'Iron' - Ensiferum (6/10)
Hailed by the band's fans as well as many folk metal heavyweights as a classic of the genre, Ensiferum's 'Iron' is now by many standards; a classic album. Although some have gone on to prefer the Wintersun project that band frontman Jari Maenpaa would do after leaving this band, there is no doubt that Ensiferum have left a great mark on folk, or pagan, or viking, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it metal with this album. Basing their act around their historic culture, as well as broader subjects concerning things like fighting, folklore, nature, and fighting, it is clear that this Finnish act have carved out a very particular niche for themselves,and their speed-oriented brand of folk metal is also established very firmly here. While Ensiferum clearly knows what they want to do here, and do it well at that, the result still feels like an album that- while barrels of good fun- could have been a great deal better, given a little more moderation.
Keep in mind that this is a relative outsider to the world of pagan metal speaking, but there is no doubt that Ensiferum is a band that aims to go over-the-top with virtually every aspect of their sound. Whether its the speedy rhythms, bombastic folk interludes, or belted vocals, everything about Ensiferum exudes this vibe of overindulgence. For the most part, this works well and is alot of fun. Going into a pagan metal album, one knows quite well what to expect, and Ensiferum does deliver that much; a collection of upbeat, epic-sounding metal tracks with a handful of folky segments to provide a great soundtrack to some beer-fueled pagan party out in the wilderness somewhere. The metal parts have some good energy to them, and the folk parts often feel like more than a gimmick; as is especially evidenced in the first track on the album, they are not afraid to let the folk elements take hold for a little longer than your average folk metal band's necessary interlude. This is something I can respect Ensiferum for.
While Ensiferum has got some great things going on for them, it feels to me like the way they are organized and put together could still use alot of work. While we have this over-the-top sound and upbeat folk, that is really all there is to 'Iron', no middle ground, no substantial moments of build-up, nothing but this small handful of different sounds. It is like driving a car that will only allow you to rocket ahead, or inch along. While Ensiferum do get the 'epic' vibe across that I am so sure they were aiming for, the total lack of moderation and dynamic in their sound makes the wild sound feel pretty tame after its been rocketing along for around forty minutes. When I first listened to the album, I was even thinking that the version I was hearing could have been sped up; at times, things sounded like Ensiferum were content to trade off musicality for speed, when I feel some of these tracks could have benefited by being toned down a notch, at least here and there.
'Iron' is a good album for folk metal, and it is very indicative of legions of bands who opt to play this upbeat and energetic style of music. While I do like what Ensiferum have done here, my thoughts about their music here are more mixed than anything, and despite the enjoyment that's been had here, I can't be but a little disappointed, when a few things could have been improved upon to make for a much more powerful experience.