Markus Toivonen played guitar with some friends in a band called ”Dark Reflections” which played mainly covers of certain heavy metal bands including Megadeth, Pantera and many others. Later on Markus felt that the band in which he was playing offered him very little inspiration and wanted to play something different. Markus was hugely inspired by folk music and also found himself fascinated about melodic death metal bands, like Amorphis and Dark Tranquility. Then one day Markus asked the band’s drummer, Kimmo Miettinen, if he wanted to play heroic folk ’death’ metal with him. Kimmo agreed. Next Markus and Kimmo asked their friend Sauli Savolainen, if he wanted to come and play the bass. Fortunately he said yes. Now they had a band. Only trouble was that the band had no name at the time. One day Markus was visiting Sauli at his home, when he found a book. A Latin Dictionary. Markus casually opened the book. And from the first randomly picked page he glanced at a word. Ensiferum. Markus found the word fascinating and when he read the translation he got really excited of this word…
Ensiferum started it’s training in January 1996 at the Pasila Youthcenter in Helsinki (the same place their earlier band Dark Reflections had their rehearsals). Markus begun writing songs in 1995, which he got finished later 1996. The songs were ”Knighthood”, ”Old Man (Väinämöinen)” and ”Frost”. Later in the same year Markus lured Jari Mäenpää (at the time a member of a band Immemorial and an experienced solo artist) to join his band as a singer and a second guitarist. Jari came aboard with some great skills and excellent musical ideas. Thus the band was no longer a trio, but a quartet. Jari proved to be a skillfull lyricist and wrote the lyrics on ”Old Man”. The two other songs required no new lyrics for Jari to write, because Markus had done the original lyrics on ”Knighthood” and Sauli to ”Frost”. So Jari just improved them. Ensiferum had their first concert at Pasila Youthcenter in December 1996. Ironically, they perfomed just one song, ”Old Man”, which was the only song including finished lyrics.
Jari went to army in January and the band was in halt. The rest of the guys used this spare time to improve their playing skills. Ensiferum had two unofficial gigs in Pasila (the other in the Youthcenter and the other one outside of it) with a strange line-up…
Jari finished his duty in the army in the fall of 1997 and Ensiferum started training heavily for the first demo, which was recorded at Kivi-Studios in November. The demo included three songs, ”Frost”, ”Old Man” and ”Knighthood”, and the demo had the spread of almost 300 copies in the following year.
At the release of the demo Ensiferum did yet another two concerts in Pasila. New songs got finished, including ”Little Dreamer (Väinämöinen II)”. But Ensiferum had to take a little breather. And things didn’t get any easier because Kimmo Miettinen joined the band ArthemesiA and Sauli Savolainen concentrated on his job and school. That year Oliver Fokin had quit playing drums in ArthemesiA and had a few short jamming sessions with Markus in an old bomb shelter at Munkkiniemi, Helsinki. One thing led to another and Oliver agreed to play drums in the band. So one might say that Ensiferum and ArthemesiA had a change of drummers. Roughly about the same time Sauli was freshed out of the inthusiasm toward Ensiferum and was replaced by Kimmo Miettinen’s little brother, Jukka-Pekka Miettinen. Funnily, at the time he started to play bass in Ensiferum he was only fourteen years old. Now there was a new line-up ready to head the challenges of the second demo. And they had a new training facility: the bomb shelter in Munkkiniemi.
The second demo was recorded in January 1999 at MD-Studios. The demo included 4 songs: ”The Dreamer’s Prelude”, ”Little Dreamer (Väinämöinen II)”, ”Warrior’s Quest” and ”White Storm”. The second demo was technically evolved and although it missed narrowly giving a record deal to Ensiferum it gave confidence to the band. They gained more experience in a local band contest and after that they started to record their third and final demo in November 1999 once again at MD-Studios with the help of Janne Joutsenniemi (a member of Stone and Sub-Urban Tribe) who recorded and mixed the demo in a very short studio session. The demo included 4+1 songs: ”Intro”, ”Hero In A Dream”, ”Eternal Wait”, ”Battle Song” and a bonus song ”Guardians Of Fate”, which was recorded at Jari’s home with a drum machine. ”Eternal Wait” had a guest female vocalist Johanna Vakkuri, a friend of the band. The demo was released with a new band logo, which was designed and conceived by Tuomas Tahvanainen, the same guy, who designed the two earlier logos.
The third demo had great reviews and was awarded to be the top demos of the month in several different publishes. And it also got the eagerly awaited attention amongst the record labels. Once Spinefarm record company got hold of the demo they contacted Ensiferum immediately and started negotiating about the possability of a record deal. In the meanwhile, Ensiferum went in a local band contest and was among the top finalists of that year. Roughly the same time a record deal was finally made with Spinefarm. Ensiferum recorded their debut album in November 2000 at Sundi-Coop Studios in Savonlinna with Tuomo Valtonen (studio engineerer). The album featured such guest musicians as Trollhorn (keyboards), Johanna Vakkuri (guest female vocals) and Marita Toivonen (kantele).
In the spring of 2001 the debut album was mixed by Tuomo Valtonen in his studio. Tuomo Valtonen made the record ballsy, as he always does. At similar times Ensiferum had a new addition to it’s line-up: a keyboard player. Meiju Enho joined Ensiferum and so the band became five-membered. Debut album ”Ensiferum” was released in July 2001 and the feedback was tremendous.