This is not the first time we’ve talked about Ensiferum here, because my metal knowledge does not run deep, but it’s worth noting that even having justified speaking about the band before hasn’t meant I’ve taken the time to listen deeper to the band, and more’s the pity for it. It’s just tough: I can make it through 5 minutes of a great track, but it’s harder to sell me on a full metal album journey. Dragonheads, however, is an EP, and as such, it’s an easy compromise to finally give it a full listen.
Ensiferum are Viking Metal, and I have never met a viking, but what I love about their style is the sea shanty/battle hymn feel to the proceedings. “Dragonheads” is everything I could want in a metal track: it’s about Valhalla and ships and being Finnish. It has growling vocals over a majestic guitar line, and almost choral vocals on the chorus. It all feels pointlessly but gloriously macho, and that carries through the rest of the album. The music attempts for crushing as opposed to blazing solos, which is nice and follows the trend of the march to war. It’s a certain unabashed id in music like this, and for some reason the idea of cosplaying as vikings (because really, isn’t all metal basically just cosplay?) is something I dig way more than the other iterations of metal. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but the elements all work for me here in ways they don’t elsewhere, and I think a big part of it is that there’s a little bit of the (likely unintentionally) comical to cut the self-seriousness of anyone who presents themselves in grunted lyrics. The commitment to the gimmick makes the music shine.
The interesting thing about some of these other branches of Metal, however, is this: throughout the smashing drums and locomotive guitars and shouted lyrics, there’s still time for a sweet faerie instrumental like “Kalevala Melody” or the waltz feel of the “Finnish Medley,” giving way to a sweet folk vocal. The melody brings in what feel like panflutes, and the medley takes folk reels and lets them soar with guitar tones the folk traditions would never have expected. So maybe that’s it too… there is clearly a respect and reverence for the tradition which inspires the rest of the music. They don’t seem to want to rebel or vent anger so much as they want to share their love of their country and their love of their history through music, and it’s a history that requires this sort of powerful, rough-hewn sound to come across. It is both camp and earnestness in one strange tiny package, and worth hunting down. If the moniker “viking metal” intrigues you at all, you won’t be disappointed.