The deep forests of Finland: home to elk, trolls and many, many groups of friends who play metal together (metal bands account for 57% of Finland's GDP, true fact). It's a far cry from the rather less grim and frostbitten setting of Brixton, but the two came together on Friday when Finnish Viking folk metal band Ensiferum played at the Fridge. For the uninitiated, Viking folk metal does exactly what it says on the mead drinking horn made from the skulls of your enemies: it's metal with a strong folk music influence, with Viking-themed lyrics. Simple, really; it's music to rape and pillage by, but in a good-natured, probably slightly drunken way. The only odd thing is that the Finns weren't actually a full-on Viking nation; they sat back and watched while their Scandinavian neighbours messed around in longboats rather than grabbing the nearest axe and joining in.
Melodic death metal band Naildown provided the support and were largely unremarkable; solid enough guitars and rhythm let down a bit by a pretty uncharismatic frontman. The frat-boy guitarist – blond Mohican, baggy knee-length shorts – looked a little out of place too, but never mind. We sought out some mead, uh, beer, and waited for the main attraction to appear. We had to drink it out of cans – classy! – rather than the aforementioned skulls of our enemies, however.
Ensiferum formed way back in the mists of time when the members were hardly more than toddlers; after various demos their well-regarded eponymous debut came out in 2001, followed up by the smash-hit (in the world of Viking folk metal, anyway) Iron in 2004. After the release of Iron, former lead vocalist and guitarist Jari Mäenpää departed to form his epic one-and-a-bit-man-band Wintersun, and was eventually replaced with Petri Lindroos of Norther. This caused some grumbling in metal circles as Norther are seen as not very kvlt - their last EP got to number 1 in Finland and everything! – so would Petri be able to fill Jari's boots?
Well, yes, as it turned out, he did quite a decent job on both the older material and the songs from the forthcoming Victory Songs; singing in a consistently harsher, less melodic style than was Jari's wont, he did justice to the old standards (Hero In A Dream, Windrider, Iron and even a triumphant LAI LAI HEI). Minor moan: we could have asked for the vocals to be a bit higher up the mix, perhaps. Drums, bass, keyboards and guitars were heavy, intricate and exhilarating, with the enthusiastic crowd singing along to the anthem-y bits, and swinging their hair in time.
There was some very pleasing synchronised headbanging action from the band, too; there's nothing like three blokes doing windmill-in-hurricane impressions to warm the cockles of Londonist's heart. The set was a satisfying length, and featured rather a lot of tracks from the new album; this proved no impediment to the crowd's enjoyment, as the new songs were uniformly catchy and melodic, somehow typically Ensiferum even without Jari. Finally, a mention of how much we loved the band's stage attire: topless (apart from the keyboardist) with leather trousers and black streaks across the cheekbones is very metal, even - even! - when one has the faintest soupçon of a muffin-top (oh, we are sooo bitchy). When the Fridge's usual Friday night crowd rolled in post-gig, there was enough leather in the venue to provide covers for every sofa in every DFS in the UK, which we found mightily amusing as we headed into the night on a high, dreaming of longboats and mead.
Pre-booking notice: Swedish Viking death metal band Amon Amarth will be playing at the Carling Academy Islington on April 18, supported by folk-polka metal nutcases Finntroll; do come along! Bring your own axe.
More photos from the gig here