Album Review – Winterhymn / Blood & Shadow (2016)

If your fearless heart claims for top-notch Epic Folk Metal, you’ll definitely enjoy this excellent compilation of songs perfect for your mead-drinking and mud-fighting parties.


Blood&Shadow_FrontAlthough I couldn’t see Pagan/Folk Metal squad Winterhymn kicking ass live during Paganfest America Part V here in Toronto in 2014 due to traffic issues (as you can read HERE), I went after their music to get to know more about this American sextet, and let me tell you I was impressed with the energy, passion and creativity flowing from their symphonic and progressive compositions. With that said, I guess I don’t need to mention how excited I got when I received their brand new album for review, the melodious Blood & Shadow, right?

Since their inception in 2009, these folk metallers from Cincinnati, Ohio have been bringing the epicness of Celtic and Scandinavian Folk sounds to the United States, starting with their 2011 debut album Songs for the Slain until this year’s Blood & Shadow, also sharing the stage with renowned names like Eluveitie, Turisas, Chthonic, Arkona and many others. Featuring a beautiful and sanguinary artwork by Irish artist Vasilis Zikos, reflecting a scene from Winterhymn’s personal mythos (which the album is entirely based upon), Blood & Shadow is the soundtrack for drinking lots of mead and getting in random fights in the mud around a bonfire, all embraced by the undeniable talent of four brave lads and two stunning maidens.

Blending elements from Folk and Black Metal with hints of Power Metal, the melodic battle chant Blood of the Moon kicks off the album on a high note by bringing forward a very epic rhythm with highlights to the mesmerizing sound by violinist Umbriel, followed by Dream of Might, which leans towards pure Folk Metal. Albeit slower than the opening track, it still offers a high dosage of epicness, with the vocals by lead singer and guitarist Draug being perfectly complemented by the pounding drums by Valthrun and the once again incredible violin sounds by Umbriel. And the outstanding Pagan Metal composition Blood Burner is one of those songs tailored for fans of vicious battle chants who love to slam into the circle pit with a pint of cold beer in hand, with Draug and Varrik providing some exciting riffs and solos while Valthrun doesn’t let the amazing energy in the music go down.

Less violent and with a more progressive flow (but still very impactful), Legacy in Flames offers lyrics about the everyday life of a warrior nicely declaimed by Draug and bassist Alvadar (“We hunt our prey / With our last breath / By the sanguine moon / Through realms of death / So curse our name / You’ll be slaughtered all the same / Your legacy in flames”), with its last part being highly recommended for prancing around a fire pit with a pint of mead; whereas The Summoning displays a higher focus on Death Metal guttural vocals while instrumental is purely Folk Metal, a good balance that works well for a while but that unfortunately falls flat close to the end of it. Seafarer, a “Middle Earth-inspired song”, is a semi-acoustic ballad where violin and acoustic guitars generate the perfect atmosphere for Draug and his clean vocals, a soulful break from the band’s traditional battle hymns before Silenced by the Northern Winds gets back to brutal folk music with Draug leading the band’s onrush with his imposing growls, boosted by an excellent guitar solo to properly conclude this thrilling tune.

zGroup (22)In Shadow We Ride, another classic Folk Metal tune by Winterhymn, offers the listener slower beats and a fighting vibe, with its second half getting slightly heavier and, consequently, adding some extra flavor to the overall result (especially the potent bass lines by Alvadar). And in Huntsman, a serene intro morphs into brutal Pagan Metal, with its lyrics being everything a fan of this type of music loves (“They marched across the Iron Jaw with sword and helm / Seeking fabled woodland doorways to the twilight realms / The proudest of their captains are now hunted like boars / Their banners lie in gory pools upon the forest floor”). Moreover, all instruments sound potent and sharp, accrediting it to be one of the best songs of the new album for their live performances.

The final triad of Folk Metal in Blood & Shadow begins with the electrifying The Wolf’s Head, where Death and Power Metal elements arise. The song’s riffs and solos, together with the precise drumming by Valthrun, set the music on fire, with both guttural and clean vocals and the background sonority crafted by Umbriel and Exura on violin and keyboards, respectively, being absolutely outstanding. Into the Depths shows the whole band still has enough fuel for more Epic Pagan Metal, which after a solid intro gets heavier than almost everything from the album, not to mention the heroic singing by Draug. And lastly, Umbriel dictates the rhythm through her fast and melodious violin in The Chosen End, where all band members unite to provide the listener a full-bodied composition overflowing courage, passion and pain, a climatic ending for such a professional album.

