Sound — 8
The band initially formed 20 years ago in 1995, though since that time the only original member that remains is Markus Toivonen, guitarist, and most of the rest of the lineup has only been stable since 2005, except the current keyboardist, Emmi Silvennoinen, who joined the band in 2007. "One Man Army" is the band's sixth studio album, and the third studio album with the band's current lineup. The title track, "One Man Army" was released as the first single from the album in mid-January 2015. There are 11 tracks on the standard version of the album and 15 tracks on the digital version. I will be reviewing the digital version, which has a runtime of 67 minutes with the 15 tracks.
The album opens up with the track, "March of War," which is an instrumental track except for some wordless vocalizations or chanting. The next track is "Axe of Judgment," which opens up with a blast beat and is more like a traditional extreme metal song than any kind of folk metal, until a little bit of folk instrumentation is used sparingly later in the track. There are some chanting vocals used near the closing of the track. "Heathen Horde" has a melody that I personally identify with traditional folk music, but mixed with passages in the song that are straightforward metal. There are a lot of "gang vocals" used that make this song, as well as several others on the album, sound like a bunch of people singing in a mead hall. The title track, "One Man Army" is a very heavy track from the beginning, though it works in its folk influences, and a rather nice guitar solo. The lyrics seem like they're written from the perspective of a berserker warrior fighting against an army of the enemy alone. "Burden of the Fallen" is filled with acoustic and traditional instrumentation, and clean vocals - making this sound like it could have come straight out of the middle ages. It flows into the next song, "Warrior Without a War" very nicely, though "Warrior Without a War" is a much heavier track, and makes use of some chanting and growled vocals and heavy instrumentation. The end of the track has a very strong and engaging melody, which may be my favorite part of the album. "Cry for the Earth Bounds" opens up with chanting, though this opens up pretty quickly with some heavy instrumentation it continues to use chanted vocals and traditional folk melodies played on electric guitar throughout the track. "Two of Spades" sounds like a regular metal song from the beginning, but it gets a little weird in the middle with a folk-style instrumental break... which turns into a disco style passage? Most of the rest of the song sounds like some kind of folk metal disco, which is very odd, but still very engaging.
"My Ancestor's Blood" opens up like some stoner metal or sludge metal, possibly, but the band gets their Finnish folk influences in there pretty quick - but the vocals take an interesting turn with some whispered vocals for part of the track. "Descendants, Defiance, Domination" opens up as a very soft track, with some very ambient guitars and keyboard, but slowly gets heavier - but still with some of the most clean singing of any of the songs and the most melody-laden of their songs on this album, as well. "Neito Pohjolan," oddly enough, reminds me of The Shadows, like "Apache" or something, before the vocals come in, and this song does not get heavy at all. The vocals are female and I'm assuming they are Emmi Silvennoinen, but I could be wrong. This marks the end of the physical album, but I have the digital copy so there are a few more songs to talk about. "Rawhide" is next up, and this is a cover of the old Frankie Laine song, which was used as the theme song for the old western show, "Rawhide." Next is "Warmetal," which is a cover of the 1996 song by Barathrum. "Candour and Lies" opens up sounding very much like the soundtrack from a western, but as much as I can find, this is an original track by the band. I would swear that "Candour and Lies" has to be a cover, with a definite country sound, with lapsteel guitars, and exclusively clean vocals, but I can't find that it is by another band. The last song, labeled as "Bonus Song," is really out of character for the band as well - with the vocals staying somewhere between nu-metal rapping and screaming extreme metal vocals. The chorus seems to comprise of the band screaming "Thunder Tits!" Interesting end for the album.
Lyrics — 7
Petri does the screamed vocals and Markus does the clean vocals for the most part, with the other and Sami providing backing vocals as needed. The exception to that, is I believe that Emmi provides the vocals to "Neito Pohjolan" and possibly to parts of "Bonus Song" as well. The strong point on this album is how the backing vocals are used to help push the band's theme of Finnish folk music. The lyrics follow along the band's ongoing theme, for the most part.
As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the title track, "One Man Army": "This lifeless soil/ barren of good thoughts/ scorched by grudge and grief/ doomed to linger on/ wandered aimlessly/ blinded by their lies/ now I raise my head and sword/ when shadows steal the night/ fire, desire, denial/ in my heart/ burning, yearning, discerning/ I see it now/ You call it cruelty/ I call it strength/ I am cursed to be/ a one man army/ you call me inhumane/ I call this life regained/ I am blessed to be/ a one man army."
Overall Impression — 7
I can't always get behind folk metal bands, but I enjoy what Ensiferum does, and I enjoy their approach to it a lot. I like that they use gang vocals a lot, but in a way that sounds like a crowd in a mead hall having a sing along. I like that they seem to have a sense of humor about what they do, based off of their bonus tracks. The music is pretty solid, and there aren't any throwaway songs on the album. My favorite songs on the album would probably be "Bonus Song," "Heathen Horde" and the title track, "One Man Army."