Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ensiferum - Unsung Heroes (2012)

To say I was excited for this record would be a massive understatement. Ensiferum have never let me down, have never been anything less than absolutely incredible. Even From Afar was well done, as even though it opted for a more grandiose, epic sound, it did it tastefully, integrating the bombastic heroics that made Victory Songs so instantly memorable. Thus, it is with legitimate pain that I report to have been utterly disappointed by this release, in every conceivable way.

Now, to be fair, I don’t think Unsung Heroes is ‘bad’, necessarily, but it is painfully, overwhelmingly average, an unacceptable trait for an Ensiferum album. The problem, as I see it, is one of girth. Unsung Heroes is made up almost entirely of unnecessary padding, a bloated, underwhelming affair where overblown symphonics and acoustics rule. The concise, melodic folk hooks have been almost entirely removed. In fact, the only song that even remotely feels like a fun, romping, memorable Ensiferum song is In My Sword I Trust, but it feels more like pale mockery than legitimate passion, like a sad attempt at appeasing the Victory Songs fan with one ‘traditional’ number. It reeks of half-heartedness, of ‘we need a single that sounds like Ensiferum’, so they created one, but without any sense of creativity or innovation. Retribution Shall Be Mine is also a decent attempt, but feels very dry, and lacks the innovative leads or swelling, memorable chorus in order to have any real staying power.

The rest of the album has the air of the clone brush about it, as well, as if Ensiferum have gathered every instance in which a song of their has meandered away from the tasty core, and inflated them into an entire record, the end result being directionless in a misguided attempt at being as ‘epic’ as possible. The majority of this album has serious pacing issues, with songs that just sort of float along, without building into any meaningful apex. As an album full of epics, it falls flat, especially the 17 minute Passion Proof Power, which is a perfect example of all that this album does wrong. It’s unstructured, unexciting, and even after around 20 listens, doesn’t even begin to embed itself in my memory. From Afar succeeded because it kept the warrior core of Ensiferum alive with gloriously memorable choruses and unwavering bombast, whereas Unsung Heroes is just content to snore contentedly underneath a tree, humming about the stars. That’s not Ensiferum, Ensiferum would grab the stars by the balls and harness their power to slay the enemy! There is no fiery passion, it’s all mid-paced, pseudo-epic, fluffy pretense, and it’s unbelievably frustrating.

The Ensiferum I have grown to love is not present on this record. Contrary to what you may at this juncture believe, I do not require Ensiferum to be absolutely energetic and concise at all times. My love of From Afar proves this. I simply crave memorable songwriting and warrior spirit, both of which this album is pitifully lacking. Perhaps if I had never heard the band before, I would have enjoyed it. Certainly there’s nothing straight up horrible, or even legitimately bad, aside from the cover of Bamboleo… (ending the album with an elongated, blood-spackled fart would have been roughly as appropriate, and mildly less embarrassing), but there are almost no moments when they get my blood pumping or my spirit soaring, as nearly every single Ensiferum song has achieved historically with ease. It’s honestly heartbreaking, as they are one of my favorite bands. I’m still trying to find enjoyment in it, and perhaps one day I’ll calm down enough to accept it on its own merits, but as it stands, there is nothing here that the band hasn’t already done infinitely better on their previous albums.

Unsung Heroes is the biggest disappointment of the year. I haven't been this let down since Bodom decided to sacrifice their stunningly dynamic style in favor of simple, poppy metalcore. To be fair, it’s not outwardly offensive, but neither is it in any way exciting, invigorating, or most importantly, memorable. And despite what some may claim, this new direction is not experimental or innovative, it simply congeals the established calmer Ensiferum traits into one forgetful blob of an album. I feel no impetus to repeat any section of Unsung Heroes. And for a band that has historically and consistently kicked my ass and set my spirit ablaze, that is perhaps as damning a statement as I, a diehard fan of this band, could possibly utter. I just pray that this is a footnote, rather than a deathnote, and that the band somehow find their passion, creativity, and drive, because they sure aren’t present here.

5 / 10 - Who Drank All My Mead?