If your courageous heart claims for top-notch Epic Folk Metal, go check Winterhymn’s Facebook page, as well as their YouTube channel and ReverbNation page, and don’t forget to buy their new album at the SoundAge Productions’ webstore, at the band’s BandCamp page, on iTunes or on Amazon. As aforementioned, there’s no better way to get drunk with mead and engage into mud-fighting than to the sound of such an amazing band like Winterhymn.

Best moments of the album: Blood Burner, Silenced by the Northern Winds and The Wolf’s Head.

Worst moments of the album: The Summoning.

Released in 2016 SoundAge Productions

Track listing
1. Blood of the Moon 3:48
2. Dream of Might 3:59
3. Blood Burner 3:19
4. Legacy in Flames 4:51
5. The Summoning 4:12
6. Seafarer 3:20
7. Silenced by the Northern Winds 6:53
8. In Shadow We Ride 4:47
9. Huntsman 5:23
10. The Wolf’s Head 3:39
11. Into the Depths 6:25
12. The Chosen End 4:31

Band members
Draug – vocals, lead guitar
Varrik – guitar
Alvadar – bass, backing vocals
Exura – keyboards
Umbriel – violin
Valthrun – drums

Metal Chick of the Month – Emmi Silvennoinen


Aina sydämessäin oon… Neito pohjolan…

Brothers of the North, sharpen your swords and axes, grab your war hammers and shields, paint your faces with the colors of your Norse clans and be prepared to bleed in the battlefield fighting side by side with our Metal Chick of the Month, the lionhearted Finnish warrior Emmi Silvennoinen, former keyboardist for Finnish Epic Folk Metal band Ensiferum. If you dig Scandinavian girls and are also crazy for electrifying fighting chants, Emmi will certainly drive you moonstruck.

Born on April 9, 1988 in the city of Vantaa, Finland, the fourth most populated Finnish city and also part of the inner core of the Finnish Capital Region along with Helsinki, Espoo, and Kauniainen, Emmi stepped in as the keyboardist for Ensiferum for their live performances following the departure of Meiju Enho in September 2007, until she finally joined the band as their permanent keyboard player for the recording of the album From Afar, in 2009.

Before becoming part of Ensiferum’s metallic army, our gorgeous Scandinavian shieldmaiden was the keyboardist for a Finnish Melodic Death/Gothic Metal band named Exsecratus, from Helsinki, with whom she recorded the demo Execute, in 2006, and the full-length album Tainted Dreams, in 2007. Although the band doesn’t exist anymore, you can still enjoy Emmi’s impassioned keyboard notes embellishing the band’s sounding in interesting songs such as Under the Winter Moon, My Last Fight and Suicide. As you can see, Emmi used to play a completely different style than her work with Ensiferum, but that doesn’t mean her excellent skills behind the keyboards were less important or less effective for the music by Exsecratus.

As aforementioned, our Finnish “valkyrja” joined Ensiferum back in 2007 as the band’s keyboardist for all their upcoming live performances when in 2009 she finally got the full-time job with them, recording her first single with Ensiferum called From Afar, which is also the name of her first full-length album with the band, from 2009. From that album, one of the most interesting tracks is Twilight Tavern, which official video features live footage from the famous venue Nosturi, located in Helsinki. After that strong start, Emmi also recorded with Ensiferum the singles Stone Cold Metal (2010) and Burning Leaves (2012), the full-length album Unsung Heroes (2012), the fun Suomi Warmetal EP (2014), and more recently the full-length album One Man Army (2015).

Among all Ensiferum songs that could be used to present Emmi’s solid skills as a musician, I believe the title-track of their latest album, One Man Army, is a very good example of what she’s capable of doing. In addition, why not grab a cold beer and enjoy the sound of her keyboards in their cover versions for the all-time classics Wrathchild (Iron Maiden) and Breaking The Law (Judas Priest)? Despite the fact both original songs do not have any keyboard parts at all, she managed to add her own notes to the music, enhancing their uniqueness compared to all other cover versions for those two songs you might find anywhere.

Emmi hasn’t been in many parallel projects apart from her full-time commitment with Ensiferum, except for playing keyboards in the album Hymns of the Mortals – Songs from the North (2014) by Finnish Melodic Death Metal band Thyrien. Again, the musicality crafted by Thyrien is quite different from the Folk Metal by Ensiferum, as you can see in the excellent tune When The Horizon Burns, once again showcasing Emmi’s versatility and ability to adapt to what the music is asking for.

