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Apparently, the widespread fan acclaim and glowing reviews bestowed upon their first two albums weren't enough to hold Finnish folk-metal ensemble Ensiferum together -- or maybe it was exactly what tore them apart -- because their second CD, 2004's Iron, had barely left the presses before vocalist and lead guitarist, Jari Mäenpää, abandoned ship to found his own group, Wintersun. What's worse, bassist Jukka-Pekka Miettinen and drummer Oliver Fokin soon followed suit, leaving only founding guitarist Markus Toivonen and keyboard player Meiju Enho to recruit new bandmembers Petri Lindroos (vocals/guitar), Sami Hinkka (bass), and Janne Parviainen (drums), and try to soldier on as best they could under the Ensiferum banner. This was done with understandable caution, at first, by fine-tuning the new band's chemistry on a mini-album entitled Dragonheads, that featured two new songs (the title track and an instrumental piece), a pair of re-recorded demos from 1999, a faithful cover Amorphis' "Into Hiding" and a convenient medley of Finnish folk standards to confirm the band's enduring loyalty to the cause. And despite their very different origins, all of these tracks retained the essential Ensiferum trademarks of old: Viking metal infused with folk elements distilled into easily digestible nuggets. New frontman Lindroos certainly proved as versatile as his predecessor at handling both harsh and melodic vocals (particularly on the majestic title track and excellent resurrected oldie "Warrior's Quest"), but his guitar work wasn't quite as aggressive or technically impressive -- probably due to his "new guy" diffidence, rather than actual lack of ability. In most every other respect, though, Dragonheads came through on its mission of showing that Ensiferum were perfectly capable of carrying on, and helped pave the way to the group's next full-length excursion, 2007's well-received Victory Songs.

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