One Man Army
20th February 2015 - Metal Blade Records
01. March Of War
02. Axe Of Judgement
03. Heathen Horde
04. One Man Army
05. Burden Of The Fallen
06. Warrior Without A War
07. Cry For The Earth Bounds
08. Two Of Spades
09. My Ancestors’ Blood
10. Descendants, Defiance, Domination
11. Neito Pohjolan
Finland is known for its folk metal bands, amongst other things, and Ensiferum were one of those bands that pioneered the folk metal genre there. Even after losing singer and guitarist Jari Mäenpää, whom you might know from his little-known band called Wintersun, they continued making strong releases full of melodic death folk metal.
However, it is fairly clear from the start of One Man Army, their sixth record, that Ensiferum have become one of those bands that lose something with aging. While their formula is more or less the same as it was on the previous albums, it just seems to have less of an impact. The folkier elements are more downplayed this time around; they’re still present, but they’re less of a focus than on albums such as Victory Songs. Instead, there is more focus on vague symphonic arrangements and it actually sort of feels like a poor man’s Wintersun than an Ensiferum album. Some songs still retain that majesty, such as “Warrior Without A War” and the weird “Two of Spades”, which takes cues from disco-type rhythms to bury its axe in the skulls of listeners and is just straight up fun. The lead single title track, however, is a nice summation of the rest of the album: tamer than a sleeping kitten, and lacking any new or interesting songwriting. It’s a shame from the band that gave us such masterpieces as “Lai Lai Hei” and “Treacherous Gods”.
The bonus tracks are barely worth mentioning. They border on entirely unmemorable; one is even simply named “Bonus Song” in a shocking display of laziness, except for the extremely ill-advised cover of the theme from the TV western Rawhide - perhaps a symptom of the band’s flirtation with western aesthetic on a couple songs over the past few albums.
One of the better things about this album is the drum sound: the snare has an interesting echoing sort of sound that sounds really pleasing. Petri’s harsh vocals are as good as ever, and Markus’ clean vocals are perhaps at their best. The choral elements work fairly well too in some parts, on “Cry for the Earth Bounds” for example.
One Man Army is an album that shows Ensiferum existing as a ghost of their former glory. There are flashes of promise – snapshots that give glimpses of what the band used to be – but most of the time it falls flat. Downplaying the folkier elements to use melodic and orchestral arrangements feels almost like a trend-hopping move for them. There are incorporations of elements that haven’t really been done yet, such as the disco influenced track, though that might give a lot of fans cause to turn away, which shows that there is still a spark of life in the band, and gives hope that this is just a misstep for them.
Best songs: “Two of Spades” “Warrior Without a War” “Descendants, Defiance, Domination”