Ensiferum (Latin for 'sword-bearing') is a Finnish metal band that is usually assigned to Viking or Folk metal. It was founded in 1995 by Markus Toivonen, Sauli Savolainen and Kimmo Miettinen. Of those mentioned, only Markus Toivonen still plays at Ensiferum today. He writes most of the music for the band. So far, eighth regular studio albums and three EP's have been released, as well as two live DVD's and a re-release of the demos.
When I heard Amorphis' Tales from the Thousand Lakes for the first time, I knew that I wanted to make this damn awesome music too, these melodies captivated me."
– Markus Toivonen
After Markus Toivonen made this decision, he asked Kimmo Miettinen, the drummer of Dark Reflections, if he wanted to form a folk-inspired Death metal band with him. After he said yes to Markus Toivonen's request, a friend of him and Kimmo Miettinen, Sauli Savolainen, was hired to play bass.
In 1996, Ensiferum began its first rehearsals at the Pasila Youth Center in Helsinki, where Dark Reflections had previously rehearsed. The first three songs "Knighthood", "Frost" and Old Man (Väinämöinen) were also written at that time. The latter song later appeared on the debut album Ensiferum. Towards the end of 1996, Jari Mäenpää from the band Immemorial, joined Ensiferum as the singer and second guitarist. He later also wrote the band's lyrics, but shortly after joining he only wrote the lyrics to Old Man (Väinämöinen).
In December 1996 Ensiferum gave the first concert at the Pasila Youthcenter, where only one song, Old Man (Väinämöinen), was played. In January of the following year, Jari Mäenpää had to go to the army while the band was temporarily shut down. There were two performances, but according to the official homepage they had a “strange line-up”. In autumn 1997, after Jari Mäenpää had completed his military service, recording of the first demo began, which was finally recorded in November in the Kivi studios and contained the three songs "Knighthood", "Frost" and "Old Man". This demo, like the two that followed, was re-released in 2005 under the title 1997-1999.
This demo, like the two that followed, was re-released in 2005 under the title 1997-1999.
In 1998, Kimmo Miettinen and Sauli Savolainen both left the band. Kimmo Miettinen moved to the drums of the Finnish Black metal band ArthemesiA, while their drummer Oliver Fokin, an old acquaintance of Jari Mäenpää who had played with him in Immemoral, moved to Ensiferum. Sauli Savolainen, on the other hand, wanted to devote more time to his job and school. His enthusiasm for playing in Ensiferum waned. As a replacement, Kimmo Miettinen's then 14-year-old brother, Jukka-Pekka Miettinen, joined the band as the new bassist.
In January of the following year, Ensiferum recorded the second demo at MD Studios. It contained the four songs The "Dreamer's Prelude", "Little Dreamer" (Väinämöinen II), "Warrior's Quest" and "White Storm". The latter two were later released on the Dragonheads EP, while "Little Dreamer" was on the debut album. After Ensiferum took part in the Ääni & Wimma band contest in Helsinki, they recorded the third demo entitled "Hero in a Dream" again at the MD studios in November 1999. It contained five songs ("Intro", "Hero in a Dream", "Eternal Wait", "Battle Song" and "Guardians of Fate"). Likewise, a new band logo was designed for the demo by Tuomas Tahvanainen, which is still used today.
In 2000 the band took part in the Ääni & Wimma Band Contest again and even reached the final. At the same time, negotiations were also taking place about a record deal with Spinefarm Records, which had become aware of Ensiferum after the release of "Hero in a Dream". The band finally signed the contract and in November of the same year the debut album Ensiferum was recorded at Sundi-Coop Studios.
The music was mostly written by Markus Toivonen, while all lyrics, with the exception of the song "Goblins' Dance", were written by Jari Mäenpää. The lyrics to "Goblins’ Dance" come from Valtias Mustatuuli, the singer of ArthemesiA. Since the band didn't have a permanent keyboard player among its members at the time, Henri "Trollhorn" Sorvali from Moonsorrow and Finntroll played the keyboards. Further guest musicians included Johanna Vakkuri with the female vocals on the song "Eternal Wait",
which she had already contributed to this song on the demo "Hero in a Dream"·, as well as Marita Toivonen on the traditional Finnish kantele.