One very important detail about Emmi’s natural aptitude for music is that she doesn’t only play regular keyboards in her life and career, but she can also play the Hammond organ, the pump organ, the regular organ and the piano, not to mention she was also doing the backing vocals in all songs by Ensiferum. If that doesn’t prove to you how dexterous our charming keyboardist is, I honestly have no idea what really would.

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Due to the fact that Emmi was a live musician for a good couple of years with Ensiferum, I thought it would be nice to have some words from our diva regarding her life on the road, her opinion about the importance of live performances to a metal band, or anything similar to that. Fortunately, I was able to find an interview where, when asked about the differences between playing at a big festival and playing at small venues, she gave a short and sweet explanation of the importance of festivals to bands like Ensiferum. “There are usually more people who hasn’t heard of our music, and festivals are a place to show all we got”, she said, and let’s admit she’s absolutely right about that.

Furthermore, if you’re either a fan of Emmi and the music by Ensiferum or if you’re a newcomer to the world of Epic and Folk Metal, you can enjoy Emmi kicking ass on her favorite place on earth, which is on a festival stage together with the other members of the band, playing songs such as Windrider (at With Full Force XV, Germany, 2008), Lai Lai Hei and Token Of Time (both at Wacken Open Air, Germany, 2008), or even Ensiferum’s full performance at the RockHard Festival, in Germany, on May 18, 2013.

However, in the past few years Emmi was unfortunately forced to sit out of some of Ensiferum’s tours around the world for personal reasons (which were not disclosed anywhere), culminating in her definite departure from the band in April this year. In 2013, she missed the band’s South American tour which was scheduled to start on May 28 in Bogota, Colombia, with her parts being replaced by backing tracks as per a statement released by the rest of the group. And in the beginning of 2015 Emmi couldn’t make it to Ensiferum’s European and North American tours, when she was replaced by the digital accordion of Netta Skog (ex-Turisas). “This was a very tough decision for me to make to not be a part of the European and North American tours, but I am so happy that not only an amazing musician will be standing in for me, but also a close friend. I hope you all enjoy the shows and the new songs with Netta – I’m looking forward to returning to play them for you in the summer!”, she stated, showing her relationship with the band was more than perfect at that time. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get back in action due to family reasons, being replaced permanently by Netta.

Lastly, I wish there were more interviews (both written and on YouTube) with Emmi to be shared with all of you, but it looks like she’s either more reserved than the other members of the band, or that interviewers all over the world are wasting some amazing opportunities to ask a few questions to such a unique musician. Anyway, if you speak Finnish you might have a good time with this interview to a Finnish channel called MoonTV (I couldn’t understand almost anything, obviously), and if you’re a fan of radical sports you can check Emmi and the other members of Ensiferum going paragliding in the valleys of Slovenia after their concert at Metaldays, held in Tolmin, Slovenia in 2013. Adrenaline has always been the perfect catalyst for good heavy music, don’t you think?

“It’s nice to see Scandinavian folk metal bands, especially Finnish bands, are doing well all around the world. I’m proud to be part of this, and it’s nice to see people are loving this kind of music, and getting inspirations from Scandinavian bands for their own music and all their lifestyles.” – Emmi Silvennoinen

Album Review – Ensiferum / One Man Army (2015)

Another good heavy music album by one of the most influential Folk Metal armies from Finland.


ensiferum_one man armyWhen Folk Metal came into prominence in the early 2000’s, more specifically due to several promising bands from Finland such as Finntroll, Korpiklaani and Turisas, we all knew that was a subgenre of heavy music that was definitely here to stay. However, despite each band having their own characteristics, the nature and limitations of Folk Metal made it clear it was going to be really tough for all bands to reinvent themselves over the years and to avoid becoming stale or ostracized, a terrible curse upon any type of artist in the world. Even with this dark shadow over every band who decided to follow the path of folk and heavy music, Finnish Epic Folk Metal band Ensiferum have managed somehow to remain relevant and kept delivering decent albums like One Man Army, the sixth full-length album in their career.

Fans of the band will agree with me when I say that Ensiferum (the Latin word for “Sword Bearer” in case you don’t know it) have as their main attribute their ability to always craft melodic and epic songs, it doesn’t matter the album nor the speed or length of the song. One Man Army, featuring a great album art by renowned illustrator Gyula Havancsák, is no exception to that and will surely please most admirers of epic metal music. Far from being a masterpiece, perhaps the biggest problem with One Man Army is that some of its songs sound too repetitive and in some cases too epic (even knowing this feature is deeply rooted in their music), but that doesn’t mean you cannot grab you sword and shield or maybe enjoy a huge pint of barley wine while listening to it.

