[October 19th, 2012]
01. When Time Fades Away
02. Sons of Winter and Stars
03. Land of Snow and Sorrow
04. Darkness and Frost
Anyone who is even remotely familiar with Finnish metal act Wintersun is aware of the hardship that both the fans and band have had to endure, so here’s the abridged version for the rest of you: after the considerable early success of what was then ex-Ensiferum frontman Jari Mäenpää’s solo project Wintersun, Jari gathered himself some real band members and set out with the dream of creating an album that was enormous in scale and staggering in its complexity. Unfortunately, this vision was too massive for his limited recording means, and the album became marred with delays; a plethora of technical hurdles, creative disturbances and general misfortune pushed its release further and further into the realms of musical vapour-ware. Roughly six years later the album is finally complete, and has been divided into two pieces, getting served to the fan base between 2012 and (hopefully) 2013.
Considering the stir that the ordeal created amongst fans, combined with the attention garnered by the metal press, it was an absolute inevitability that Time I would become immeasurably hyped, putting the band in an unfairly difficult “make or break” position. The question festering at the back of everybody’s mind is this: can it possibly live up to the anticipation?
From the offset, it’s plainly obvious to see how this album would get a home studio computer chugging and sweating. During its development, Mäenpää mentioned how the symphonics and orchestrations comprise an average of slightly over two hundred tracks per song. It was speculated that this monstrous layering would push the music into “overproduced” territory and render the album tantamount to sheer noise. This is far from being the case. The orchestral layers that Jari has delicately composed these past six years complement each other astoundingly, in a way that manages to transcend beauty whilst puzzlingly reinforcing the ball-breaking aggression of the thundering “traditional” instrumentation. The intricacies of the orchestrations are woven deep within the mix, allowing the listener to absorb new features floating amidst the auditory tapestry with each repeat listen.
A major concern amongst fans was that dividing the record into two parts would create an album of dissatisfying length after over half a decade of creation – we technically have only three full-length songs, here. This is a worry that can safely be dispelled. Not only is the forty minute length of “Time I” completely satisfactory, but these songs are so huge in creative scope and actual length that they more than make up for the relatively low track count. ‘Sons of Winter and Stars‘ by itself comprises so many changes and variations that it could easily be spread across three or four “regular” songs and still be absolutely enchanting.
However, whilst a big to-do has been made of the album’s size and ambition, this may well be the exact quality that turns many folk away with a sigh or a roll of the eyes – pre-existing fans included. The heavy layering, the emphasis on cinematic grandeur, the relentless melody… It’s all very “Euro” and it’s not an enormous leap of the imagination to think that some people might chalk this up to nothing more than pompous verbosity. The music is still structured around “classic” Wintersun framework, but the focus is often shifted from the technically brilliant guitar and drum work that made Wintersun so popular, to Jari’s new fascination with gigantic orchestration and soundtrack-like qualities. This might be enough to alienate fans of the first album’s considerably more stripped-back production sound.
Something that reinforces the music in a big way is how much Jari’s vocal technique has developed since the debut. His clean, lofty vocals have an increased majesty and greater presence whilst his harsh screams are considerably more visceral and contain more venom than before. There are even choirs of booming guttural vocals to be heard – it’s a small nuance that really enhances the soundscape quality of the entire experience.
A focal point for many fans concerning the debut was lyrical content; Mäenpää is unabashedly fascinated with the magnificent and celestial as well as the fragile bitter indifference of frost and winter; this manifests itself plainly in the lyrics on Wintersun. Whilst the thematic concern of Time is largely conceptualised around its namesake, the atmosphere of celestial winter has very much remained intact. Jari paints a landscape of aching beauty and devastating power: tundra-ensnared planets floating in the darkness of the void, ravaged by time and the elements – the perfect backdrop to complement the magnitude of his musical vision (although often speckled with some slightly adorable Broken English “Jarisms”).
Unlike the first album, on which Jari recorded every instrument himself (aside from the drums, which were the responsibility of skins guru Kai Hahto), the studio recording of Time I was achieved with the full band line-up, lending an overall more organic and varied feeling to the musicianship.
Regarding the pace of the album, whilst “Sons of Winter and Stars” is an undeniable sensory overload, built on an intriguingly non-traditional structure of blistering speed, chugging romps and slow, swaying acoustic and choral sections, Time I is largely a mid-paced album. Mäenpää has stated that some of the faster material (i.e. ‘The Way of the Fire‘) is hiding on its upcoming counterpart. ‘Land of Snow and Sorrow‘ is an enormous, slow-moving epic with a sorrowful (surprise, surprise) yet incredibly catchy hook. The titular track ‘Time‘ is a mid-speed march dotted with the oft-touted Oriental influences. Frankly, the moderately slow pacing that pervades most of the album will unavoidably disappoint fans seeking the breakneck frenzy displayed on the ST, but hopefully this will be rectified with the release of Time II and the unison of them as a complete album, as Jari originally intended.
Regardless of allegiance, bias or indifference, Time I is an album that any extreme music fan should at least try. Fans of Wintersun as well as connoisseurs of symphonic and epic music in general will almost certainly love it, haters of the first debut will likely hate this even more and newcomers might simply be intrigued enough by the drama and delays to investigate the result. Either way, Jari Mäenpää and Wintersun have created a monumental and humbling record that’s absolutely worth your time. All who have waited patiently will not be disappointed.