Ensiferum was finally released in July 2001, while the band had previously taken part in the Ääni & Wimma band contest again. On the last day of the competition, when Ensiferum performed in the final, Meiju Enho played as the band's keyboardist for the first time. A few concerts in Finland followed in 2002. On the occasion of the death of Finntroll guitarist Teemu “Somnium” Raimoranta, (May 19, 1977 - March 16, 2003) the band played a memorial concert in Helsinki on March 25, 2003.
In the summer of 2003 the band began recording their second album, Iron. The band traveled to Copenhagen to record the album at Sweet Silence Studios with Flemming Rasmussen, who had also worked with bands like Metallica. Rasmussen recorded, produced and mixed the album for the band. In addition to a kantele player, Kaisa Saari from the folk band Tarujen Saari, the guest musicians also included a female guest singer who sang the song "Tears". Vesa Vigman also contributed bouzouki, mandolin, saz and dulcimer.
After recording Iron in early 2004, the band fired Jari Mäenpää so that he could record the debut album of his project Wintersun. For the European tour supporting Finntroll in April 2004, the period of which would have overlapped with the recording period of Jari Mäenpää's project, Petri Lindroos from Norther took over Jari Mäenpää's position on microphone and guitar and was confirmed as the band's permanent guitarist and singer in November. The album Iron was released in Finland in mid-April, while the release in the rest of Europe was delayed until the summer.
In February 2005, the band re-released the three demos on the CD, "1997-1999" and in limited quantities, although not on their label. This CD was sold exclusively on the band's homepage and at concerts. Also in 2005, the band separated from drummer Oliver Fokin due to conflicts of interest. Janne Parviainen took his place. The band went on tour again in 2005.
However, a second tour entitled 'X-Mass Tour 2' under the headliner Morbid Angel could not take place because the Death metal band Morbid Angel canceled participation in the tour. In November Ensiferum recorded the Dragonheads EP at Sonic Pump Studios, which was released on February 15, 2006. At the turn of 2005 and 2006, the band played a concert at the Nosturi Club in Helsinki to mark their 10th anniversary. This performance was later released at the end of June 2006 as a live DVD entitled 10th Anniversary Live.
In addition to songs by the band themselves, this DVD also contains a cover of the song Into Hiding from the album Tales from the Thousand Lakes by the Finnish band Amorphis and a song by the band Finntroll that they played as a congratulation for the band's anniversary. Just one week after its release, the DVD entered the Finnish music DVD charts at number 2.
Recordings for the third album, Victory Songs, began in November 2006 at Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki. The first release from these recordings was the single "One More Magic Potion" , which was presented to the public on February 7, 2007. The album itself was released at the end of April 2007, after the release date had been pushed back by two months. On September 10, 2007, Ensiferum announced that keyboardist Meiju Enho had left the band. Emmi Silvennoinen, who had been supporting the band at concerts since the beginning of 2007, was named as a replacement. Singer Petri Lindroos commented on the change of members to the German Metal Hammer as follows: "It is [...] planned that Meiju will join us again, but I can't say when and if that will actually happen."
At the beginning of November 2007 a tour took place in eastern Canada. A tour through Europe started at the end of November 2007. On this European tour, with the exception of the first concert in Greece, Ensiferum was accompanied by the Taiwanese metal band Chthonic and the Swedish band Insania. On September 11, 2009, Ensiferum released their fourth studio album called From Afar.
The album entered the German album charts at number 25. The single Stone Cold Metal was released on August 9, 2010 as a subsequent release from From Afar. In autumn 2010 Ensiferum went on a Heidenfest tour through Europe with bands like Varg, Eisregen and Swashbuckle. In January 2011 the band took part in the 70000 Tons of Metal Festival in the Caribbean.
In early 2011 Ensiferum embarked on The Ugly World Tour 2011 with labelmates Children of Bodom, Amon Amarth, Machinae Supremacy supporting them for segments of their tour in the US and Canada. The tour took place within a 4-month period of time and spanned 23 countries.
