Friday, March 21, 2014

Eat Your Heart Out, Ensiferum: Will of the Ancients - To Our Glorious Dead (2013)

A glorious title deserves a glorious cover.
When Ensiferum released their fifth full-length, Unsung Heroes, in 2012, fans complained, lashed out, and cried bloody murder, wondering what had happened to their beloved band. "Why?!" they exclaimed. "Where is the band that gave us From Afar and Victory Songs?" The situation certainly looked bleak, but given the history of popular music, it was all too familiar. Over an extended period of time, very few artists can keep up a string of brilliant records and often become victims of their own successes. All it takes is a single misstep to destroy a reputation worked so hard to achieve, and sadly for Ensiferum, Unsung Heroes just wasn't up to snuff.

Metal fans witnessed the same thing in 1990, when Iron Maiden released their first album of the decade, No Prayer for the Dying. With Adrian Smith's departure, the band embarked on a quest for a rawer, heavier Maiden, stripping down their sound in the process, but it was too good to be true. Because Bruce Dickinson's relations with the band were growing more and more tense, the music suffered, and his solo record, which he released earlier that year, gave indication of his ambitions to go out on his own. It didn't help that his enthusiasm toward touring with Iron Maiden had gone completely awry, either.

Fortunately, an underground hero always steps up to the plate to fill the shoes left behind by a faltering band. Many times, these artists range from being aesthetically similar, outright clones, or based loosely on these bands' musical template, but the better ones inject their own sound into the mix, creating an aesthetic that feels familiar while being new.

Today, the underground hero--all the way from Canada--is Will of the Ancients. Although they have big shoes to fill, they build upon Ensiferum's sound with their sophomore effort, To Our Glorious Dead, while simultaneously incorporating touches of their own. Think of Ensiferum minus the minor melodic death metal influence and instead with a combination of black, folk, and miscellaneous metal sub-genres, all backed by Pagan themes. The mix and match works extremely well--despite the fact that the style tends to jump all over the place--and makes Will of the Ancients appear as if they're seasoned veterans this early into their career.

Musically, To Our Glorious Dead offers no surprises because the band wears Ensiferum on their sleeves, but each member displays his craft with expertise. Perhaps the most impressive musician is the drummer, who rattles off lightning fast blast beats in the midsection of "Trench Raider," but the rest of record is no slouch, either. Songs like "The Trapper," Shield of Stone," and the best on the album, "The Stars like Dust," push boundaries with their random-sub-genre-meets-folk-metal aesthetic that, quite frankly, is Will of the Ancients' main drawing point. Without it, they wouldn't be half as impressive, no matter how well composed the music is.

In short, To Our Glorious Dead is a record no one saw coming, but the majority of listeners (or just me!) still welcome the music with open arms, because it covers the lack of a decent, recent Ensiferum release. Two albums into their career, Will of the Ancients has already set the bar high--perhaps too high--but no matter; I'm rooting for them, hoping for many more fruitful years of music. As long as they keep writing tracks like "The Stars like Dust," with wonderful, melodic leads, I'm all in.

Ensiferum fans, rejoice. Your newest obsession is here.


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