Ensiferum – Battle for HonorSunday, 22nd February 2015
One of the leaders in the epic folk metal scene, Finland’s Ensiferum for many followers blends the right elements of melodic death and cultural themes in a striking manner. It also helps that their lyrical outlook focuses on heroic fantasy, legends, and heathen themes – often incorporating a lot of their own Finnish mythology and history to the mix. Moving fairly quickly past the loss of frontman Jari Mäenpää in 2004 (who would form Wintersun) following their second album Iron, Norther guitarist/vocalist Petri Lindroos didn’t miss a beat as his replacement.
Their sixth and latest studio album One Man Army appears at a time when the critics and fans have been less than thrilled with its predecessor, 2012’s Unsung Heroes. Many felt the need to tear the band apart from choosing a more pop oriented producer in Hilli Hiilesmaa to almost lambasting the decision to dig into the writing archives for material. So starting anew on Metal Blade Ensiferum it seems have unleashed a very powerful record which should appease the long-timers while hopefully gaining more newcomers to the fold.
Here to discuss more about Ensiferum is Petri, as we handled the tenuous Skype connection from his native Finland to America. Paying attention to the East Coast winter snow deluge (it appears to hit his homeland news every other day currently), I tried my best to cover a number of topics related to Ensiferum and his Norther past (his favorite work in the latter, Death Unlimited). And be prepared for a long worldwide tour to support One Man Army, taking the band to continents and audiences near and far.
Dead Rhetoric: What was your musical journey like in childhood – do you have any special fond memories that motivated you to pick up a guitar and push forward in forming bands?
Petri Lindroos: I was 14 when I first picked up the guitar. I ended up forming a band with some school friends before starting with Norther in 1996.
Dead Rhetoric: You balanced your time in Ensiferum and Norther for many years before getting kicked out of the latter in 2009. Did you mind concentrating in one band at that time – and has time healed all wounds in terms of keeping in touch with any of your ex-bandmates?
Lindroos: It wasn’t that tricky for me to actually balance the time because Norther was not that busy actually ever. We only did a couple of European tours, and like shows on the weekends plus some festivals during the summer. It was never actually taking that much time from me. Of course it sucked when the guys told me that I didn’t have enough time for (Norther), which was controversial to what I just said. I haven’t been talking to the guys that much, I did see the drummer Heikki Saari and the bass player Jukka Koskinen at the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise this past January.
Dead Rhetoric: Your new album One Man Army is your sixth studio record. Are there any new tricks to be learned for Ensiferum when it comes to recording and writing – or are you fairly content with your established style? I understand the main recording with Anssi Kippo took place using an analog desk, a first for Ensiferum – do you notice the differences yourself between analog and digital studio recording?
Lindroos: Yes, absolutely. Well of course when you are growing older they say that you are getting wiser. Could be true, could be not. We’ve been more calculating in a way, working with new material to work better. Giving a lot more thought to the music, what we want to do and not just do it, in a way if that makes sense. The analog desk, you can definitely hear a difference with the sound in comparison to the digital way of doing it. It gives things a little bit more character to it, (a) softer dynamic sound that comes out of it. It was a really nice surprise to work with that kind of mixing desk.
Dead Rhetoric: And when it comes to the songwriting, does the band work out everything ahead of time face to face or are you the type of band that works on parts alone and share files through the internet for revisions?
Lindroos: (Guitarist/ clean vocalist) Markus Toivonen is the main songwriter, he’s behind all of the music and he usually brings things in from home. He’ll put down the ideas and then we start to work them out for many hours through our rehearsal studio.
Dead Rhetoric: This is your first album for Metal Blade after spending your first 13 years on Spinefarm. Is there a sense of excitement to see where this change in labels can take the band?
Lindroos: Yes there is. We are very excited about this album and hopefully we can get it to work really, really well. Metal Blade has the capabilities to make things work even stronger in the United States, so that’s the goal of it.
Dead Rhetoric: Who came up with the idea for covering one of the classic theme songs “Rawhide” as a bonus track for the album? And what has been one of your favorite covers that you’ve recorded through the years?
Lindroos: Right now I can’t remember whose idea it was to record “Rawhide”. Everybody agreed that it’s just a wonderful and great song, and also since the time in the studio was pretty limited we couldn’t pick out an epic song to work on so “Rawhide” was a very nice option. This is known worldwide for many, many decades – so it was easy to work with and turn into an Ensiferum cover. One of my favorites is actually Uriah Heep’s “Lady in Black” which we did in the Victory Songs studio time.
Dead Rhetoric: I must say the chord chart competition you came up with for “Two of Spades” on Facebook is something I’ve never seen another band do – who decided to develop this in the band and does this creative endeavor make you appreciate your following that much more?
Lindroos: (laughs) If I remember correctly it was our bass player Sami’s idea to put that one online. We have mapped out the songs, that kind of board, on the songs for Victory Songs. For an outsider I wondered how people could make out that kind of scribbling on a paper. It was really cool, people put a lot of effort into it. Some of the versions of what they come up with were really nice. It was a shame that there weren’t as many versions with vocals, we got a lot of instrumental versions. There were at least 30-40 different songs that we got to choose for the competition and we rewarded the 3 best ones.
Dead Rhetoric: In your version of the song, you were able to get a special guest appearance from a famous Finnish disco singer, correct?
Lindroos: Yes, the guy is Frederik, he is close to 65-70 nowadays and still going strong in Finland. He’s been in the music business since the 1960’s. It was very cool to get him to do that part on that particular song.
Dead Rhetoric: As you gain more wisdom and experience, have your views on touring changed through the years?
Lindroos: Yes they have. We are not partying that hard anymore. It was a long, long time ago when the guys from Children of Bodom told me that we didn’t have to drink all the alcohol that is offered to us. This is 10 years later and I got it. I couldn’t believe this advice when I was like 23.
Dead Rhetoric: What was it like to perform in South Africa during 2010 – it’s not one of the major territories recognized for supporting heavy metal?
Lindroos: No it’s not – but it was really great. Kind of funny because we played three shows in the same city. That was in Johannesburg and the reason was because it’s too dangerous for people to go across town, so we needed to go to the different parts of the city to play. It was fun, all the four shows we had 300-400 people that came out every night.
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