The band's fifth studio album, Unsung Heroes, was released on August 24, 2012. It's also their final album for Spinefarm Records. The next year, Ensiferum signed with Metal Blade Records after thirteen years with their previous label. After release of the album, Ensiferum embarked on a tour of Europe and South America.
Ensiferum's sixth album, One Man Army, was released on February 20, 2015. The album was recorded at Astia Studio with producer Anssi Kippo. A music video for the title track "One Man Army" was released prior to the album's release. In March of that year, Ensiferum announced on their Facebook page that keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen would not be able to make the European and North American 'One Man Army Tour' due to personal commitments at home.
Former Turisas accordion player Netta Skog filled her role for the tour. Netta Skog had performed clean vocals on the One Man Army songs "Cry for the Earth Bounds" and "Neito Pohjolan". Heri Joensen of Týr makes an appearance on the track "Heathen Horde", quoting stanza 16 of Hávamál in Old Icelandic. On March 31, 2016 it was announced that Emmi Silvennoinen would take a leave of absence from the band because of personal issues. Netta Skog was confirmed as her permanent replacement. With Netta Skog in the line-up, the band entered the studio to record their seventh studio album, Two Paths. Anssi Kippo, who had produced One Man Army, was again chosen to produce the album.
On January 7, 2020, the band announced that they had begun recording a follow-up record to Two Paths, at Studio Petrax in Hollola, Finland. This release coincides with the band's 25th anniversary. On February 27, the band confirmed Pekka Montin as their new keyboard player and clean vocalist. The single "Rum, Women, Victory" was released on May 6, followed by a music video of the second single "Andromeda" on June 17. The band's eighth album, Thalassic, was released on 10 July 2020.
The instrumentation with guitar, bass and drums is typical of metal in general. In addition, instruments are also used that, like the traditional Finnish kantele, are more associated with Folk music. The kantele can be heard on all studio albums released to date. While folk instruments were generally used sparingly on the first album, their number increased on Iron. On Victory Songs, Ensiferum is already supported by a variety of guest musicians on different instruments.
The band's pieces are usually melodic. The singing fluctuates between clear and growly singing, and there are also choirs and occasional female singing. In addition to the electric guitar, you can also find acoustic guitars, for example at the beginning of the song Eternal Wait from the album Ensiferum.
A special feature is the way the band works when composing. Songs are often worked out in fragments, then others are further composed in the meantime and sometimes the old song structures are only written into finished songs years later. Sami Hinkka cited the song Pohjola (Unsung Heroes, 2012) as an example of this way of working in an interview with the German Metal Hammer. It should have already appeared on Victory Songs (2007), but it just wasn't finished at the time. Eventually we managed to finalize it for Unsung Heroes.' Because of this songwriting concept, there are already numerous half-finished songs for the band's next studio album.
While Jari Mäenpää was largely responsible for the lyrics on the first two albums, the majority of the lyrics on Victory Songs come from Sami Hinkka, although one text each was also contributed by Meiju Enho and Petri Lindroos. Regarding the content of the texts, Jari Mäenpää stated in an interview that they were not texts about Vikings. Rather, it was about self-invented legends and stories or personal feelings. Nevertheless, some texts deal with warrior or fighter themes. For example, the song Battle Song from the album Ensiferum says:
“We won this battle with might and fearless hearts
We came and we fulfilled our prophecy
With heads up high and glimmering eyes
we returned with our glory”
– Ensiferum, Titel Nr. 11: Battle Song. Spinefarm Records, Helsinki 2001
The song Into Battle from the album Iron, for example, takes a similar approach.
