I am going to come clean. I am not the biggest fan of the albums after Iron. I am one of those people that really dug their teeth into their self-titled album Ensiferum (2001) and Iron (2004). The “post-Iron” albums, although not bad by any means, were lacking something; some factor from their first two albums. However, that is to be expected when the majority of the band members are changed from the original line up. The band is not going to be the same. [2005-2007 saw the change of 4 of the 5 members of the original band.]
That being said, One Man Army really challenged that opinion of mine. This addition to their album lineup went in a much different direction than previous albums from the “post-Iron” era. There are a lot of vocal ensemble components mixed in and a lot more composition and thought in the writing. Not that their songs aren’t composed, but it really sounds as if they took that extra couple minutes to perfect every part of the album.
The title song “One Man Army” fits the current Ensiferum formula. It’s well written, it’s high energy, and it will get you head banging pretty hard. There is plenty of thrash influence mixed in with melodic riffs, ensemble vocals, and their usual Viking Kalevala lyrics. Petri’s intro scream is nothing but epic, and the rest of the song follows that same intensity. But, oddly enough, what really caught my ear was farther down the song list. The real gem of this album is actually “Descendants, Defiance, Domination.” Let me explain.
“Descendants, Defiance, Domination” is not just a run of the mill song, it’s one of the best written and musical compositions I have heard from Ensiferum to date. It’s got all the right stuff: older Ensiferum style riffage mixed in with the multiple sections of obvious musical differentiation, bridge sections, and a recitative. The exposition hits you with a very western Clint Eastwood style melody. I could almost see the tumbleweed rolling by. The sections have a perfect mix of clean and dirty vocals that complement each other while blending with the rest of the bands supporting and melody chords. The vocal ensemble at 5:10 is such a great counterpoint to the rest of the song. The more I think about it, the more I understand how odd it is, but it flows flawlessly and bridges the gap between two musical sections and statements. This example among more really showed me that Ensiferum can, not only write, but compose a 10+ minute song and keep the listener intrigued the entire time. All in all, this piece is very impressive and it’s a great mix to One Man Army. I really hope Ensiferum lean more in this direction for future works. They really have a knack for it. This isn’t the only notable piece on the record though.
The beginning of “Cry for the Earth Bounds” was a nostalgic throwback to “Into Battle” from Iron. So I was VERY pleased to hear that first epic vocal chord once again. The song itself has lots of layered rhythms and melodies intertwined with the clean vocals of the band as well as Petri’s epic lyrics. This song seems to be another obvious draw away from just pure dirty vocals and more of a mix of clean vocals, acoustic sections, and epic chords from the vocal ensemble, which closes out the piece. The ending of this song could be the end to the album. It brings that sense of closure to it, like an intermission during an orchestral concert.
“2 of Spades” is the comedic break in the album, but, oddly enough, it fits right in with the rest of the album. It still has that folky upbeat sound, but it’s mixed with a Techno drum beat and some killer funk-guitar lines. It’s a great piece to head bang to with a giant smile on your face. It just makes you laugh. When the first lyric of a song is Petri screaming, “I go all the way” you know it’s going to be good.
My complaints on the album are few are far between. The obvious one is that this is not old Ensiferum. As much as I would love to hear Jari Maenpaa at the helm once again, it’s just not going to happen. Another complaint I have about this album is, oddly enough, what I was praising the album for. As much as I enjoy this new direction and musical influences, the album is highly produced. And that removes some of that gritty-ness heard from the older albums. It had a slightly raw feeling that just is not existent in these new albums and this album is a heavy offender missing that aspect.
Overall, One Man Army is a great addition to their album line up. Ensiferum have a solid grasp on their musical identity and the more I listen to this album, the more I am coming to like the band as a whole and the musical direction that they are going. I hope to hear more of this in the near future.