then is a complete ballad, with wonderful clear vocals, acoustic guitars, melodies and emotions, really strong! For that they speed through the Finnish lakescape with “Slayer Of Light”, the tempo, the harsh voice and the use of keyboards somehow leads to a certain CHILDREN OF BODOM proximity that cannot be really denied, not much originality here… This, meaning originality, returns with “Into Battle”, atmospheric start, then a lot of power, harsh vocals, at times clean voice and majestic choirs, here ENSIFERUM most probably are closest to their great debut. But there is another hammer coming in form of “LAI LAI HEI”, which starts out acoustically, then continuing the slow melody (but also with some electric guitars), with vocals in Finnish and English, then they shift up a powerful gear, still with clean vocals and also choir, energetic, dynamic, epic, distinct chorus, most probably the best track on “Iron”, before “Tears” closes things off balladesque, mostly acoustic and with some flutes, with clean vocals by Jari and a lady (whose name remains undisclosed, unfortunately), sounds a bit medieval, got something.
“Iron“ has turned out to be a very strong album, no doubt about this, it still does not fully reach “Ensiferum”. Why? Well, they definitely try not to copy their debut, which they succeed with pretty well. That the freshness and sheer power has been reduced a bit, the same goes for the Folk elements, is maybe an almost logical consequence (maybe not the Folk elements). But even though ENSIFERUM (btw, Latin for “sword-bearer”) do not fully reach their brilliant debut, “Iron” still is among the highlights of the year so far! (Online June 23, 2004)