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Ensiferum - From Afar

Author admin
Wed 12 Dec 12
/ 5
N/A

As something of an Ensiferum fanatic I awaited this album with great impatience as well as wonder: would it continue on the slight downhill path started upon with Victory Songs, or would it be an improvement over its predecessor? Luckily, the answer is that From Afar is an overwhelming success, almost reaching the band’s first two albums in terms of raw quality. This album is definite proof that Ensiferum can get along without Jari Mäenpää (as well as most other original members) just fine.

As per established Ensiferum tradition, the first track is an instrumental intro whose sole intent is to serve as a mood setter for what is to come: it consists of melodies based primarily on keyboards and some folk instruments lasting for a few minutes. This particular intro is neither very original nor is it epic (as was Ad Victoriam for Victory Songs), but it serves its purpose well. The first sign of what this album is really about is the title track, also the first single from the album. This song is something of an acquired taste, as it certainly took me some time to realise how well-executed it actually was, mostly because Petri’s growls seemed to be all over the place, which made it reminiscent of Norther, a good but nevertheless inferior band. From Afar is essentially the classic Ensiferum song: lasting about 5 minutes, alternating between growled verses and clean, epic chanted choruses. The same can be said of Twilight Tavern, a superior track which succeeds in avoiding the classic folk metal pitfall of the retarded drinking song which goes nowhere (see: Finntroll, Korpiklaani), instead being both aggressive as hell and inspirational, in the sense that it evokes that medieval atmosphere as Ensiferum has always done better than nearly anyone else.

From Afar, however, wouldn’t be an Ensiferum album if it didn’t have some mid-paced, utterly epic songs. Heathen Throne is the first of two here, and it’s something of a masterpiece of songwriting. Petri delivers a solid performance, aided by the soaring clean choruses which really shine on this one. The climax of the song, however, comes right after the 8:00 mark with a crescendo of harshness and energy, with each element of the music working towards it: drums, guitars, and especially what is most likely Petri’s best vocal performance in Ensiferum, perhaps even his career. The second epic, serving to conclude the album, is The Longest Journey, and it’s just as well-made as Heathen Throne. It’s even slower-paced, and even has some choral chanting in its main part. The only problem is that, as the album closer, it also contains the outro which is little more than some random instrumental ambience for the last 4 minutes or so, making that part of the song relatively useless and boring.

All in all the content of From Afar is quite varied in a way similar to Iron’s complexity, with the standard fast and mid-paced songs mentioned above as well as interludes which, in this case, serve very little purpose (Tumman Virran Taa isn’t much more than a minute of spoken Finnish), the more ballad-oriented track (Smoking Ruins), the breakneck folk-oriented thrasher (Elusive Reaches) and finally the oddball song: Cold Stone Metal. This time, Ensiferum managed to put together seven minutes’ worth of what is a mix between the classic Ensiferum song and some folk, some whistling and an instrumental section which contains a banjo solo. Now, this may sound unusual (and it is) but it’s actually rather well-done, although realising that takes a few listens.

Ensiferum’s fourth album is undoubtedly a new highlight in their discography. It managed to give the band a new identity after the years of important line-up changes. However, it follows the formula of cranking all kinds of different songs into the same album (as was the case with Iron), which isn’t quite as successful as the perfect self-titled debut, even if it does allow for the creation of great albums. On a final note, I’m glad to see that Necrolord is still in charge of Ensiferum’s cover artwork, which in this case is particularly awesome (it looks like a cross between the classic Ensiferum cover, a Wintersun cover and a Dissection one).

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