Despite their fantastic legacy, Ensiferum is a band I’ve only recently begun to explore. I picked up “From Afar” about a month ago and was hooked. For that reason, checking out their newest album, “One Man Army”, was a no-brainer. It seems that the reception to the band’s previous album wasn’t as positive as it was to the first four records, so “One Man Army” marks an important point in the band’s career. While I can’t say I’m familiar with “Unsung Heroes” (and therefore can’t compare this record to it), “One Man Army” is definitely a worthy purchase. It is largely a tale of two albums; the first half of the record is your standard Ensiferum affair, while the second half is much more adventurous (in both good and bad ways).
Other than the short intro, the album kicks off with a 3-song run that is definitely the highlight. Both “Axe of Judgement” and “One Man Army” are blazing fast, thrashy tracks that deliver a mountain of riffs. They do of course slow down at times, but never in a way that gets boring. Though these would be the only two songs of their kind on the album, they get the energy flowing and the blood pumping for the rest of the ride. In between these two tracks is “Heathen Horde”. Not unlike “Twilight Tavern” from many years ago, this track is the ultimate crowd sing-along. Though it is more of a mid-paced stomping track, it is still incredibly effective.
When the album reaches “Cry For The Earth Bounds”, things take a slight turn. In general, this song is your standard Ensiferum fanfare: epic folky melodic death metal. Part way through however, there is a short interlude featuring female vocals; it’s not a terrible concept, but the execution is a bit weak here. Nevertheless, it is so brief that it isn’t too painful. Where this album gets really crazy is “Two of Spades”. If the name doesn’t give it away, this song is Ensiferum’s tribute to Motorhead/speed metal in general. It is a combination of the band’s own sound with a punkier, speedier flare to it. Or at least, that’s what you think for most of the track, until there is another interlude. This one is all over the place; it has some jazzy moments, as well as some whistling and some chants of "hey!". While I actually loved the band’s take on Motorhead, the interlude could be done without. It isn’t awful, but it interrupts the flow of the track. With that said, the fact that they pack that much material into just 3 and a half minutes is astounding. This is the type of song that is a love-or-hate track, but it has me convinced.
The next two tracks are more of a return to Ensiferum’s more typical sound. The latter of the two, “Descendants, Defiance, Domination” is a lengthy epic, but if you are familiar with some other Ensiferum epics (ex: “Heathen Throne”), this will be satisfying. But just when the band had lulled you back to their more enjoyable sound, they do something a bit wonky with the last track. “Neito Pohjolan” isn’t metal. Nor is there anything wrong with that; but this relatively tame, clean-vocal song just sounds out of place. I suppose for a folk band, it isn’t that much of a stretch, but it sounds too strange to really work on this record.
On the whole, “One Man Army” is a diverse effort. Unfortunately, with the exception of most of “Two of Spades”, any attempts are experimentation largely fail. There is still more than enough of Ensiferum’s trademark sound to enjoy here, and for that reason, this album is worth buying. But the only reason “One Man Army” falls short of my love of “From Afar” is because it tries to be too ambitious.
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"One Man Army"
"Two of Spades"
4.0/5 or 80%.
Written by Scott