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Wintersun, for those of you who aren't already in the know, is a Finnish melodic extreme metal project started by Jari Mäenpää (formerly of Ensiferum) in 2003, with the first Wintersun album being released in 2004. This album was, and still is, one particularly prime cut of metal, defying the label of melodic death metal to incorporate elements of power, folk, neo-classical, black, and even progressive metal, all while having its own sound and songwriting qualities. After this, the band played some live tours, and went to record the next album, tenatively titled Time. However, during the process of the recording, everything that could possibly go wrong did. Production issues. Growing ambitions. Lineup changes. Jari's own battle with tuberculosis. Touring. So, after almost nine years of development, the first half of Wintersun's magnum opus-to-be, Time, was released to the public in October of 2012. So, after all the hype, not to mention the long-ass production time, is Time I an auditory masterpiece or the Duke Nukem Forever of metal?
The first thing to be noticed about the album is its rather short length of only 40 minutes. Obviously, from the name Time I, it implies that there'd be a Time II, and this album is effectively one half of a larger album. The second thing is the differences in sound. On this album, Jari utilizes a far more epic-sounding orchestra, complete with choir. The composition of the parts used in the song is, quite frankly, some of the best orchestral elements used in a metal album. It could be labeled as a real orchestra and choir, and it'd be completely believable. A lot of the melodies used in the album also have a bit of influence from Japanese folk music. There are only five tracks (plus a hidden track of the band members fooling around in the studio), two of which are instrumental interludes, so there are, in effect, only three real songs on the album. However, two of the songs are longer than 10 minutes, with the third approaching 9 minutes. It's a textbook example of quality over quantity, because every single song on this album is amazing. Yes, even the shorter interludes. When Time Fades Away ranks pretty damn high on my list of "Most Epic Album Intros", and it can certainly be admired of its own musicality, rather than just being a great intro. As noted before, Jari's use of the orchestral sounds throughout the album is so well-executed and detailed that it may very well be mistaken for a classical song. This fades into Sons of Winter and Stars, a 14-minute behemoth of a track that is also comprised of four sections, much like Starchild from the first Wintersun album. Jari is a hell of a songwriter, and it shows. The third section, in particular, shows how much his songwriting has evolved since the first album, with it being a soft, acoustic section that is extraordinarily well-executed for this type of album, and fits perfectly within the context of the song. The third track, Land of Snow and Sorrow, is essentially Death and the Healing, Part 2, but showcasing Jari's much-improved clean singing. His vocals do a stellar job of conveying the emotion of the surrounding music, which, after repeated listens, is among some of the best Wintersun songs composed thus far, IMO. After that, Darkness and Frost serves as a segue between the previous track and Time, the 11-minute title track of the not-quite-double-album. Darkness and Frost has an entrancing quality to it, with its backmasked acoustic background which builds into an epic orchestral arrangement, complete with what sounds like an army chanting in the background by its conclusion. Time rounds off the album, with another consistently excellent orchestration, a beautiful chorus melody, its shifting, almost progressive structure, and the only real guitar solo on the album. The song, and the album, ends on a musical cliffhanger for the next album, ending with a dark, almost ambient synth/orchestra piece that leaves the listener wanting more.
The album, as a whole, can be seen as both an album on its own, and half of a larger album. Some may be disappointed by the focus on the orchestral-qualities of the music and reduced amount of guitar heroics compared to the first album, but you can't argue with the results. Time I is, without a doubt, one of the best albums of the year, and that is really saying something considering both the lack of good metal albums this year and the quality of the music provided here. Again, quality over quantity. And once Time II releases (currently set to 2013, but god knows how many times it'll be delayed if this half is any indication), there'll be plenty of the latter as well. This album needs to be experienced by every self-proclaimed metalhead, or anyone with good taste in songwriting, or melody that also happens to have an epic-beyond-epic orchestral backing. Hell, even people without a liking for metal would probably love the interludes, at least. Simply put, the music is amazing, and once the second half releases, Time will most likely be Wintersun's magnum opus, and one of the best metal albums of the 21st century.
[Adapted from the reviewer's own review at Fans on Fire Game Blog - http://fansonfire.blogspot.com/]