Ensiferum

Ensiferum

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A half-decade's worth of inconsistent activities amid occasional demo recordings gave little indication that the members of Ensiferum (which comes from the Latin words for "sword bearer") would ever give up their multiple alternate projects long enough to create this self-titled debut. And yet, by the time it finally did arrive in 2001, said album delivered with such astonishingly high songwriting and production standards -- not to mention a particularly well-developed thematic vision -- that its dynamic contrasts of extreme and more commercial heavy metal elements instantaneously vaulted Ensiferum to the front of the Viking folk-metal class. Moreover, the album was significantly more worldly and accessible than most Viking metal offerings: in part because its songs boasted excellent clean and dirty vocals, were etched with abundant melodic footholds, and were kept relatively short as compared to oft-long-winded competitors; but perhaps most importantly thanks to Ensiferum's willingness to pen lyrics in English, rather than in their native Finnish or some ancient Scandinavian dialect (which several bands insist on doing, believe it or not). And it's no surprise that those numerous demos scattered across the late '90s provided a full half of the songs eventually re-recorded here, including the propulsive "Hero in a Dream," the surprisingly rock-riffed "Guardians of Fate," and the engaging two-part mythology of the "Väinämöinen" suite (the only bit of Finnish-speak to be found here). At the same time, brand new offerings such as the acoustic guitar-enhanced "Token of Time" (henceforth a fan favorite) and the hectically paced, black metal-tinged "Windrider" proved just as impressive, showing that Ensiferum were for real, and launching one of the most consistent careers in the Viking folk-metal field.

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