Finland’s Ensiferum are one of the worlds leading “pagan metal” flag-wavers, if there can even be such a thing. The band released the criminally underrated One Man Army (Metal Blade) album last year, easily one of the finest moments in their career. Oddly though they don’t seem to have same recognition as some of their peers in the battle metal sub-genre. No matter, the music and the fans are what counts to this outfit, and it is proven by the many sold-out tour dates. Playing to a full room tonight in the band plays the hits, both old and new. The throng of fans approves. They are joined on this tour by the talented Metsatoll from Estonia, who also seem to be more obscure than thy deserve. On this night at Rainbow Warehouse in Birmingham Luke Denham of Luke Denham Photographycaught all the action for Ghost Cult Magazine.
With a brand new album entitled One Man Army under their belts and a brand new home on the legendary Metal Blade Records, things in the Ensiferum camp are looking the strongest they have ever been. In the second part, vocalist Petri Lindroos discusses the recording process, and how vigorous yet surprisingly relaxed the whole period was.
Another factor that arguably set Ensiferum apart from their peers is the venturing into the use of orchestral parts previously in their back catalogue, but in an overshadowing manner, but more as in a sense of bulking their palette and trying something new. 2009’s From Afar (Spinefarm) set the precedence for this, before 2012’s Unsung Heroes (Spinefarm) reduced the use. Interestingly, newest album One Man Army (Metal Blade) sees the dynamic of orchestration shift again; an overall process that Lindroos explains.
“From Afar was kind of an experiment with the orchestrations for Ensiferum and it’s pretty full of it now, that you listen to it in perspective and it sounded so cool during the recordings but it got a little out of hand, so after that we kind of learned that you don’t have to put it into every single riff part available, but I think we got it nailed on this one. Its pretty much trial and error, live and learn, every time you make a new album you learn and now we are getting the hang of it.”
“Finding a balance with the orchestration is difficult in the sense that heavy metal itself is already very powerful in its own way and adding a full orchestra to that is a little tricky, and making it sound good without eating away at each other is very difficult and pretty much a balance question.”
Of course, no band’s recording story would be complete without tales of arduous and testing experiences, and with the sheer work rate of producer Ansi Kippo and his supposed super human abilities.
“Our producer/recorder/owner of the studio is a man who can work without any sleep, which is crazy and amazing at the same time, but he can do as long as necessary. If you have enough energy to sing until six in the morning he will stay up too, if you’re on a good run you don’t have to give up, if someone is fired up we can keep going all night.”
“We started a little later in the afternoon, there’s no point picking up a guitar at 8 in the morning, everyone knows that’s not going to work so we would start at midday, so obviously its going to go late into the night. I’d been working with Ansi a couple of times before and its been like that from the start, he just can’t stop, he’s a workaholic.”
Despite the long days, Lindroos is very adamant that this was beneficial in the recording process and on the final result, being an absolute necessity: “Without that we couldn’t have finished in time, it would have taken a couple of weeks, cost us more money which wouldn’t have made anyone happy so a big thanks goes to him that we could do it pretty much on time.”
Speaking of recording, it has almost become cliché for bands to speak of sleepless nights, stress, even arguments and other problems that make for a mantra that Ensiferum clearly didn’t get: “There were no big problems, in our point of view the only thing stopping us was when a tube blew up from a guitar amp that took 45 minutes to change, that was the biggest issue. Otherwise it was a case of whoever is ready to record would do so. It was very relaxed and smooth. It was surprising, but I knew before that Ansi was a smooth guy, he makes it all so easy.”
With a brand new album entitled One Man Army under their belts and a brand new home on the legendary Metal Blade Records, things in the Ensiferum camp are looking the strongest they have ever been. Vocalist Petri Lindroos chatted to Ghost Cult about the the band’s sense of fun, experimentation and THAT infamous disco number.
For all the talk and stereotyping regarding metal music as a po-faced, overly serious and even evil and dangerous form of art there are also as countless moments of whimsy and cartoonish silliness and absurdity with a huge focus on that little word ‘fun’. Folk metal especially has a history of the OTT and tomfoolery with an equal measure of the anthemic.
