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Initially I thought to leave it eight years before writing this review, claiming it was too epic to be contained on my hard drive. But I had to make a few comments on this monster. My love for it has been raging wild in my heart, as Gaahl might say.
Now I did like the debut Wintersun album, not quite as much as seemingly hordes of people did given its not so-called legendary status in pop-metal, Nuclear Blast-loving circles, but the first couple of tracks are good just for some cracking shredding and the rest wasn't too sloppy either. It was good fun. I was never able to understand why it generated almost as much hype for the followup as Chinese Democracy, and so I suppose that I can't really be qualified to say whether this album satisfies the same cravings the original did for all those nutters. For my money though, it is far better in every way just as a piece of music, despite its forsaking of some of the debut's more straightforward melodic metal cookers.
Time I has been sating my less regularly titillated needs for overblown, symphonic, epic, whatever metal that doesn't completely go up its own arse and fail to find its way out in the process. Make no mistake, Jari is currently buried somewhere near his colon, and those unsupportive of high-budget cinema-metal outfits like Epica and Nightwish and so forth will find much to gripe about, but judging by the quality here I'm fairly sure the man will be able to find his way back out of his arse or at least get as far as his taint by the time the second piece is dropped. Personally I absolutely love it, and as I wasn't one of the people carving the track listing and song timings of the debut into my forehead with a compass to express my undying love for it, I've been pleasantly surprised into the bargain.
The largest reason for my obsession with this record is the first 17 or so minutes of it, comprising the intro and maybe the single best song I have yet heard this year, 'Sons of Winter and Stars'. The Japanese soundscapes and haunting Chinese erhu presence in the record's introductory piece 'When Time Fades Away', are not only fabulously presented and expertly performed, but well chosen for the job. Over in yander West we've grown to love such sounds for their evocation of timelessness, pride and that most treasured of Far Eastern epic movie traits, eternal love. The jumpy, Kitaro-like refrain (reminiscent of video game soundtracks as a matter of fact - no bad thing, since video games are oft availed of far superior musical accompaniments than big-budget films these days) in that song's latter parts also brings some o' that Wintersun fun in for those by now totally lost, while still representing the deliberately differentiated nature of this album to the band's - now extremely inferior - previous material.
Meanwhile there is only one appropriate response to the moment when that intro gives way to the bloated orchestras, pompous choirs and hammering blastbeats from Kai Hahto for the beginning proper of 'Sons of Winter and Stars' - "holy fuggen goodness"... Or some variant. It isn't often I resort to such easily expressed stock sentiment in reviews, but this shit has to be heard to be believed, to be appreciated in its truly unrestrained, intricately arranged and bombastically layered glory. The blasts are tight as a lesbian nun, though triggered, the strings and choirs and erhu all moving parallel but doing their own highly worthy thing. Meanwhile the composition of this song is far beyond anything Jari has achieved before, making even bombastic pieces like 'Iron' seem like very humble beginnings, designed more like a film soundtrack - in keeping with its cinematic lead-in - where spasmodic switching between pace and scale gives you the feeling of catching glimpses of two or three scenes of a high budget, dramatic summer blockbuster blowout; tension growing as these switches grow in frequency as the song goes on.
I suppose I must pay some lip service to the fact that there is more than one song here - three full compositions reside within. They are of course fucking good. 'Land of Snow and Sorrow' is a mid-paced slice of what could be called epic doom, showcasing Maenpaa's sublime clean singing over a small but satisfactory set of chugging riffs and accompanying epic trappings. His singing on the entire album really is amazing, especially compared to his somewhat typical performance on previous Wintersun and Ensiferum releases. Perhaps he's aged, and his vocal chords with him - producing the more gruff tone -, perhaps he just worked on them a long time, but they kick arse. Far deeper, a little harder and generally more heavy metal, if I may.
There's the winter and the er, sun in the background, see.
The production and overall sound of the album is made much of with 'Land of Snow and Sorrow's more spacious arrangement, with the heavy, clear and clean boom shown off most groovily. The album's pacing and in fact even the songs selected for this first of two CDs also catches my ear when I reach this midway point, with the expert placing of a mid-paced bridge only accentuating the more fraught and shredding chunks sandwiching it. 'Darkness and Frost', another short intro song - reminiscent of video games again - that weasels its way into your brain and renders you humming it moronically (but cheerfully) as you do your groceries, leads into the project's title song. 'Time', obviously. Another epic at 11:45, it rounds the album out with a largely mid-paced trample through icy palaces and forests and what have you, spiking deliciously into tense, crunchy guitar riffs that plow with purpose towards more massive and utterly beautiful clean singing sections, probably the album's best. I can't drive home enough just how stunning these parts are. And though I haven't spent quite so much time with these last two songs - and given the scant nature of separate tracks available here I hope any readers that come along will forgive my examining each in turn - that should not detract from just how good they are, particularly the finale.
Now this album has without preamble rocketed to probably the number two or three spot on my year-end list, and the reasons for that as presented by this magnificent creation are manifold. The sheer amount going on, the 200+ audio tracks offered by Jari Maenpaa as an excuse for Time's struggle with delays as epic as the albums rendering and seemingly as eternal as its subject matter, merits a good few listens alone. There's still plenty of those spiky, sizzling synths that characterised the project's opus eponymous, and likewise the jagged, insanely catchy harmonized riffs, themselves almost symphonic in their nature. It isn't merely the awesome effect of the albums aesthetic superficialities, but also its broadening and smoothening of the earworm Wintersun sound, that makes this so remarkably superior a sophomore. The entire form and function of the band has been remade as a ridiculously catchy, sprawling epic, extreme power metal with proggy tendencies -band. I can't wait for Time II. This time, I'll be counting down to the next Wintersun album with everyone else.