Ensiferum - From Afar
Spinefarm Records
Folk Metal
9 songs (56:40)
Release year: 2009
Ensiferum, Spinefarm Records
Reviewed by Kyle
Album of the month

Ensiferum had almost completely fallen off my radar after Victory Songs was released. Jari was gone from the band, and though I was really surprised at how good Victory Songs was without him, it was still a huge step back from the band’s first two albums. Sir Maenpaa seems to bring a certain magic to everything he does musically, and when he left Ensiferum I thought he had taken that magic with him. I still liked the band and respected them for what they were, but in the vast ocean of folk metal bands, Ensiferum was beginning to drown and lose my attention. I wouldn’t even have known about the existence of their newest album, From Afar, if it weren’t for a bulletin they posted on Myspace when they started working on it. This news received a resounding “Meh” from this reviewer, and though I knew I’d end up listening to From Afar, I wasn’t anticipating it in the least bit. And when I received the promo, I thought I would like it, review it around a 75 or so, and forget about the album until the next Ensiferum record rolled around, and then repeat the process all over again. But for those of you who’ve already peeked at my quote, you know this is not so. From Afar surprised me in the best possible way. It’s not so much a return to form as it is taking the best parts of Ensiferum and adding new elements to the music that work very well. Though it’s not as good as say, Iron (One of the best folk metal albums of all time in my opinion), it’s damn close, and Ensiferum fans that were disappointed with Victory Songs will hopefully be as pleasantly surprised as I was with From Afar.

From Afar is, without a doubt, Ensiferum’s most epic record to date. This is because the band has added a fairly heavy symphonic element to their sound this time around, which is apparent when hearing the first track after the intro, From Afar. The first twenty seconds of it is very epic and grand sounding metal; almost like a Rhapsody track, minus the cheese. After this, the song breaks into the traditional Ensiferum opening track, with double-time snare hits, fast tremolo palm-muted riffs, and very folky sounding choirs and leads. All this is backed by that strong symphonic element, and when it all comes together it makes for one of Ensiferum’s most original and best songs yet. If Ensiferum, Rhapsody, and Bal-Sagoth were able to legally marry and have a completely legitimate child, I have a feeling it would sound JUST like this.

Along with the outstanding title track, some of the most original songs Ensiferum have ever written make an appearance here. The two Heathen Throne songs are both very long and epic, with tons of tempo changes and extremely catchy lead vocal parts. But hands down, the best song on From Afar, and quite possibly the best Ensiferum song ever, is Stone Cold Metal. Wow… What a song!! It has a strong Old-West vibe to it, and me being a fan of Western soundtracks, this is a great thing. You still have the traditional, folky Ensiferum melodies here, which is shown off in the verse, but the mid-section of the song is the true star. After the folk metal section of the song goes on for about three minutes, the music stops and a lone man whistling a very Western sounding tune kicks off the mid-section before some soft drumming and a ragtime piano come in, the latter of which playing the melody that was heard at the beginning of the song. Then the whistling melody gives way to a trumpet that plays a modified version of the whistled tune, lending a very Danny Elfman-ish feel to the song for a bit before the track becomes metal again, and the electric guitars and fast drumming are accompanied with… A BANJO SOLO??? As crazy as it all sounds, folks, all of this silliness works incredibly well, and absolutely must be heard to be believed.

But there are, of course, more traditional Ensiferum songs on From Afar. Look no further than Twilight Tavern and Elusive Reaches if you’re craving very fast and very fun folk metal tracks, because these will undoubtedly please you. Twilight Tavern in particular is very good, with a great lead guitar melody in the verse and a female-sung choir break mid-way through before the song progressively grows to warp speed during the last twenty seconds. All in all it’s a metalized drinking song, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself chanting “Twilight Tavern!” during the chorus. Smoking Ruins is a very catchy mid-paced track that features vocals that are almost entirely clean sung; This song reminds of something Tyr would do. It’s definitely not one of my favorites on the album (I much prefer the hyper fast tracks that Ensiferum do so well), but it’s very solid and well-written, and deserves mention here.

The only thing I have to complain about here are the two short acoustic tracks, By The Dividing Stream and Tumman Virran Taa. The latter is less than a minute long and makes for a nice break between the metal tracks, and features some very nice, calming chanting before the last track, Heathen Throne Pt. II arrives and blasts you with over twelve minutes of epic folk metal. But the former is rather dull, and being the intro to the album, it does nothing to lead up to the first proper track; It’s just kinda “There”. I wish Ensiferum would’ve replaced this with another folk metal track, making for eight metal songs in total. But this is the case with all Ensiferum albums, so this really isn't a problem as I'm already used to this from the band's past releases.

From Afar manages to bring back the magic that has been missing from Ensiferum since their Iron album, something I never thought the band would get back without being led by Jari Maenpaa. Petri Lindroos' voice has improved much since Victory Songs (Perhaps this has to do with him quitting Norther to focus more on Ensiferum, allowing him to tone down his overly harsh vocals), and I'm now confident that he is a more than capable frontman to lead the band in Jari's absence. And since Skynet will most likely become self aware and bring judgment day upon us before Time is finally released (We’re waiting, Jari!!), we’ll have to make due with From Far until that day. One thing is certain; this will make that wait much, much less painful.

Killing Songs :
From Afar, Twilight Tavern, Stone Cold Metal, Heathen Throne I & II
Kyle quoted 94 / 100
Other albums by Ensiferum that we have reviewed:
Ensiferum - One Man Army reviewed by Andy and quoted 76 / 100
Ensiferum - Unsung Heroes reviewed by Chris and quoted 59 / 100
Ensiferum - Victory Songs reviewed by Cody and quoted 85 / 100
Ensiferum - Dragonheads (EP) reviewed by Kayla and quoted no quote
Ensiferum - Iron reviewed by Jason and quoted 96 / 100
To see all 7 reviews click here
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