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I am going to attempt to review what might be my favorite album of all time. I don’t know if I have the skill to properly articulate how perfect this album is, but I will give it a shot. I am sure at the time, back in 2004, people thought it was crazy that Jari Mäenpää had left Ensiferum, at (in my humble opinion) a time when they were at their best, to record a solo project. But thank the one-eyed god he did because this album is an emotional and epic frostbitten journey. Wintersun’s self-titled album combines the best elements of epic, melodic death, black, and folk metal together to create a true masterpiece of metal. This album is 10 years now and it stands out as one of the best of the 21st century.
The music on this album has a great deal of diversity – there are blazingly fast parts with soaring guitars showcasing Jari’s skill as a musician, and there are slower majestic parts, layered with synths that provide a cold and lonely atmosphere. What it all has in common is Jari’s masterful composition. These songs – short (like Beyond the Dark Sun, coming in at only 02:38) and long alike (like Sadness and Hate at 10:16) – are well crafted. They don’t follow the general boring verse-chorus structure found in more generic compositions. These songs carry the listener along, through dead forests and up snowy mountains – Jari knows how to build up to, and reward a listener with a musical climax in each of his compositions. Wintersun is full of moments like this, moments that give you goosebumps and leave you craving for another listen.
The music often utilizes a black metal style tremolo picking combined with keyboards evocative of some of power metal’s most accomplished acts – but without all the cheese. The drumming is top notch and includes blast beats that are used sparingly and appropriately (check out 00:50 on track 2, ‘Winter Madness’). Jari’s harsh vocals are top notch. His screams are black metal worthy, yet the lyrics are fairly comprehensible. As in Ensiferum, one can expect moments of clean singing, sometimes even layered to create a more ‘choral’ effect. These moments are very well done and incorporated seamlessly into the composition as a whole (for example, see 03:25 on track 6, ‘Starchild’). Those fans of technical finesse and guitar virtuosity will not be disappointed with the album’s guitar solos. Though they are complex and impressive to hear, they are not pointless expressions of guitar mastery. These solos fit very well on the album and accompany the rest of the songs well often providing the aforementioned musical climax. Here’s a specific example of that: Listen to track 4, ‘Battle Against Time,’ starting at about 4:09 and listen to how well the song flows into the guitar solo and then back into the song’s main chorus.
The music is the sonic accompaniment to the stories crafted in the lyrics. Jari has the chops to write quite good lyrics to go along with his music. The lyrics primarily deal with introspection and yearning to discover the meaning of life and death all with a backdrop of ice and snow and the coldness of the void of space. Jari uses a good deal of imagery to bring his epic to life – it is particularly impressive since he is a non-native English speaker.
Wintersun is epic without being too cheesy, virtuosity without being pretentious, enjoyable and accessible, yet layered and deep – worthy of multiple listens. This album is a classic, and even at its 10th birthday, it continues to stand the test of time.
Nominated as one of the best in heavy metal history, if not in all of music's history, stands Wintersun's first album. Even through all this hype, I did not get what the craze was all about.
The album opens with "Beyond the Dark Sun", one of the best in the record. This song describes the instruments very well. Kai's drums are clean. For this genre, they feel perfect. On the other hand, Jari's guitars are pretty dull, especially after the third or fourth song. This fast-paced song also introduces to the concept of the album with shredding guitars and blast beating drums.
Jari's voice is something that should be discussed. He does both the harmonic vocals and guttural ones and it is clear he has a wide range. However, it all falls flat because the vocals lack connection to the songs. Jari sings whenever he feels like, leaving a bad structure to the song and sometimes taking the atmosphere of the song right out. Speaking of his vocals, his shriek gets pretty annoying and dull after listening to it for awhile, as does his guitar. The solos are everywhere and no riff or solo is simple; they are all complicated. It reminds me of Dragonforce where mind-numbing solos are everywhere, taking all the originality out. He is a very talented guitarist, but his solos feel so out of place, it is almost impossible not to get angry when one comes up, especially in the last songs where they hit the 8 minute marker due to the long solos. All the songs get needlessly long and flat because of both Jari's vocals and guitars.
On the drumming subject, Kai is also another talented musician, though he falls flat for the same reason as Jari does. His drumrolls are all too complex and everywhere, and sickening, especially in slow songs. His fast-paced madness works in songs like "Beyond The Dark Sun", "Winter Madness", and "Battle Against Time", mainly because of the fast pace, though in songs like "Sleeping Stars" and "Death and the Healing", it feels boring and needless. There is no time to breathe in this album. It is like Jari Mäenpää's ego grew a conscience and created this.
The mixture of these three elements - drums, guitars, and vocals - makes the album dull and needlessly long with the last song facing the 10 minute mark, yet this is by no means saying that there are not good mentionables in this piece. "Beyond the Dark Sun" is fast-paced and a great song to hear if there is a short time on your hands. "Winter Madness" and "Battle Against Time", although having numb solos, are a blast to listen to. Also, "Death and the Healing" is also a pretty good one, if not for its solos.
