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Album Reviews : Ensiferum – Two Paths

By on January 17, 2018

Ensiferum are a Finnish “Melodic Folk Metal” band whose sound has the spirit and energy of Viking Sagas and a name which translates as “sword-bearing”. Founded in 1995, Ensiferum has released 7 studio albums to date including the subject of this review, their 2017 release, Two Paths under Metal Blade Records.

The band roster for Two Paths includes Petri Lindroos – harsh vocals, guitar, percussion, choir, Markus Toivonen – guitars, bouzouki, percussion, clean vocals, choir, Sami Hinkka – bass, dulcimer, percussion, clean and harsh vocals, choir, Janne Parviainen – drums and the introduction of Netta Skog – acoustic and digital accordion, female vocals, choir. The album also features special guests Mikko P. Mustonen – orchestrations and orchestral arrangements, Lassi Logren – nyckelharpa, violin and Vince Edwards – choir.

As one can see from above, this is a large roster of musicians and a myriad of instruments and musical elements. In a less cohesive collective, this multiplicity could have resulted in a discordant mess, but I happy to say that Ensiferum weaves it all together with energy and precision, resulting in Two Paths being a truly enjoyable and uplifting album.

Kicking off the album is the intro track Ajattomasta Unesta. Epic in tone and operatic in pitch, the feeling that one is preparing for a great battle is firmly established. Track #2 “For Those About to Fight for Metal” picks right up where the intro left off. With soaring, choral vocals, galloping guitars and percussion, one is thrown right onto the battlefield. The energetic pace of the song does not let up until the end where we are given a quiet moment of reflection borne of gentle strings and then switches to a ferociously musical climax of victory. From the perspective of the battalion to that of the individual soldier, Track #3 “Way of the Warrior”, offers pounding, militant drums plus an anthemic, tight lead break resulting in headbanging, foot stomping goodness.

Clean vocals are introduced for the first time on Track #4 “Two Paths” and Sami Hinkka’s bass playing makes an initial but strong impression. The album’s dualistic themes of life/death, cowardice/bravery are firmly set in place through the lyrics and the musical arrangement of guitars, percussion and Netta Skog’s accordion playing is simply stunning. By Track #5 “King of Storms” the tempo has not let up in the slightest nor has the cinematic imagery of an epic battle saga. Choral vocals blend seamlessly with battle chants and cries but I am looking for a change of pace at this stage to establish a sense of variation and a, therefore, a stronger sense of atmosphere. With Track #6 “Feast with Valkyries” my hopes for variation, if not atmosphere, were answered with the introduction of female vocals but the relentless battle wages on. I am not complaining though, for the realisation dawned on me that “Two Paths” is written and composed like that of a Viking Saga; and the battle is far from over.

Track #7 “Don’t You Say” is my unexpected favourite of the album. The punk attitude of vocal delivery syncs in perfectly with Two Paths underlying sense of rebellion and message of never giving up, no matter what the odds. The musical arrangement is simplified to fit the vocals and the result is infectious, unifying and uplifting, as all good punk and or metal should be. Two Path remains relentless in tone and pace from this point until a welcome change occurs with the final track of its Viking Saga, Track #10 – Hail to the Victor. The music is dirge-like and doom heavy whilst the guitars persist with undeniable brutality plus, the orchestral finish is all that one could hope for. Track #11 “Unettomaan aikaan” is Two Path’s acoustic outro and a perfect end to a musically diverse and thematically consistent album by one of Finland’s greatest examples of Melodic Folk Metal.

With the battle over, the victors sing their songs as the mead is poured and the meat is devoured. If you want an album to transport you to days of yore when wars, where won by ship and by axe and the skulls of the fallen, were used as drinking vessels, then Ensiferum’s Two Paths is definitely for you.

Band: Ensiferum
Album: Two Paths
Year: 2017
Genre: Melodic Folk Metal
Label: Metal Blade Records
Origin: Finland