Although the intro March Of War sounds more like “Western Folk” than pure folk music, that doesn’t make it less fun nor harms the next track, the faster and more violent than usual Axe Of Judgment. Can it be called Blackened Epic Folk Metal? Anyway, the harsh screams by Petri Lindroos are quite effective, with the keyboards by Emmi Silvennoinen and its backing vocals adding more “epicness” to this battle tune. Then we have a truly awesome Epic Metal song entitled Heaten Horde, where the 100% Manowar chorus sung by Ensiferum’s “horde” is its highlight for sure and will thrill all fans during their live concerts (“All heathen hearts, / Answer the call, / God of thunder bless our swords, / Our heathen horde, / Will never fall, / We are hungry for blood, steel and war”), not to mention they even used an Old Norse poem in the lyrics as an amazing “bonus”.

One Man Army, the first single of the album, showcases riffs and double bass that couldn’t sound more Scandinavian metal, and again they abuse of the backing vocals in a good way. In addition, it’s kind of impressive how bands like Ensiferum can sing about battles and war in each and every song they record and still sound fresh in many cases. But getting back to the album, after the nice folk intro Burden Of The Fallen, perfect for enjoying around the fire pit while roasting a leg of goose and having a cold beer, Ensiferum offer us Warrior Without A War, which despite its epic start and all the band’s efforts to make it even more epic, especially the “Oh-oh-oh!” in the background, is just an average song with not much to offer to the listener.

ensiferumAnd the boring Cry For The Earth Bounds follows a similar formula: another epic battle intro done by some kind of choir, lyrics talking about war, keyboards giving it an extra touch of magic and so on, but nothing that makes the song outstanding. Quite the contrary, it gets really tiring and falls totally flat after a while. In the excellent Two Of Spades, they finally sing about something that’s not a medieval battle, but a more contemporary type of war: gambling! Its truly exciting riffs and vocals are good indicators they should invest more on this type of raw and direct metal, with its disco beats and Finnish lines being interesting elements added to the song.

The following two tracks, My Ancestor’s Blood and Descendants, Defiance, Domination , form one song name “Heathen Throne Part III”. The first song is pretty boring, with its riffs sounding too generic and its rhythm being as monotone as possible, while the second part is even worse: there was no doubt an 11-minute tune would sound epic, sorrowful and imposing, but the overall result is extremely disappointing due to the lack of energy and entrenchment. In other words, the song just goes on and on forever, with its instrumental parts being very basic, and you even forget to follow the storyline at a given point. Fortunately, Neito Pohjolan closes the regular version of the album beautifully with its awesome lyrics (“Eessä myrskytuulien / Eessä elon taistojen / Aina sydämessäin oon / Neito pohjolan”, or in English “In front of storm clouds / In front of battles of life / In my heart I’ll always be / Lady of the North”). It is as folk as it can be, with Emmi leading the singing and more important than that, in Finnish, making it a very enjoyable tune.

And if you’re in doubt about purchasing One Man Army or not, or which version of the album is the most suitable for your collection, I suggest you go for the limited edition with its four witty bonus tracks. I would say the best ones are the fun Rawhide and the violent Warmetal, which by the way are better than 90% of the songs from the regular version of the album. In summary, Ensiferum might not exactly be a “one man army” as the name of the album says nor the most creative band in the world, but they’re indeed a solid and interesting Folk Metal army that will keep you entertained and ready for battle with their epic and melodic heavy music.

Best moments of the album: Heaten Horde, One Man Army and Two Of Spades.

Worst moments of the album: Cry For The Earth Bounds, My Ancestor’s Blood and Descendants, Defiance, Domination.

Released in 2015 Metal Blade Records

Track listing
1. March Of War 1:32
2. Axe Of Judgment 4:33
3. Heathen Horde 4:12
4. One Man Army 4:25
5. Burden Of The Fallen 1:49
6. Warrior Without A War 5:24
7. Cry For The Earth Bounds 7:31
8. Two Of Spades 3:39
9. My Ancestors’ Blood (Heathen Throne Рart III) 4:30
10. Descendants, Defiance, Domination (Heathen Throne Рart III) 11:20
11. Neito Pohjolan 4:10

Limited Edition bonus tracks
12. Candour And Lies 4:11
13. Rawhide 2:35
14. Warmetal 2:54
15. Bonus Song 4:29

Band members
Petri Lindroos – harsh vocals, guitars
Markus Toivonen – guitars, backing vocals, clean vocals
Sami Hinkka – bass, clean vocals
Emmi Silvennoinen – keyboards, backing vocals
Janne Parviainen – drums