“Into battle we ride with gods by our side,
We're strong and not afraid to die,
We have an urge to kill
and our lust for blood has to be fullfilled”
The title "Tale of Revenge", on the other hand, speaks of revenge in lines such as “Until the day I have found revenge, I will feed my sword” (Ensiferum: Iron, track no. 4: Tale of Revenge. Spinefarm Records, Helsinki 2004). Opposite such texts are, for example, the lyrics to Lost in Despair from the album Iron or Eternal Wait from the album Ensiferum, where it says:
“I hear your silent cry
lost in the rainy night
No reason to live for
one reason to die for”
– Ensiferum, Titel Nr. 10: Eternal Wait. Spinefarm Records, Helsinki 2001
The assignment of Ensiferum to a genre is controversial, and accordingly they are classified under different styles or attributed to the influences from different styles. The style descriptions in the reviews of the band's works range from Folk metal, Death metal, Viking metal, and Pagan metal. The online metal encyclopedia The BNR Metal Pages writes “Folk Metal, Viking Metal”.
Reviewer Sebastian Schult from Vampster, on the other hand, uses formulations such as “melodic death/black metal”, “mixture of styles” and “fusion of extreme metal, folk melodies and traditional metal” in a review of Ensiferum, while his colleague Andrea Veyhle, among other things, speaks of a “mixture from Death Metal, Classic Metal riffs and lots of great melodies and choirs”. Alex Kragl from powermetal.de, who in his review of Ensiferum classified the style as death metal in the short summary, differentiates this in the actual review as follows:
Ensiferum combine a whole lot of styles in their sound. The basic structure consists mostly of old school death metal, with the same vocals, but the Finns manage to change this sound. The best way to explain it is: In Flames meet Helloween, who in turn meet In Extremo, only to later unite with Asphyx.”
– Alex Kragl: Review of Ensiferum
Stefan Popp from metal1.info characterizes Ensiferum's style in a differentiated way: “This is where In Flames, Finntroll and Blind Guardian come together, meet somewhere in the middle, and at least to some extent Ensiferum comes out of it. These shouldn't have been comparisons, just clues... but even then you can hardly imagine what the Finns sound like." Danny Hoff from folkmetal.de, on the other hand, sees Victory Songs as a conglomerate of “Death Metal, Viking Metal, Pagan Metal, Folk Metal”, whereas the following can be found in the text of the review: “Melodic Death Metal meets […] Power Metal/Heavy Metal and also pairs with Pagan and Folk.”
Rock Hard magazine reviewers vary in their descriptions of Ensiferum's style. Andreas Stappert writes in a review of Ensiferum that the band is “more rooted in the melodic death metal of the Gothenburg brand” and has “no black metal elements on board at all,” but “but rather focuses on melodies from 'normal' heavy metal.” set. Hansi Daberger, on the other hand, attests to Iron that “the style has not changed significantly a mixture of folkloric melodies and instruments, influences from the death and black camp,
a rich shot of traditional metal elements, that “All well packaged in catchy, epic anthems.” According to Meiju Enho, Ensiferum themselves describe their style as “Heroic Folk Metal”.
In an interview, guitarist and founder Markus Toivonen cites Folk music as important influences for Ensiferum, as well as bands like the early Amorphis, Dark Tranquility and Heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden. In another interview, when asked why the band covered the song Into Hiding by Amorphis, Markus Toivonen even replied: “Because Amorphis are the main reason why I started making music and founded Ensiferum. ‘Into Hiding’ is from the Tales From Thousand Lakes album and it is the best album of all time.”
(Markus Toivonen: Interview for metal1.info; accessed September 22, 2007). In another interview during Iron, Jukka-Pekka Miettinen also sees elements of Power metal. He states the following when the interviewer finds elements of classic heavy metal on Iron: “Our guitarist Markus Toivonen writes the songs. He used to listen to a lot of classic metal, the old bands like Manowar, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest” (Jukka-Pekka Miettinen: Interview with vampster.com; accessed on September 15, 2007).
Sauli Savolainen – bass (1995–1998)
Kimmo Miettinen – drums (1995–1998)
Jari Mäenpää – harsh & clean vocals, guitars (1996–2004)
Oliver Fokin – drums (1998–2005)
Jukka-Pekka Miettinen – bass (1998–2004)
Meiju Enho – keyboards (2001–2007)
Emmi Silvennoinen – keyboards, backing vocals (2007–2016)
Netta Skog – electric accordion, female vocals (2016–2017)
Source: Translated mainly from the German Wikipedia