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Album of Time and Ego - 28%

BastardHead, October 19th, 2012

Well this is it, kids. The big one, the one you've all been waiting with bated breath for nearly a decade for. Jari Maenpaa's alleged masterpiece, the one and mighty Time. After leaving Ensiferum at the height of their popularity to focus full time on his baby, Wintersun, Jari has spent presumably all of his free time obsessively crafting this masterwork, this ode to the gods of music, this sonic journey through time and stars and snow. Tours were canceled, tentative release dates kept on being pushed back or passing by with nary a fart noise coming from Jari's general direction. This was poised to be his Use Your Illusion. He has a monumentally successful debut and then spends the next couple years being a reclusive perfectionist while meticulously nitpicking and perfecting his complex vision. I mean really, he describes the music as "Extreme Majestic Technical Epic Melodic Metal", which sounds like some ridiculous shit I would make up in order to make fun of it. Really, look at that profoundly superfluous descriptor and try to imagine what the fuck Wintersun sounds like. Clearly this is the work of a mad genius, the musical equivalent of Nikola Tesla for the new millennium.

Now Time is finally, for realsies out and finished, and to the shock of precisely nobody, it's a goddamn insult.

Eight years. Think about that, think about everything that's happened in those eight years. The Chicago Blackhawks went from perennial whipping boys to Stanley Cup champions, Saddam, Gaddafi, and bin Laden were all killed, a black man became president of the United States, MutantClannfear lived more than half of his life, and Fall Out Boy's entire career happened. In all of this time, Jari assured us he was slaving away, doing his absolute damnedest to make sure he was getting his creation just perfect for all of us. This dude was acting like goddamn Howard Hughes, except he managed to skip straight to the piss-drinking insanity stage. There are apparently something preposterous like 200+ tracks on each song, the hypothetical tape would be fucking transparent if this weren't all digital. The problem is that he thinks he can be Queen here, and just capture this huge journey and set it to music that's as complex as it is accessible, that's as bombastic as it is grounded. If Jari Maenpaa is Queen, then I'm Roger Ebert.

I could make stupid metaphors and similes until the goddamned sun implodes if left unchecked (I even passed on my overdone picnic analogy! Go me!), so I'm going to attempt to rein myself in here and explain why Time I is so offensive. And really, a huge component is the ratio of sheer amount of time it took to complete to the actual amount of content we got as a result. I can't get over the fact that after eight years of waiting, the band is actually going to play the Darelle Revis card and hold out on us after proving themselves precisely once. Wintersun's self titled debut is for some utterly perplexing reason heralded as a beacon of metal songwriting despite containing precisely two good songs followed by what feels like ten hours of Jari jerking off to pictures of himself. Based on that, fans have waiting patiently for enough time for a Great Dane to live its entire life for the follow up, and when that day finally, finally came, we were only given half of the final product. What kind of bullshit turd dicking move is that? After all this goddamn time, you expect me to lap up five measly tracks, only breaking the forty minute mark because the last song has three minutes of an unrelated instrumental transition track tacked on to the back of it and then promise me that the second half will be out soon? Bitch your word is worth about as much as the Hungarian pengo, I'll have kids in grade school by the time the second half of this album sees the light of day if your track record is anything to go by. Because hey kids, here's some random trivia you've all seemed to have forgotten, the first handful of songs written for the first Wintersun album were written... *drum roll* eight fucking years before the album was released. This obnoxious waiting period is nothing new for the band, Jari takes his sweet time when writing music. But hey, let's pretend for the sake of keeping this review on track, that Time II comes out within a month, does it still justify the piddly bullshit we have here for Time I?

Of course not, I'd be cursing a whole shitbucket less if that were the case. The problem with this is that the preposterous waiting period doesn't show at all. At no point is there anything complex enough, or well thought out enough, or executed strongly enough for me to believe that two high school careers were spent honing it to perfection. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't a sloppy mess that sounds thrown together in the eleventh hour, clearly every moment was meticulously planned and orchestrated from the beginning, but it's all so mind-numbingly average that it becomes something worse entirely. I feel like the problem here is that Jari simply thinks he's much more clever than he actually is, so he spends an eternity putting together this masterpiece that turns out to be something Rhapsody could have sneezed out in between their cruddy albums in the mid 00s. Did anybody truly expect this to be life affirmingly great? Of course not, in fact I actually expected the music itself to be much worse than it actually is. I won't deny for one second that the music is well performed and actually showcases some very diverse dynamics, which is a complete rarity for anything within the confines of metal nowadays.