Overall, the album suffers a lot, especially from Jari. I wish that the next album will contain songs that are not needlessly complicated and long. It has some good candidates for a good album, but it all falls flat in the end. Fans of this genre will eat this up like candy, but I would not buy it for a full price.
In honor of the recent announcement that Jari Maenpaa hates all of his fans and would like nothing more than to poo on the face of each and every one of you, I figure it's high time I actually get around to giving a similar treatment to his much lauded first labor of love. Just as Ensiferum was reaching peak popularity, a scheduling conflict arose between the band and Jari's pet solo project. He had to make a huge decision, and he decided to leave the band that was taking the collective metal fandom by storm and helping to give folk metal it's first huge boost in order to honor the studio time he had booked for Wintersun. I personally think this was a brilliant choice since I love Ensiferum and would love to hear them release an album more frequently than once every fucking decade.
But despite the fact that the absurd waiting period is nothing new for Jari's music (the first handful of songs written for this album came about in the mid nineties), this self titled debut is not the place to complain about such things. This is strangely ironic though, since the album feels like it takes four times longer to finish than it actually does. Yeah, this thing draaaags so badly that it may as well come bundled with an anchor. It's a little under and hour long, but part of me is convinced that that is only the case because it sucks so badly that it actually manages to warp the space-time continuum. I'd rather listen to Food for the Gods or Akhet Mery Ra, and those are both literally four hours long. I'm saying that without ever hearing those two albums, by the way, because they'd have to put a lot of effort into failing intentionally to be less interesting and more full of themselves than Wintersun here.
One of the biggest flaws with the album (apart from the songs themselves just not being very good) is the pacing. The eight tracks are arranged from shortest to longest, which I suspect was an attempt to make each new venture sound more epic than the last, leading to a giant, fulfilling climax with the ten minute closer, "Sadness and Hate". Really though, it just hammers home that each new song is going to be longer than the previous one, and it just ends up sounding stretched and forced. This means that even high tempo, blast beat filled numbers with tons of melody like "Starchild" just fade into the white noise that is the last 48 minutes of this album. It certainly doesn't help that Jari has continued with the whole irritating dichotomy that early Ensiferum suffered from here, which is that the slower, more grandiose songs are boring as fuck and the fast, melodic singalongs are hooky and infectious. So it isn't surprising that the only two tracks that are worth a damn are the first two ("Beyond the Dark Sun" and "Winter Madness"), which are unironically the fastest, shortest, and most to-the-point songs on the album. The former is an absolute riff monster with a pummeling pace and energy, while the former retains those qualities while injecting a lethal dose of melody, a great, singalong style chorus, and what is honestly one of my all time favorite guitar solos. This is the kind of thing Jari excels at, high speed power metal numbers with great hooks and a knack for condensing a lot of epic sensibilities into a short window.
The problem is that when he gets a bigger window, he continues to throw fucking everything he can find into the music and it ends up as a collection of dozens of unrelated ideas that don't at all mesh into a coherent song. I know I'm a hungry hungry hypocrite and all that, but this is all style and no substance. The vast majority of the last six tracks are an incoherent mess of melody and symphonics and super fast melodeath riffs and double bass and hilariously amateur local theatre style clean vocals and ballads and cookies and gummy bears and AAAAAAH. As a guy who is a giant fan of early Children of Bodom, this completely unrestrained and over the top blend of melodeath and power metal should theoretically appeal to me, but it's done in such a mind-bogglingly uninteresting way that I almost think this should be studied. It's a fascinating failure in that it manages to take a bunch of good things, use them far past their logical intended limit, continue to use them even when they don't work, and just mercilessly flog them until you forget why and how any of these elements were good in the first place. Just like the 2012-13 Lakers! ZING!
Tracks like "Sleeping Stars" and "Death and the Healing" just pull the goddamn dragchute on the album's pace. Slow songs aren't an issue, but when these two are both so dull and numbing that they could be considered a reasonable alternative to Novocaine and they both immediately follow an uptempo scorcher, it just makes you wonder why they were placed where they were in the first place. Oh wait, it's because that's how long the songs are and that was the only thing taken into consideration when arranging this. Which is a pretty huge issue because "Battle Against Time", "Starchild", and "Beautiful Death" all have a lot of potential as songs. They're either extraordinarily epic and melodic, or incredibly fast and melodic, but the trait they all share is that they're all about three minutes too long. Sections are repeated far too often and uninteresting melodic passages with about fifty different things happening show up and just wreck the atmosphere. "Battle Against Time" is like a four minute long continuous climax, and it builds up a grand journey that sounds like it would be goddamn awesome to experience, it's just unfortunate that there are three redundant minutes that add nothing at all to the song and instead just make it feel entirely too long for it's own good. This is frustrating because it just further showcases how flukey of a songwriter Jari truly is. Sometimes he nails it, other times he has good ideas but utterly fails to implement them effectively, but most of the time he just gets far more ambitious than he needs to be and completely misses his mark.
