Pirate metal is back again and has never been more unwelcome
Ensiferum, the Finnish metal-heads and Tolkien-lovers, have never been the most consistent band, especially in the confusing web of Pagan metal and its many offshoots. Such offshoots include the genres of Viking, pirate and folk metal, all of which Ensiferum have embraced wholeheartedly since their inception in Helsinki in 1995. Their first two albums, including their self-titled debut, Ensiferum (2001), and Iron (2004), have long been considered classics by folk-metal fans, both enjoying significant commercial and critical acclaim.
However, the two decades that have passed since Ensiferum’s start have been troubled with lukewarm albums as well as frequent switches in personnel and lineup, with the only original member being songwriter and guitarist Markus Toivonen, who started the band when he was only 15 years old. Ensiferum last let out the mundane and unadventurous Two Paths (2017) to a mediocre response by fans and critics alike.
The wicked and wild universe of power metal has birthed some fairly inauspicious bands, albums and genres since the mid-to-late 1990’s. However, many, many moons have passed since those days and that is no clearer than with folk metal pioneers Ensiferum, especially on their latest effort Thalassic. On their newest release, Ensiferum bring into the mix the dynamic and new Pekka Montin, who took over the responsibilities of keyboards and clean vocals, and added a sheen of freshness to the band.
Following a subpar orchestral introduction that sounds more like an online RPG menu theme rather than a power metal album opener, the aptly titled “Rum, Women, Victory” unleashes a batch of frantic drum and guitar work, supporting some stagnant harsh vocals. Following suit, “Andromeda” pays more of an homage to the European folk-metal sound they were initially popular for, in addition to the newly-found incorporation of power metal and even thrash that is obvious all over Thalassic.
The energy and dynamic is not lost as Montin’s soaring vocals, a la Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson, help warm up the ear to the series of three tracks, “The Defence of the Sampo,” “Run from the Crushing Tide” and “For Sirens,” all of which heavily rely on the thrash-sounding grit and Pagan cleanliness fusion shown on the first track. The main highlight is Janne Parviainen’s endurance and tasteful drumming, which help make up for the truly uninspiring choruses, despite Montin truly showing off his vocal range and lush, orchestral keyboard parts.
The tempo and aggression take a backseat on the slow and proggy “One With The Sea,” as well as the very, very folky “Midsummer Magic.” Ensiferum’s weakest points as a band and on the album are demonstrated with the extremely outdated and more or less just poor insistence on fusing badly done traditional European folk music with power metal, which “Midsummer Magic” accomplishes perfectly.
The momentum lost on the two previous songs is restored slightly on the long epic “Cold Northland,” yet never achieves the same energy found earlier on. Albeit not a bad track by any means, the cliches and tasteless nature of Viking and pirate metal are full-fledged on the closing track, highlighted by some moments of heavy chugging riffs and contrasting melodic hooks through various song sections and a chorus.
With the ending minute of ambient seawater sounds, Ensiferum close out an initial potential outing for a new sound and/or direction, found on their newest release, Thalassic. Albeit not a perfect crossover to another genre, but rather an effort in Pagan-adjacent styles and a talented personnel, Thalassic could and should bring about a positive change to their dated sound and aesthetics.