Sound — 10
Victory Songs is the third full length album by the Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum. Some like to call them "viking metal," but I personally think that's a slightly crude representation of the group, seeing as Finns have no connection to vikings whatsoever. However, the term "battle metal" would certainly apply to the group, especially to this album. Many of the songs in this album focus on war and battle, as well as some other fantasy themes. As a point of reference, this is the first album by Ensiferum not to feature Jari Menp as the lead vocalist and guitarist, due to Jari pursuing another project, Wintersun. He was also absent from Ensiferum's EP, Dragonheads, and the difference in sound is quite noticeable. However, I believe Ensiferum really improved in the area of sound on this album in comparison to their previous endeavors. The keyboards are utilized much more fully in my opinion, and the production value was top notch in this regard. Their sound is polished, and they definitely manage to hit the fantasy themes they are going for. This album definitely take folk metal to a whole different level in terms of sound and quality, and in my opinion is a benchmark for the style.
Lyrics — 7
In general, the lyrics were less than stellar on this record. As they took a very notable step forward in their sound, they definitely took a step back in their lyrics. Whether the change in sound is due to Jari's departure is unknown, but it's fairly certain that the change in lyrics was affected greatly when Jari left the group. The majority of the lyrics were written by Jari, and they were usually quite poignant in comparison to the work on this album. Also, if you were to compare the lyrics of Wintersun, all written by Jari, and the lyrics on this album, you would see a notable difference. However, that being said, that does not mean that these lyrics are bad. They do, in fact, fit the genre quite nicely, and even if they do take some liberties, they are very well executed by their vocalists, Petri Lindroos and Markus Toivonen. The lyrics were primarily written by Sami Hinkka, a new addition to the band as of their last EP, so that accentuates the difference between Ensiferum while Jari was in the band and Ensiferum now. Now, after these general sentiments, I think the only way to fully review the rest of this album more specifically is to review each song separately, not just for lyrics and singing, but for sound as well to some extent. I'll begin with the first song, Ad Victorium 01.Ad Victorium: the song that begins this album is an instrumental, like in their first two albums. Immediately the change in sound is noticeable, and the mood of the entire album is set quite nicely. It begins with a theme of its own, using cello via the keyboards and light acoustic guitar, as well as a light beat. The theme changes to oboe, and adds strings and choir vocals in the background. This is a very common instrumental theme throughout the album in conjunction with the acoustic guitars. The song then moves into the main theme of "Victory Song," the final song on the album, using a whistle or flute on the keyboards this time. Finally, it ends with the opening theme of the next song "Blood is the Price of Glory." Again, this song does a very good job of setting the mood, and ushers in the next song very nicely. 02.Blood Is The Price Of Glory: even if all of the songs on this album are classified as "battle metal," this song is their true battle anthem. They have had at least one song of the same type on each of their previous albums, but this song is essentially the embodiment of the powerful battle mood they wish to portray. The song goes straight into a harsh and heavy riff, and the screamed vocals of Petri Lindroos are executed very precisely. The clean vocals of Markus Toivonen are present in the chorus, mostly to accentuate Petri's vocals. This dynamic is also used quite often in the album, almost invariably quite successfully. Lyrically this is actually one of their best of this album. The chorus is very memorable, the verses support each other, and the bridge is a very good change of mood. The bridge is actually well done in another sense in that it takes the same themes into acoustic form, and uses spoken vocals lightly superimposed over the instrumentation. The lyrics and singing match the music perfectly, which is also another trend this band follows and can execute remarkably well. All in all, this is one of their best songs on the album, as well as one of my personal favorites. 03.Deathbringer From The Sky: this is a very good song in its own right, but it doesn't really jump out at me in any respects really in comparison to the other songs on this album. Lyrically it is very possible that this song draws inspiration from "Kalevala," the Finnish national epic, but that's only speculation. Musically, this song follows all of the folk metal tenets this band is known for, and the lyrics fit the music almost perfectly again. The bridge is the only really memorable section of this song for me, but even then, it's never really stuck in my head. That doesn't mean it was a bad song, just a little more generic when compared to their other songs. 04.Ahti: if their last song was possible influenced by "Kalevala," this song most definitely is. In fact, it was one of the first things I noticed about this album. Ahti is essentially the Finnish God of Water and the Sea, but I'm taking that out of context as well as paraphrasing quite a bit for the sake of brevity. However, this song is a favorite of mine just for that reason. Lyrically, this was one of their better endeavors, and this song is very musically interesting. The themes woven throughout this album will stick in your head, and the interplay between Petri and Markus is in top form. Again, the lyrics are very well matched in tone and content to the music, and this song is one of their best on this album. 