Ensiferum’s self-titled debut in January 2001 was a prophetic landmark in metal, and I remember the feeling I got when I first heard it, probably about a year later. It wasn’t groundbreaking in its originality. No, I’d heard music like it before, here and there, scattered throughout my earliest mp3 collections. Blind Guardian and Rhapsody (of Fire), with their epic folk-infused triumphal marches and war cries, Thyrfing, with their stomp-along anthems to some Nordic specter, that peculiar absurdity Finntroll, so difficult to describe at the time… these bands had all been brought to my attention before Ensiferum.
I did not perceive at the time a common thread connecting them all. I was just frantically whipping my 28.8 kilobit per second modem headfirst into a musical fog, oblivious as it began to coalesce around me. Napster was dead, and with it passed my inclination to only pirate the most popular metal and grunge’s dying embers. Audiogalaxy was the new center of musical civilization, and with it came enlightenment. You didn’t just type in what you wanted and download it. You discussed it in chatrooms. You discussed it in forums. You carried the discussions over to more general-purpose forums. The internet became more united among music enthusiasts than it has ever been before or since.
Thus it was that 2001 served as a landmark year for me. I would look up Blind Guardian, and an hour later (well, this was 2001, so more like a day later) I would be enjoying Elvenking’s To Oak Woods Bestowed demo, Within Temptation’s Mother Earth, Therion’s Deggial… I didn’t know that these were all relatively new releases, I couldn’t categorize them into genres, and I had no real means of becoming informed about the bands save word of mouth (like anyone had heard of Wikipedia or Google back then). All I knew, or at least thought I knew, was that certain people had an incredible aptitude for finding and recommending music I would consistently love. I had not yet recognized the phenomenon at work here–the significance of the fact that all of this music was appearing at around the same time.
It must have been around the end of 2001 that I stumbled upon Ensiferum. By then I had heard dozens, maybe a hundred non-mainstream metal bands that I loved, and I was starting to pick up on their common themes, but I hadn’t fully put my finger on it. Then I saw this album cover, heard this song, and went “Ah ha! This is viking metal.” It might not be the precise term I would use today, and it might sound rather trivial, but at the time it was a sort of epiphany. This was the amalgamation of all of the metal Audiogalaxy had offered me under one roof. All of the amazing new things going on between about 1996 and 2001 suddenly took form as a conscious whole; Ensiferum was a glorious sign of things to come, heralding a new age of metal.
“From the three ascending moons,
moonshine was spilling onto the ground.
Gruesome trophies were all around,
in the halls of the Goblin King.
Now the victory is ours!
Let us dance the dance of immortals!”