Whenever I fired up Two Paths, Ensiferum‘s 2017 offering, my mind literally switched off after the third track. All about this album had this moldy taste of a run-of-the-mill, cheesily bombastic and epically challenged junk piece. Filled with stuff we already heard before, and which grew on ye after a few beers too many. Only to find out that this thing pretty much felt like the hangover you just experienced the next morning.
So, in a sense, Ensiferum became that universal bad example whenever the RMR deck crew needed one. Something filled with so much fondue, a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich would pale with envy. And – in a way – this made us feel bad1). Because, say what you will, but Ensiferum is an established crew that enjoyed some pretty good successes and forged themselves quite a name in that niche they carved for themselves.
So, Thalassic finally came along in 2020, and we weren’t even sure if this newest attempt to fame should be on our menu card at all. In truth, it pretty much fell into the cracks of the review pipe.
I guess, what made us listen up was their attempt to spruce their death-infused Power and Folk Metal prowess up with some pretty sturdy, but faux Pirate Metal. But without the beer swirling silliness that some of them try to win brownie points with at all cost.
Indeed, Thalassic is all about the sea, mystique, and monsters. Plus a shitload of fun these guys had making it, methinks. To top it, the RMR deck crew here has a soft spot for marine things in whatever form. From creepy seabed crawlers to drunken sailors, we take ’em all.
So, it’s no wonder that the intro with its briny soundscape got on our good side right away, even if the sweetish bombast just about cut it. Yet, already the first speed smasher Rum, Women, Victory made us wonder if the band tasted a tad too much from Alestorm’s beer bottles. A truly piratical piece that comes with a Heavy Metal scream, no less. An insanely catchy table dancer.
And the second point to agonize about is Thalassic‘s album structure, which appears to be pretty similar to its predecessor. First, you inject a more or less palatable piece of intro, followed by some speedy metal2) and then – nada. Powder stores all empty and cannons overboard.
But fear not, there is no beery copycat on this record. And you’ll find much more substance on this disk than was available since From Afar hit the shelves. If anything, Ensiferum moved closer to this very special mainstream that some select Symphonic Metal misfits try to occupy. Especially those that don’t quite know anymore if they want to be Power or Folk Metal instead of their initial calling. Or if they should simply descend into the mystical realms of fantasy land. Because science themes don’t fit their tight bodices and wide robes too well.
And to get the spicing of their grog right, Ensiferum threw a dram of Amon Amarth‘s grouchy sturdiness and Leave’s Eyes‘ Viking and dragon lore in for good measure. In other words, Thalassic surely is no example of a newly minted genre, but more of a crafty mix of watery things we already enjoyed somewhere. This would mean trouble brewing for other genres. But not here, where success often thrives on a certain meaty similarity.
Because – by and large – this is an enjoyable record. Andromeda – for instance – starts with a folksy ditty that would be the realm of medieval folk outfits. Just to lead into a metal tune so Amporphis it could actually exist on any of their albums. And it is equally good.
The same goes for Two Sirens, by the way. An insanely catchy tune that – on top of all that – seems to emerge from a corner of a musically challenged Nightwish.
And whilst we fancied the Pink Floyd-ish radio entry3) of The Defence of the Sampo and its sturdy, galloping capers, this reference to Lucky Luke4) and Jolly Jumper, his trusty horse, kinda sits all athwart an otherwise catchy tune.
And then I grew a bit confused with the ending of Thalassic. Midsummer Night, that tangy mix of Tyr and – yet again – Alestorm on one of their beery forays, is one of these party tunes that will work well on any hot beach. But the grating Finnish part yet again rubbed me the wrong way, same as the Lucky Luke stunt earlier.
It is also true that Cold Northland (Väinämöinen Part III) kinda cuts into all that high-octane energy with its more solemn pace, and not necessarily in a good way. But – by and large – it does provide a fitting finale to an otherwise pretty juicy record.
So, indeed, Ensiferum rumble back to glory with Thalassic. It looks like our acid criticism on their last album was not the only one out there. The band single-handedly pulled themselves out of that swamp of their own making. And slapped a nicely spiced rum barrel or two of new-found oomph onto their record for good measure.
And by Davy Jones’ locker, this is a fun record and one we can only wholeheartedly recommend. So, throw that vile Alestorm thing away and go for that one. You won’t regret it.
|1.||Cold hearts have feelings, too, y’know.|
|2.||Albeit that the Two Path version didn’t really cut it.|
|3.||Pink Floyd | Wish You Were Here (1975) – title song.|
|4.||For those not in the know, it’s a Belgian cartoon figure that first appeared in 1946. And he shoots faster than his shadow. So beware.|