Interview with Ensiferum bassist/vocalist Sami Hinkka | By Sean Gonzalez
Helsinki’s Ensiferum have a renewed energy filled with triumph, and it has been translated into their newest epic, Two Paths. The seventh full-length from the group – out now via Metal Blade Records – continues their run at becoming a staple of the folk metal genre.
Ensiferum’s trademark blistering riffs and nigh-fabled leads help stage the perfect atmosphere for their heroic tales to live in. One listen to the marching war drum patterns of “Way of the Warrior,” and one can easily grasp the style of Ensiferum, the main motif being warped into a character-driven melody, full of pride and an inspiring theme of disposing of all foes. “When the song started to get ready with most of the parts, it was really easy to write the lyrics because the song was obviously becoming strong, heroic, and catchy,” bassist and vocalist Sami Hinkka comments.
For much of Two Paths, Ensiferum played their parts live, directly to analog, and sometimes without a click track, allowing for sections to have a more organic and charismatic taste, like the end of “Way of the Warrior.” Hinkka states, “Maybe the biggest difference was that we recorded drums, bass, rhythm guitars, and harsh vocals with analog method on tape without editing and overall trying to achieve as live a feeling and sound as possible.”
Another step in the right direction for the band’s sound was the addition of former Turisas accordionist Netta Skog, who made an immediate impact. “She comes from a bit different musical background, so we would have been stupid not to exploit her creativity and knowledge,” Hinkka adds, explaining she was a key component to creating certain arrangements. On “Feast with Valkyries,” her accordion playing lends a big hand to the championing melody, accenting the multiple vocal styles and taking leads to new heights, transporting the listener to a hall filled with warriors devouring giant plates of game and mugs full of mead.
While their melodies usually accompany images of victory and triumph, the song “King of Storms” is grimmer, telling the story of a corrupt king willing to bring pain and viciousness to the land. The song’s breakneck speed is attributed to drummer Janne Parviainen, as Hinkka originally wrote the song to be mid-tempo and heavy. “That’s the beauty of writing songs together,” he says, “someone might come up with a suggestion or arrangement idea that you didn’t even think about. ‘King of Storms’ is interesting song, because even though it’s a fast piece, it’s still quite long song, but since the arrangement turned out to be excellent, it doesn’t feel like that long.” The guitar and vocal duels and callbacks by Petri Lindroos and Markus Toivonen help the song achieve its status as the most dynamic track on the record.
Traversing Two Paths is like opening a collection of folk tales, and each song is an incredible achievement in capturing the feel, look, and sound of these epics. “God Is Dead” is a rock-heavy track bitten by a drunken choir. It was originally penned as an acoustic track, but Hinkka reflects, “I don’t think Ensiferum has ever rocked this hard before. I had the idea for the lyrics before the song, and since the song became quite straight-forward, I wanted the chorus to be simple.” The song bellows around its catchy refrain perfectly, with the entire band thrashing in unison, showcasing yet another reason why Two Paths is Ensiferum’s greatest victory anthem yet.