The first two tracks rank somewhere between "very good" and "surprisingly great", and are paced masterfully. This is a massive improvement from the self titled, which was paced like somebody sneezing and then watching their phlegm drip down a wall. The songs there were arranged from shortest to longest, which I suspect was an effort to make the album feel more and more epic with each new piece, but instead made it feel longer and longer each time and really hammered home just how glacial and dull the album truly was. Instead of blowing his wad early and then spending the next 45 minutes silently sobbing into his pillow, Jari instead actually builds up anticipation and releases it in a scarily brilliant fashion. "When Time Fades Away" ranks as one of my favorite intro tracks of the past decade or so, to be entirely honest with you. It's merely an intro and it's quite lengthy as far as instrumental intros go, but the fact that it slowly builds up energy across a very palatable melody just works in such a strikingly beautiful way. There's also a personal bias because ever since playing the old Playstation game, Tenchu, I've had an almost fetishistic affinity for traditional Japanese music. I fucking love the twang of the shamisen and the pleasant coo of the whistles, and so the prominent Eastern influence is a huge plus, and something that actually managed to assuage my seething fury at the relative brevity of the album itself upon first listen. The first proper song, "Sons of Winter and Stars", actually starts so smoothly that you can barely hear the transition between the intro if you aren't paying close attention, as it starts off with roughly thirty seconds of even more traditional Japanese music. It paints this vivid picture of a dimension spanning journey the listener is about to embark on, and bewilderingly enough it actually manages to deliver on this promise in the beginning. I touched on the dynamics earlier, and while I was slightly facetious about their quality (I do find the two extremes to be akin to Raiders of the Lost Ark in that the quiet parts are too quiet and the loud parts are too loud, and such ends up being distracting), it is nice to hear such thought and care put into the lesser aspects of the music. Despite the soul-melting length of the track (over thirteen and a half minutes) and an extended quiet passage in the middle, "Sons of Winter and Stars" manages to not get dull. The fast and bombastic parts are full of pomp and vigor, and as I've stated oodles of times in the past, that is when Jari is at his best. It builds to no less than two very satisfying and well executed climaxes that end up being very depressing in the grand scheme of things. That release of "Embrace the STAAAAAAAHS" is skin tinglingly great. This is what most people were expecting this album to sound like, and for the first quarter of the alleged full product, it actually does live up to the stupidly high expectations that I certainly did not have.

It's only afterwards that the album falls into the rut that I just fucking knew it would fall into. "Land of Snow and Sorrow" (can you tell that he names his songs with Wintersun ad-libs?) pulls the dragchute and spends the entirety of its duration just trudging along like a lost (and not adorable) puppy. Listen to that opening guitar line and tell me that he really needed eight shit spackling years to tweak that to perfection. It's a lazy, plodding, dull and uninteresting riff that just drives the exciting energy that the previous track just spent a quarter of an hour building up straight into the mud. The orchestrations that build around it are uninspired and predictable, and the pace never picks back up. Over eight minutes are spent on this lifeless, meandering snoozefest that never once ever attempts an epic moment. That pan-dimensional journey the album was alluding that we'd embark on? Yeah, this is where Jari just puts the controls on autopilot and fucks off to go eat some potato chips. Nothing happens, the riffs just plod on like a dozy elephant and the symphonics just kind of diddle around with their own thing, just being wispy off in the atmosphere. Imagine a version of "Sleeping Stars" from the previous album that's almost twice as long (while feeling twice as long as that, added on) with even less going on within the song. I can't get over how intensely boring the song is, this is why the album is so offensive to me. This is what we'd been waiting for? Where was the brilliance we saw in that opener? You're only going to present us with half of your vision, and as an added slap in the face, this dull pit of tripe is part of that? This didn't take you eight years to write, this probably didn't even take eight hours. This is insulting, and any fans lapping this up like good little minions are simply lying to themselves if you can find anything approaching good songwriting within. Go jump off the highest point of your house and land face first on something pointy.

