Ensiferum’s One Man Army: No Country For Civilized Men
Pagan folk metal is like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas—it’s actually pretty cool, but a lot of the other people who really love it are infuriating as Hell. As such, it can be easy to dismiss the genre and many of its champions as renfaire acts with electric guitars. But Ensiferum were always a level cooler than many of their hurdy-gurdying peers. Where Tyr were wonky and Korpiklaani were drunk, Ensiferum was warlike and fiery, as metal as they were. One Man Army is a perfect example of the band’s standout sound: it’s definitely a genre piece, but it’s the best of its kind.
Ensiferum never apologize for their niche, but embrace it fully. Intro track “March of War” is straight old-world string instruments, “Burden of the Fallen” could come out of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films, and closing track “Neito Pohjolan” appears to be a Finnish country song. The whole album is full of bells being rung, choirs singing cinematic backup harmonies, and references to sword, stone, and steed. And sure, it’s eleven straight tracks of that, which certainly might wear down those not devoted to the genre.
But like that of Dio (obviously a name not used lightly), Ensiferum’s music has enough power, originality, infectiousness, and aggression behind it to keep true heads bobbing. “Axe of Judgment” plunges the listener into battle, and the title track ends with a Celtic Frost-worthy “UNGH!” “Warrior Without A War” and “Cry For The Earth Bound” are the soundtrack to walking down the halls of your pantheon, though the female vocals in the bridge of the latter might make some fans sneer. Meanwhile, “Two of Spades” is a breakneck party anthem that seems written for a good fucking jig, and includes what can only be described as a funkadelic Spaghetti Western breakdown. The whole thing ends with a cover of the Rawhide theme. Shit you not.
Conan creator Robert E. Howard once said, “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split.” The old times are attractive to us in that way—they were simpler, and they were metal. Even the most cynical of modern extreme music fans sometimes fantasizes about being a character in a high fantasy story, where they can live like Manowar. Ensiferum’s One Man Army takes the listener to that place, and it doesn’t skimp on the brutality or the atmosphere as it does so. Leave the genre snubs for the civilized—this shit rules.
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