Review: Ensiferum – Two Paths
Two Paths opens for the Finnish warriors of Ensiferum a new chapter in their discography. Let’s travel together upon this new crossroads to discover if this is a worthy addition to their music offerings.
Since their humble inception, 22 years ago, Ensiferum has carried the torch for the folkloric hordes of metal in Europe; Markus Toivonen’s banner survived major line-up changes, and the band stills rips stages all over the world with their epic blend of traditional instrumentations and hard-hitting stone cold steel.
For the fantasy lovers and the war bards all over the world, their self-titled debut marked the beginning of uncompromised attitude. Heavy and expansive songs, like “Hero in a Dream” and “Battle Song”, became real anthems that lived alongside freezing scorchers,like “Windrider” and “Treacherous Gods”. Their second album, a personal favorite, Iron, defied the old saying that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Ensiferum, like their Old Man Warrior on their cover arts, stood valiant and proud.
When Jari Maenpäa left the ship to form Wintersun, their fans thought the voyage was pillaged and burnt to its core. But, Toivonen recruited new forces and sailed to new territories to conquer with the excellent Victory Songs and From Afar. Heavy and consistent, their brethren started to gather newcomers with each release.
Unsung Heroes saw bitter welcomes and One Man Army, the last output in their discography, tried to incorporate new material for their energetic live setting. This month, we are graced by these metal warriors with Two Paths, a round piece with around 53:30 kilos of epic metal. Does this live to their mighty testaments? Or is it a missed hit?
The introduction, “Ajottamasta Unesta”, opens the record with a highly melodic and traditional fashion, to later kick out the mood with a sing-along two slashing attack in the form of “For Those About to Fight for Metal” and “Way of the Warrior”. The first one serves as a logical continuation of the One Man Army style, with soaring choruses, while the second rips some folk driven melodies akin to the Victory Songs era. These single-packaged tracks remind me of those Amon Amarth songs that I find good on the albums but I totally imagine myself chanting in a live setting; nothing honestly remarkable, but it can get infectious with the band screaming their lungs out dripping high magical energy.
After these two solid and comfortable hits, Ensiferum open the dusty pages of their older scrolls for “Two Paths” and “King of Storms,” marking a return of the iconic clean vocals, performed by Toivonen in an elderly mood, and accented by the stone-cut warm guitar melodies and the frosty harsh barks of Petri Lindroos. The verses of the title track could become the closest they have been to their debut in years, and the second banger deploys those sweet gallop rhythms, intensely powered by Sami Hinkka’s gifted bass playing, that fired the canyons in Iron and Victory Songs, returning again the melodic duties to the guitars and putting them on the front, like in the old days. With extended and playful solos, these two songs reminded me of my natural fixation with the first three records of this band, crafted with those energetic and imaginative landscapes painted with fiery passion.
Newcomer Netta Skog (known for her work with folk comrades Turisas) proved she is a capable member of the Ensiferum mantle. Her accordion notes, while hidden in the sound department, are now an integral part of the album, sharing the spotlight on the melodies production with the guitars. “Feast With Valkyries” became her official debut as a full time member with a great display of her musical talents.
After this, the record seems to lose focus to me. After all, the first half of Two Paths was the most played and where the songs had more hooks and rhythmic embellishments to shake up the return to glory of the band’s idiosyncratic sound. “Don’t You Say” is a simple song with repeating patterns that puts Lindroos’ harsh vocals to rest and varies the track listing a little bit more with some cool Toivonen cleans; then “I Will Never Kneel” just keeps pushing further the listening down the hill. Closer to the Unsung Heroes formula, the song construction is sloppy and unfocused, a piece that tries too hard to set the mood with imprecise songwriting but never synchronizes the themes and topics of the whole composition.
“God Is Dead” tries to give a new direction to the last segments with a festive ambience. After the dark bottom pit that was “I Will Never Kneel”, Ensiferum dances really near the Alestorm dangerous bar with double-bass driven speed, accordions, drunken chants and rounding, rocking guitars. Not a bad song, but not what I expected from the cold and aggressive first half.
Closing the record, “Hail to the Victor” is the typical mid-tempo finisher of the Finnish masters. Strongly rhythmic with cascades of keyboards to give color to the stomping barrage of heavy metal chords, the cinematic inspired track does not falter but, also, does not shine either. Do not expect a “Victory Songs” inspired and tear-inducing anthem, anyways. Paired with this ending, the acoustic “Unettomaan Aikaan” sentences Two Paths, without wasting too much time and retorting the final appearance of the wonderful Netta Skog with her accordion. A worthy end, after all.
Ensiferum is a talented band, comprised of musicians really engaged with attitude and passion towards this aesthetically concise project. For those loyal fanatics, Two Paths does not compare with their best material, but after the recent falls in their discography, it is a very good record with a more precise songwriting for the majority of the track list and a couple of new twists, which are very welcomed and talks about the band’s compromise to enjoy their musical life with their fans. On my behalf, I will deeply treasure the coolest moments on this record, like I did before.
Otherwise, the newcomers can walk through the old and wild path of their beginnings to understand my feelings quite a bit. In this crossroad, the recent and the past converge and we just have to decide to which place we are going to wander together. I will give this album a rating of 3.5 flaming toilet emojis.
Ensiferum’s Two Paths is out now under the Metal Blade Records banner in different types of magic scrolls. Remember to contact them and follow their profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you encounter one of these warriors, tell them you are sent by an Elfic sentient being who happens to be a big fan.