The "album" rounds out with another interlude-full song combo, and this one holds nary a percentage of the vigorous ambition of the first set. "Darkness and Frost" (Seriously? What are some of the tracks on the second part of this bloated turd going to be called? "Stars of Snow and Darkness"? "Winter of Stars and Time"? "Starless Winter Darkness"?) is yet another competent Japanese influenced instrumental, though wholly lacking in the vibrancy and splendor of "When Time Fades Away", and builds up into the drudgery that is the title track. "Time" is yet another dull, spiteful exercise in how to show your patient fans naught but utter contempt. I could just copy and past my entire diatribe on "Land of Snow and Sorrow" here and the description would be just as apt. The main difference is that "Time" is based around a higher tempo and contains one of Jari's patented shredding solos, and even that ends up sounding lame and forced. I wasn't expecting another "Winter Madness", because that would be asking for the moon on a stick, but something a little more inspired than a warmup exercise would be mightily welcomed. The clean vocals come off as tired and obligatory, the strings are dull and inconsequential, the drummer is so pointless that he might as well not get any royalties from the album sales. There is a psyche-out buildup that leads to a loud orchestral part that somehow ends up sounding much less exuberant than the brilliance shown on "Sons of Winter and Stars", which I will continue to hold as the stick by which this entire experience should be measured by. The song is truly only roughy nine minutes long, but in order to breach the forty minute mark, what was clearly intended to be another standalone interlude was tacked on to the end in order to juuuuust push it over the mark. It's this kind of underhanded trickery that further fuels my virulent hatred of what this album stands for, which is a monumental lack of inspiration being mislabeled as visionary and consequently spoon fed to loyal fans as the answer to their prayers. And then fence sitters and vocal detractors like myself are also expected to hear an unheard of brilliance within Time and, if not promptly switch sides for the cheerleader, to at the very least understand what the die hard fans have been chomping at the bit about.

Frankly, NO. This is overblown yet still undercooked. There's a lot of presentation with no flair. And apart from one example of Jari's flukey genius, the other two thirds of the album's content is watered down nonsense with no appeal. If you like this droning, plodding nonsense with weak symphonics, then by all means you'll eat this like candy. I wasn't expecting this to be as fast paced as I prefer Jari to be ("Beyond the Dark Sun" and "Winter Madness" are legitimately great songs from the previous album, and are unironically the fastest and most to-the-throat songs on the album), but I wasn't expecting it to mirror the new Ensiferum album. Yeah I said it. This is akin to freakin' Unsung Heroes. Both albums revel in the dull half of the early dichotomy that exemplified Jari's songwriting style on the first two Ensiferum albums. Time I spends a majority of the album on the slow side, and just like the slow half of the first Ensiferum album, it's fucking bloated and boring, and with the extramusical qualities being taken into account, it's an insult to those who've been waiting. Keep in mind, I'm not even a fan of Wintersun for the most part, so imagine how pissed off I'd be if I was given this dull, glorified EP as a reward for eight fucking years of faithful patience in the face of seemingly dogged contempt towards me.

I compared this to Use Your Illusion earlier, based solely on the fact that the main songwriter became a screwy and reclusive perfectionist after one monstrously popular album, but the ratio of time taken to complete to utter disappointment ranks closer to Chinese Democracy. If you, as a fan, don't mind having your face spat in as long as you finally get to hear some new Wintersun material, then fine, go running back to your abusive ex, crying about how you still love him and you know he's sorry. For me? Fuck that, this is offensive to me on both a musical and non-musical level. The second half of this album better A) come out very, very soon and B) contain some of the most stellar material I've ever heard as an avid listener of epic metal, because what we've been given with Time I is fucking insulting.

PS - Here's a nice visual metaphor to help explain why the production time on this album drives me as fucking crazy as it does. This is the longest review I've written to date, and it holds approximately 2786 words. If every single word in this review represented one day, it would still take another two hundred or so before the album was actually released. Seriously. If you think a 40 minute EP with only one good song and one beautiful intro is worth such an outrageous wait, then you're clearly insane and should see a doctor.


Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/