by Trevor Portz
– Columnist —
Loved my many, thought too cheesy to enjoy by others, the tribe that is Ensiferum has been putting out folk-infused power metal for over a decade. They survived, and thrived, after front-man Jari Mäenpää left to pursue the brilliant Wintersun and, in fact, managed to consistently top each previous release up to and including 2009’s From Afar.
Unsung Heroes, their latest offering, not only breaks their winning streak, but almost makes one forget what made them so great in the first place.
The most obvious change found on Unsung Heroes is the lack of speed. Virtually every song (with the exception of “Pohjoha”) plods along at a mid-paced tempo. Not that speed is the key to good metal —the entire doom/stoner metal scene has proved that it’s not— but instead of just clocking in at slower tempos, the songs sound completely devoid of all energy. There’s no passion or power (except, occasionally, in the epic closer, “Passion, Proof, Power”). Remember what Kiss started to sound like toward the end of the reunion tour? This feels the same. It’s as if the songs were meant to be played faster and more powerfully, but something keeps dragging them down.
The dullness extends to most of the songwriting as well. Virtually every riff, folk melody, acoustic passage, and choral vocal sounds phoned-in. There’s nothing here interesting or memorable—it’s essentially an album of filler. For a band with fewer than ten albums under their collective belt, it’s scary to think the mid-life crisis has already hit.
On an odd note, “Star Queen” sounds almost like a sister song to Wintersun’s “Sleeping Stars.” It would appear, though, that the stars are likely sleeping due a performance of “Star Queen.” It’s a pity that this is a standout moment for the album.
Unfortunately, Unsung Heroes is a serious dark spot in the Ensiferum catalog. Perhaps the band is tired after constantly recording and touring. Who knows, maybe someone replaced their mead with NyQuil. If it’s an artistic statement they’re trying to make, it obviously didn’t come across. But whatever the cause, the result was an album perhaps better left unsung.
Genre: Power Metal, Folk Metal
Petri Lindroos – Guitar, Vocals (Harsh), Backing Vocals
Markus Toivonen – Guitar, Vocals (Clean), Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitars, Dulcimer, Bouzouki
Sami Hinkka – Bass, Vocals (Harsh/Clean), Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitars
Janne Parviainen – Drums
Emmi Silvennoinen – Keyboard, Hammond, Grand Piano, Pump Organ, Backing Vocals
2. In My Sword I Trust
3. Unsung Heroes
4. Burning Leaves
5. Celestial Bond
6. Retribution Shall Be Mine
7. Star Queen (Celestial Bond Part II)
9. Last Breath
10. Passion, Proof, Power
Label: Nuclear Blast
Hardrock Haven rating: 4.7/10