Unsung Heroes is the fifth full-length album by Finnish folk metal act Ensiferum. The album was released in 2012 as both a regular edition with ten tracks and a limited edition with a DVD containing a making of feature and studio diaries as well as a bonus track cover of Gipsy Kings’ Bamboleo on the CD. As anyone in the know as far as metal goes will already know Ensiferum are one of the most prominent acts within the folk metal genre.
The music of Unsung Heroes is a very much varied approach to creating folk metal. As a style that can by definition draw its metal side from just about any other metal genre going, most bands seem content to pick a ‘base’ and stick to it until they want to do some lighter stuff to let their folk sides shine through. That isn’t really the case with Unsung Heroes, an album which draws on many fronts including melodic death metal, power metal, symphonic metal and in the epic seventeen minute closer, Passion, Proof, Power, progressive metal. The album is very easily one of the most varied folk metal albums I’ve encountered.
The thing is, while having variety is all well and good, and definitely welcome, it’s not actually the first thing I look for in a folk metal release in order to see if it works. What I look for is authenticity, specifically in the folk parts. Folk metal acts that are all about drinking songs or similar can be entertaining music, especially if they have comedic value, but for me to regard a release as a masterpiece of the genre, the band (usually at least) needs that authenticity. Ensiferum are not one of the folk metal acts that rely on excessive traditional instrumentation however, which for me does put the band at a something of a disadvantage on the authenticity front, however in Unsung Heroes they’ve made a solid and convincing release using folk influence mainly within their metal instrumentation. It works because it does not sound silly or cheesy, and the band makes sure they don’t leave their metal elements lacking.
Can it be considered a masterpiece though? No, honestly it can’t because it just doesn’t do enough within its approximately one hour duration to justify such an accolade. The epic Passion, Proof, Power right at the end of the album may be taking up a sizeable chuck of that running time but at the end of the day it is just one song, and while it alone has brought me to regard Unsung Heroes a bit more than I think I would have done without it the Finn’s sadly produce a classic case of a double-edge sword in the song, since it’s the best and most epic thing on the entire album that brings together all the influences heard up until that point I’m left feeling that the rest of the songs, as good as they are, just lead up to the album’s crowning achievement. They are good songs, don’t take my views for what they aren’t, but for me they don’t really realise the same level of quality on a smaller scale as Ensiferum were able to do with a seventeen minute epic. The variety within their metal influences does make up for it a fair bit however, keeping the album interesting throughout despite my other feelings towards it. I’m most fond of Burning Leaves and the power metal fuelled Retribution Shall Be Mine out of the shorter songs.
If you’ve liked what the band has released previously then I don’t see how Unsung Heroes could leave one with any feelings of disappointment. I would rank it a stronger album than the prior From Afar (2009). The band shows skill at their instruments and I especially like the way they use acoustics to create folk melody in Celestial Bond and Star Queen (Celestial Bond Part II). If there’s a criticism to be levelled at the band’s delivery then it would have to be Petri Lindroos’ harsh vocals, which came across as rather weak compared to the clean vocals used on the album to me. Still, a great album tier rating is undoubtedly deserved for Unsung Heroes and even with all the issues I highlighted in this review it was very nearly up into the exceptional levels.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org) on 28/08/12)