Sometimes the best bands are the ones that had to work to win you over

It’s easy as a shit after a curry to stick to your first opinion about a band. Anyone can take one listen to a band, say “yay” or “nay” and never revise that inclination until the band release a Cold Lake. But sometimes the ones that can form the strongest attachments are the ones who you didn’t initially get on with.

Ensiferum used to do absolutely nothing for me. I used to think Victory Songs was decent but overly held up on that excellent closer, that From Afar was OK but never had the wow it needed to change my mind, and I was (and still aren’t, really) very keen on Unsung Heroes. Add into that my irrational, blind love for Wintersun that (for a while) made me think anything Finnish, epic, and vaguely folky is inherently less than what Jari Mäenpää could do with it, and Ensiferum  were firmly tagged in my mind as also-rans.

You can tell this from the Finnish folk metal cover of Terrorizer 246, when I was commissioning ed, and somehow threw together a labour of love I never thought I’d be able to convince anyone involved to do. Ensiferum are, you may spot, not there. And that wasn’t an accident or some availability issue.

So boy, did I feel stupid when One Man Army came out in 2015, and from meh-where, Ensiferum catapulted up my list of favourite bands at a speed Finns usually only reach when they’re driving for Mercedes or Ferrari. I can’t think of a single album which has made me so radically revise a firm, long-held opinion. And not just because of that wonderful, deliriously insane folk/country/disco song (although that helps).

The album as a whole is bloody wonderful, with 4 or 5 tracks I routinely listen shove into journey-to-work playlists 2 years on, even aside from ‘Two Of Spades‘. And it forced me to reconsider what they’d done before.

Coming back to records you already knew but weren’t mad on can make you hear things you didn’t dig the first 4 times you listened to it (or, at least, appreciate them differently). The attitude you have to a band when you dive into a record is impossible to set aside (for evidence, see anyone trying and failing to pretend that “this isn’t Reign in Blood” plays a role in their opinion of a recent Slayer record that isn’t God Hates Us All). When I first visited Ensiferum, my attitude was that I probably wouldn’t like them; having slipped in my own froth trying to get to the front of their show after One Man Army came out, when I went back, the albums sounded more emphatic and uplifting.

From Afar suddenly sounds like a killer record. Victory Songs is a serious contender for my “epic metal” top 10 of all time. Even Unsung Heroes now has a few tunes I’ll put on, even if I still don’t love it overall. Which is great. Falling in love with one album helped me fall in love with two more and bits of a third. But it’s the new record that’s most made me notice my shift in attitude.

Ensiferum - Two Paths

Two Paths isn’t Victory Songs- or One Man Army-good. Which isn’t a criticism (Turisas are still trying to get one album that strong, let alone two), it’s simply a comparison. It’s still got a hell of lot going for it, particularly ‘Don’t You Say‘ and the stupendously titled ‘For Those About To Fight For Metal‘. But do I think that, for a moment, I’d be as into this if I hadn’t had the One Man Army revelation. I’d probably have given it a listen or two then moved onto something else, rather than sticking with it and letting the Finns’ catchy melody worm its way into my brain.

The “there’s no fanatic like the convert” cliche can easily be a load of bollocks; changing your mind about something doesn’t dictate the strength with which you have your new feeling. But realising you’d misread your enthusiasm for something can also make you more careful about not making the same mistake with the band again, as your prior change of heart can keep you more attentive than an always-loved act.

Ensiferum are my big about-face (not the only one, but the biggest). Although given how much fun I’ve had changing my mind about them, I’m slightly hoping I find an even more dramatic one in the future.