Sound: After hearing and seeing the From Afar video release, I was skeptical if Ensiferum would come back as strong as they were from the last album, Victory Songs. Fact of the matter is they are back, with more instrumentally focused sounding songs that really bring out the true tastes of the celtic style music.
The perfect example of this would be the opening song, By The Dividing Stream, which a three minute, fifty second song of beautiful guitars, keyboards, bass and other insturments to really soothe the ears and soul. Don't you worry your little frantic hearts though, Ensiferum is still as metal as before, well Heroically speaking. The title track, From Afar, has fast paced gallop type palm muting, keeping the traditional rhythm used in many previous Ensiferum albums and songs. The combination of Petri Lindroos and Markus Toivonen is virtually perfect, combining Thrash influences and Folk influences into every song.
One complaint was the last of riffs used after Jari left, which I don't see how Jari leaving changed this, as Markus wrote most of the music even in the old days and still writes now. This new album has more riff presence, proving the lack of riffs theory wrong. These riffs can be heard on songs such as Heaven Throne, Twilight Tavern, and Stone Cold Metal. These songs are not the only songs with riffs however, as From Afar has a very good riff near the middle of the song. The drums seemed virtually perfect, whether mellowing along with Sammi's bass in The Longest Journey, or fast paced poundage in every song on this album, which really shows the versatility and skill of drummer Janne Parviaenen. He even does a war-like drum pattern with his snare in The Longest Journey. Still new keyboardist Emmi Silvenoinen is best heard on the songs The Longest Journey, Smoking Ruins, and By The Dividing Stream. The solos are not as greatly shaped as they were with Jari, but Petri Lindroos, credited with many of the solos on this album, does a perfect job. When in Norther his solos were always so simple yet so effectively paced that they matched every song well, thus proving his chops as a guitar player. The best solo happens to be found in the song Elusive Reaches, with elegant sweeps and great tapping techniques, it leaves the listener in awe. Markos's elegant lead licks are perfect to match Petri's rythm. The duo can do it all!
A new addition to the music side of the album is an A Capella, sung in Finnish language, it emphasizes the harmonious skills of the singer! // 8
Lyrics: Sammi Hinkka has been credited with writing most of the lyrics for the band, and always does the best job bringing the reader/listener into the story behind each song. With most lyrics speaking of greatly fought battles and long journeys through vast wastelands, the reader/listener is really in for a ride. The music is fit to sound like battle music, and I have listened to Ensiferum playing vkings games, such as Vkings: Battle For Asgard. The music matches perfectly with the thoughts of battles and warriors, and the cool thing is so does the booklet. It depicts pictures of the band in battle suits or robes and with weapons such as swords. The best mix of lyrics and music is seen in the song The Longest Journey.
The singing skills in Ensiferum have always been amazing. Petri exectues the devastating screams and growls with such feeling and anger, it gives a hint at what the warrior might have been thinking. The clean vocals are perfectly harmonized between Sammi and Markus, allowing for easy passages for the listener to sing along too, with their swords in hand, chanting before a battle! // 8
Overall Impression: This album compares to the other Ensiferum albums, and reaches above all of them, evenly the critically acclaimed Iron. The overall music is perfectly fit to match anybody who loves Metal. The most impressive songs on the album happen to be; Heathen Throne, Elusive Reaches, and The Longest Journey. The longest Journey is the second part of the story portrayed in Heathen Stone, now although these two songs are long, they are worth listening too. I can not lose this album, as of right now, it is the best CD to come out in 2009, and I got it signed by the band! I finish this review in awe of the band that is Ensiferum! // 10