At last. After a score of plays, I eventually make up my mind about From Afar, the latest album of Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum, that came out this month. Now I'm willing to share my conclusions with you. No, don't thank me, it's a pleasure.
Ensiferum is nothing less that my overall top artist. I adore them and can listen to them endlessly without becoming bored. After two excellent, magical and superb albums: Ensiferum in 2001 and Iron in 2004, singer Jari Mäenpää left the band to focus on his solo project Wintersun (that I strongly recommend by the way). He was then replaced by Petri Lindroos, frontman of melodic death metal band Norther. That was a good move because Petri is an excellent singer (and a very cute one, according to womens I know who kept chattering about his alleged handsomeness). But fans were looking forward to seeing how the band will do without Jari, ready to flame Petri if not satisfied. After a lukewarm EP Dragonhead in 2006, new album Victory Songs proved that Ensiferum was still a strong band and that Petri was a great choice. Of course, as usual with every change, some people whined about the "old good time", but honestly Victory Songs is a really good piece of work. So From Afar is the fourth album of the band, and the second with Petri Lindroos as guitarist and singer, who meanwhile has to leave Norther to be replaced by Aleksi Sihvonen, whom I never heard about. Heavy metal is better that Dallas after all.
From Afar is an album that... well... experiment new things. I know, it doesn't sound reassuring and indeed experimentations are not always successful. But first things first. The album begins as usual with a beautiful instrumental By the Dividing Stream, that sounds a lot like Ferrum Aeternum. As soon as the second track, From Afar, begins you realize that Ensiferum's sound as evolved and that the band is now using lots of symphonic orchestrations à la Nightwish/Turisas, as well as voices on chorus. Many other songs are also cluttered with symphonic stuff. This bugs me somehow. Of course on the firsts listenings I found the songs catchy and powerful, but after a while I realised that they sounds cheesy. It feels like the band has lost its typical death/folk sound that I liked so much, and sounds now like Nightwish with Petri singing instead of Tarja/Anette (note that I do like Nightwish a lot, that's not the point). Talking about disappointment, the song Tumman virran taa, which starts really well but is ridiculously short.
Among other experimentations is the song Stone Cold Metal which starts great, then evolves into a western-like athmosphere with a banjo solo... Well, I like it, but this is a little bit crazy and off-topic, and I'll understand if some people don't get it.
Fortunatly, some songs stick to a more traditional Ensiferum's sound, like excellent Twilight Tavern which I'm impatient to listen live, Smoking Ruins or Elusive Reaches. I especially like the couple of epic songs Heathen Throne and The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II), that last more than eleven minutes each. But once again I feel uncomfortable with the (over?)use of symphonic orchestrations.
To sum up my mind, I would say that From Afar is a good album overall, with lots of innovations that make Ensiferum's music more symphonic and more majestic. However I'm not entirely convinced by this evolution, and the more I listen to From Afar, the more I feel like listening to a tasteless blend with Nightwish and Turisas.