05.One More Magic Potion: this song was actually their single, but in all honesty, I'm not sure why. No offense to this song or anything, but it's not necessarily their most representational song, nor is it their best in my opinion. It uses an interesting time signature for the opening, which appears at first glance to be 12/8, although I might be wrong. Lyrically it discusses a warrior's endeavors to obtain a potion of healing, which in and of itself is a very obvious fantasy theme. In all honesty it wasn't executed as well as it could have been on that front, but the chorus was well put together in general. It was quite well done musically though, which redeems this song in all respects. It is very memorable, and embodies the fantasy theme of its lyrics. Again, the band delivers very well in that respect, so in the end, this song is quite good, just not single material in my opinion. 06.Wanderer: this is the first somewhat lighter song on this album. Even though it uses a similar formula to other songs on the album in that it uses a lighter intro before coming in with full distortion guitars, it makes use of a slower tempo, and holds to the mentality of more of a ballad if you want to call it that. Lyrically this song is actually a bit of an oddity in that if you take it out of the context of the song itself they are a little bit cliche and could have been put together a little better, this is actually one of the choruses that got stuck in my head. The verses were a little on the absurd side in all honesty, but the chorus is again, very good. I think this is the first time where Markus' clean vocals are more prominent than Petri's harsh vocals in the chorus anyway, which adds to the lighter mentality of this song. Again, the lyrics match the music very well, and in the end, this is another favorite of mine from this album. 07.Raised By The Sword: OK, this song is, hands down, my favorite song on this album, and in my opinion their best, so I'm just going to get that out of the way. Lyrically, this song is quite possibly their best endeavor yet, with verses and a chorus that fit together perfectly, as well as music that backs it up perfectly. The opening theme is practically haunting, and never really lets up. It's akin to Blood is the Price of Glory in that this is essentially another pure battle metal song, where all the others sort of drifted into different lyrical realms, these songs stick to the battle metal mentality. You could take this as a good thing or a bad thing, but it was very well executed in this song, and it remains my favorite song they have ever done. Period. 08.The New Dawn: like Deathbringer From The Sky, this song never really jumped out at me. In fact, this one feels very much like a pure filler to me, especially due to its placement. There really isn't much to say about it. The lyrical themes had a lot more potential in my opinion, but yet again, the music fit the lyrics in that they never really jumped out at me. Still, it was well put together as usual, so this could be somebody's favorite song by them in all honesty. It just doesn't really stick out for me. 09.Victory Song: this song is essentially supposed to be the climactic song of the album, actually giving the album its title essentially, and it clocks in at over 10 minutes so expectations are high. However, it didn't live up to my expectations of a song of that length in that it kept a relatively tepid tone throughout the song, as it built up slowly to a very uneventful point, then kept that tone through most of the song. This seems to be what adds to the length of this song, as with most other songs of this length, but every other song I've heard from the same or similar genre of that length (Beauty of the Beast, Ghost Love Score, or Poet and the Pendulum by Nightwish, or Sadness and Hate by Wintersun for example) all give off a much more climactic feel and hit very epic heights in terms of scope and scale. I never really felt that on this song despite what they did with it. That being said, I actually like this song quite a lot to be perfectly honest. The fact that it didn't really match up to other songs of its length doesn't take away from it being a very good song, and it definitely embodies what this album is about. Lyrically, it is relatively cliche in some parts, but it has a great chorus, and fits the whole battle metal mentality quite nicely. It also includes a bridge in Finnish, which is definitely something I enjoy quite a bit. All in all, this is a very good song, even if it doesn't meet up to some of my expectations for it. Once again however, the band matched the music to the lyrics to a tee, and in all honesty is one of the hallmarks of this band to be honest. This is quite an impressive song, and despite my criticism is one of my favorites.
Overall Impression — 9
The only other albums I've listened to extensively that are in a similar genre are their two earlier efforts and Wintersun's self-titled debut. So from that limited pool this album does very well. I think Wintersun was a much more complete album, but in general that is the only album I've ever come across that I believe deserves 10s across the board, so that doesn't detract from this album one bit. This album definitely built on the momentum created by their previous releases, and has a very positive evolution about it, even if they took a comparative step backward in the lyrics department. The most impressive songs on this album for me are Raised by the Sword, Blood is the Price of Glory, and Victory Song, generally in that order I'd say. I loved the completeness of this album as a whole, and their ability to constantly create a tone and hold onto it for a song, as well as for the whole album. The only things that really bugged me were song of their lyrics, but in the end, I think this album was quite well done on the whole. If it were lost or stolen, I'd buy it again if I saw it in an album shop in a heartbeat.