REVIEW: ENSIFERUM – “Thalassic”
Since its inception, Ensiferum has always been a powerhouse in the folk metal scene. The Finns have always brought strength and charisma to their music that resonates profoundly with their listeners and has been a cornerstone of their charm for the better part of two decades. It’s with this notion in mind that any upcoming Ensiferum album, particularly one after a band member change, is always an eagerly anticipated listen as you never really know what new life and vibrance have been introduced to the band and their sound — which is even more important when that album is being released near a very big milestone for the band. So, following their global recruitment process for a new keyboard player, and to coincide with the band’s 25th anniversary, the band seek to make their mark on the world again with the release of their eighth studio album Thalassic (meaning “relating to the seas”).
From the outset, the album’s central theme of the ocean is vividly apparent. The track listings and the core vocal concepts all lend into this theme, and while thematic albums certainly don’t fall outside the ambit of what Ensiferum has done in the past, their choice of the ocean is a very interesting theme to use compared to what they have done in the past.
Opening instrumental Seafarer’s Dream establishes early on that this album going to be a heavy story-led affair. The grandiose spectacle of this track builds a vivid picture of what is to come through its masterful buildup and slower pacing, but the song never really reaches a climax to speak of and instead leaves that for the opening of second song Rum, Women, Victory. This already released single takes little time in establishing newest member, keyboardist, and clean vocalist Pekka Montin as an integral cog in Ensiferum’s sound moving forward. This track opens with Montin showcasing his massive range, even though it is his verse passage that steals the show in what is musically a very strong overall track, and one of the album’s standouts. Such is the strength of Montin’s vocals that were it not for the harsh vocal sections, many could actually be confused that this was a song performed by power metal stalwarts Stratovarius. This clean vocal angle is an interesting one that may take some long-time fans who are used to having harsh vocalist Petri Lindroos as the only lead vocalist by surprise but is a welcome change which shows that even after such a long time Ensiferum is still willing to innovate their sound in new ways.
The album follows a clear dichotomy of having a Montin-led track followed by a Lindroos-led track. It’s effectively almost a 50/50 split between vocal duties and is something that has definitely given the band a broader appeal to their overall sound. The Montin-led Andromeda, The Defence of Sampo, and For Sirens are all strong offerings, while Lindroos-led Run from the Crushing Tide seems more akin with the fast-paced folk that many fans are probably craving.
In the scheme of the entire album, track Midsummer Magic seems like an outlier. The track has very strong drinking vibes to it, and would definitely feel more at home in a Korpiklaani album, but does seem to work in the context for what Ensiferum aims to achieve. It’s a bit of fun stashed towards the end of the album and acts as the perfect icebreaker for the band before they tread into the sombre, and very old-school sounding Cold Northland to close out the album.
Musically, Thalassic is a quintessential Ensiferum album. The folk/pagan undertones that many have grown to associate with the band over the years are all present; as are the crowd singalong choruses; the slower-paced tracks; and the more upbeat masterpieces. While there is a clear shift vocally to a more diversified sound between clean and harsh, the overall sound of the music has remained the same as fans would expect. Longtime listeners may also notice that again the band has limited their use of orchestration on this record, and this seems like something the band has attempted to rely less and less on over the years since the orchestrally massive From Afar, with Thalassic being no different.
The instrumentation is as strong as you would expect from the band at this stage of their career. The current lineup (sans Montin) have been working as a cohesive unit for 15 years now and cultivate their sounds in such a way to complement each other. Markus Toivonen and Lindroos absolutely nail their roles on guitar, with Sami Hinkka and Janne Parviainen providing the perfect (and at times emotive) percussive factor to the album. Montin’s keywork meshes nicely with the framework laid by the other members and certainly makes him feel at home with the band’s already established sound.
Production-wise the album is very solid as the band has once again collaborated with producer Janne Joutsenniemi who was previously involved on the albums Victory Songs and From Afar, while mixing and mastering duties were managed by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios. However, there were a few occasions where the percussive side of the band felt a bit quiet in the mix which did make it feel like the guitars and vocals were the only things coming at you. While these occasions were few and far between, they did stand out as minor blemishes on an otherwise well-rounded album.
Overall, Thalassic is a lot of fun to listen to, which is something I’m sure many Ensiferum fans will attest is a key metric to consider whenever reviewing their music. While not without its faults, Thalassic’s intricacies make it something that many are going to love after they have spent some time with it. While it won’t be an album to take the pagan/folk metal genre into new and uncharted territories, it has certainly revitalized Ensiferum as a band, and the future looks very bright for this incarnation moving forward if they can maintain the momentum they have built with this record.