At first glance, Finnish act Ensiferum may appear one of the genre’s more direct and hardened presences; but as vocalist Petri Lindroos explains, this isn’t the case at all: “We also like to have a lot of fun with the music but also do it very seriously. Having a small moment in a particular song, like we have “Stone Cold Metal” which had a western bridge part and we have a lot of fun with that, and it seems the fans also understood it, they didn’t knock us down”
Compared to the likes of the instantly recognisable image and infamous camp covers of Turisas or the alcohol drenched party vibes ala Korpiklaani as examples, Ensiferum may not be as overtly animated, but a little digging reveals a lot of experimentation and forays into the ridiculous. Even so latest album One Man Army (Metal Blade) throws a number of curveballs; most notably the now infamous ‘Two Spades’.
“So we did ‘Two Of Spades’ and it felt it needed a special bridge part and I think someone said out loud without really thinking “hey lets do disco” and we were all like, sure lets do it.” “If he hadn’t said disco, he might have saud funk and we would have a lot more funk on it. I don’t think even god knows what’s going to be on the next one.”
The aforementioned ‘Two Spades’ encapsulates archetypal sides to the folk metal coin; a rather lengthy epic of powerful and empowering metal, with a bridge segment in the centre based on a disco beat and upbeat tone. On the one hand it’s a segment that makes perfect sense but on the other it remains quite a surprise. A surprise that Petri believes the band have pulled off substantially.
Ensiferum, by Susanne A. Maathuis.
“If they see that coming then they have to be some kind of wizard. It all needs that fun aspect and needs to be entertaining yet done seriously and professionally. I think on this we did an excellent job.”
But it isn’t just ‘Two Spades’ that should catch people off guard, as the bonus edition also features a cover of a well known song that is a little unconventional even for folk metal:
The song ‘Rawhide’ came right before the studio, our label and our management wanted a few bonus tracks for different worldwide releases and we started running out of time; and ‘Rawhide’ is an excellent song and as we noticed digging into it, the Blues Brothersversion is a cover, its actually a song from the 50’s, really old and with dozens of versions. But its very catchy, pretty much everyone knows it already, plus its nice and short and we didn’t need that much time to make it sound good.”
Ensiferum’s last album, 2012’s Unsung Heroes (Spinefarm), was met with pretty harsh reviews when it came out, though the Finnish quintet look to be back on track and making things right with their sixth effort, One Man Army (Metal Blade). While the band – Markus Toivonen (Guitars), Sami Hinkka (Bass), Petri Lindroos (Guitars & Vocals), Janne Parviainen (Drums) and Emmi Silvennoinen (keyboards) – haven’t drastically changed their sound, the usual combination of Viking-themed folk, bombast and thrash is present, it is simply that the quality has just been improved.
Intro track ‘March of War’ sets the tone; there’s chanting, pipes, and a real sense of preparation as if for some unnamed medieval battle, before segueing straight into the furious ‘Axe of Judgement’ – it’s a furious combination of shredding guitars, epic synths and Lindroo’s rasping vocals where you can perceptively hear the urgency, all captured in analogue warmth by award winning producer Anssi Kippo (Children of Bodom). ‘Heathen Horde’ is a stomping mid-paced sing-along anthem, while title track is almost pure melo-death bar the huge operatic chorus, before ‘Burden of the Fallen’ provides another medieval interlude for respite. There’s plenty of rousing chant-along moments that will have live audiences eating from the palms of their hands, big moments that are cleverly worked into what are often out-and-out thrash songs complete with some blistering solos, and are a sizeable part of what makes this such an enjoyable listen. It’s hard to remember the last time an album made me want to see a band live the way One Man Army does.
‘Two of Spades’ is a bit of a wildcard and sees a polka/disco sound sneak in – Turisas’ cover of Boney M.’s ‘Rasputin’ is the nearest comparison. The second half of the record then sees the band delve into more progressive territory, containing both the seven minute ‘Cry for the Earth Bounds’ and eleven minute epic ‘Descendants, Defiance, Domination’; the former a slow epic featuring clean female vocals, while the latter is more upbeat and even hints at 70s prog and boasts spoken word segments. With clean female vocals and country guitar, closer ‘Neito Pohjolan’ barely sounds like the same band.
On top of a great main album, the bonus disc is worth hunting down purely for the Ensiferum’s take on the classic Rawhide theme tune, while their cover of Barathrum’s ‘Warmetal’ is addictive. Overall, One Man Army is a very enjoyable experience, combining heavy with epic bombast and folk touches. Best of all, though, this is damn fun.