Ensiferum – “Two Paths” (Metal Blade Records)
With the rise of Ensiferum seemingly unstoppable in recent years, these Finns released their most critically acclaimed album in 2015’s “One Man Army” which impressed with its deeper but still addictively catchy compositions, improved musicianship and a very slick title track video indeed! Renowned as a heavy touring band whose warrior folk metal is guaranteed to get any crowd going, Ensiferum also sought to capture this live sound on their record and this was largely achieved with a truly epic sound. Now, on “Two Paths” comes the sequel and man, it’s even better! Going further with the live aspect by recording in analog to add an even more natural feel to the material, the sound is nothing short of colossal where massive choirs are echoed in a ‘surround’ style, while Janne Parviainen’s drums thunder and resonate in your ears as well as your soul. Biggest question mark had to be the introduction of Netta Skog and her electric accordion but trusting the steel of Ensiferum, I can safely say its added its mark in just the right places by introducing new folk sounds at times and continuing to add plenty of epic atmosphere but in perfectly controlled measures, attesting to the band’s arrangement skills – not to mention her own vocals leading on the magnificent ‘Feast with Valkyries’. With Mikko P. Mustonen again handling orchestral arrangements and Lassi Logren returning to play nyckelharpa and violin on a few songs, you can guess what its all adding up to – one hell of an album! Indeed, songs like ‘Way of the Warrior‘, ‘For Those About to Fight for Metal‘ and ‘King of Storms‘ capture the essence of Ensiferum’s award winning style of hugely catchy yet incredibly passionate songs, where soul grabbing melodies and beautiful singalong choruses are backed by stirring warrior choirs as the rich lyrics tell tales of old both authentic and fictionalized. Added to all of this are the subtle enhancements and detailed perfection that has been etched into the 13 tracks here, including 2 bonus tracks that are alternate harsh vocal versions to their cleaner comparisons – although you’d hardly notice the effect given how powerful and emotional the music is especially on ‘Don’t You Say’! Themed on the choices we make in life and the consequences of those actions, in my book it’s pretty clear which path Ensiferum have chosen here – venerance, victory and Valhalla!!!!