And then there are the more ballady songs, and those are easily the worst offenders of this whole ordeal. It's bad enough that there are seventy six tracks of symphonics and clean vocals being layered on top of one another, but they don't succeed at what they aim for at all. They have no atmosphere, they just plod along with a ton of crap going on in the foreground and it just feels like all the synths and strings are trying to distract me from how bare bones the songs really are. It's like Cruella de Vil, with a gaint fluffy exterior that tries to cover up a frail, fragile base with glamorous excess. They're utterly inconsequential and just bring the album to a screeching halt whenever they appear. Even when they bust into two minute long sweeping solos, you can just imagine Jari (well... maybe not Jari, he's too in love with himself... so just imagine literally any other guitar player) sitting there with a completely uninterested look on his/her face as they shred these stale patterns over a completely lifeless track. I can find precisely zero "majesty" or "beauty" in these half-hearted logs of nothingness.
Despite all the issues of the songs mostly being too long or too overblown to contain anything actually interesting, I can't help but feel like the completely bonkers track ordering is one of the biggest issues with the album. So, in the interest of science, I reordered it. I didn't edit down any of the songs like I'd suggested, but I may in the future. Try ordering the album like this:
"Battle Against Time"
"Death and the Healing"
"Beyond the Dark Sun"
"Sadness and Hate"
By starting the album off with "Battle Against Time", you set the stage for a big epic, with the song's giant climaxes and clean chorus, it gives a bit of a taste of everything the album has to offer. Then we get a barnburner with another great chorus and a blistering solo, followed by a ballad, then the fastest, shortest song to lead into the longest track, which is far too full of itself but at least you aren't just praying for the album to end by the time it finally starts, followed the other ballad because it sucks but it at least keeps the flow going after the previous clunker, which actually sets the stage fairly well for the fast, long, abundantly melodic "Starchild", finally closing on the track with the most overtly epic atmosphere, ending the album on a strong, hard-hitting note of "I'M NOT READY TO DIIIIEEEEEE".
This is not perfect, as there's really no way to fix songs as boring as "Sleeping Stars", but at least it doesn't make every song feel like it's just taking ages to end, and it follows a more logical flow than how it's currently set up. If it were arranged like this, I'd still have all of the same issues with the album itself, but I could probably score it 15-20 points higher considering it at least wouldn't be as much of a chore to sit through.
The bottom line is that there are some good ideas here, but they're rarely implemented in such a way that makes them fit with all the rest of the ideas (good and bad) that are flying around the album. A huge portion can be described as the musical equivalent of Jari not understanding why a square peg doesn't fit in a round hole, and so he just starts bashing it with a mallet until the peg and hole are both damaged to the point of the peg being forced in. When Jari drops all the completely insane tendencies to just throw anything and everything at the listener and focuses his energy on strong melody or infectious hooks or straightforward metal, he can really nail it. "Beyond the Dark Sun" and "Winter Madness" are both fantastic songs, and there are some good ideas in a few other tracks that are just unfortunately arranged and put together like ass, while a couple others are completely unsalvageable trainwrecks. Add to that a terrible idea of flow and structure and then make it all spew forth from one of the most intensely unlikeable cocks in metal and you end up with a pretty shitty album overall. Jari Maenpaa folded with a focus and intensity normally seen only in successes. I'm not gonna call the fans a bunch of turds who are entertained by jingling keys and believe that something is majestic and beautiful simply because it has keys and they're told as such, but OH LOOK GO GET THE BALL! *throws tennis ball*
PS - I hate how "Jari Maenpaa" is on the album art. God forbid somebody mistake this as a band effort instead of all coming from his one glorious, genius imagination. I hope he swallows a bumble bee.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
A furious, icy blizzard through space and time. Howling winds where there is no sound. Cosmic energies focusing around shining nebulas. Portals into unknown, hostile worlds. Galaxies weeping. Wormholes of pain and suffering. Beautiful death in -273,15 degrees.
What I described above are images "Wintersun's" critically acclaimed (or accused of being highly overrated) debut album evokes in my mind. For me, these visions encapsulate the essence of this masterpiece. Only a handful of albums have ever reached the level of uniqueness, richness of songwriting and pure, blazing intensity that Wintersun's self-titled holds within it. It is a phenomenal mixture of some of the best features of metal music, all of them incorporated together with no cracks or shatters whatsoever. The mastermind behind this album is no other than the famed Jari Mäenpää, former frontman of "Ensiferum". He has done amazing job by using his admirable talents in different areas of expertise: with several instruments, in songwriting and as a lyricist. He makes brilliant use of the neck-breaking fury of melodic death metal, the soaring melodies of power metal, the grand vastness of epic folk/viking metal and the blistering speed of melodic black metal, all this smoothly interconnected and iced with formidable technicality. The album raditates despair, fear, hate, melancholy and sadness through images of cosmic proportions put inside the mind of a human being. The lyrics stem from this context, creating emotional surges of the deepest thoughts of man.
"Wintersun" is an ominous maelstrom that draws the listener deep into its bowels. It is also a representation of musical prowess that only a few can match in my books. From destructively fast solos to razor sharp riffing, from beautifully bleak and freezing keyboard melodies to impressive harsh vocals, from gloomy atmospheres to enchanting lyrics, everything is carved in the shape of colossal, ambitious and inspiring images. "Winter Madness" shows us perhaps the most technical and speedy side of the album with its hyper fast guitarwork and multi-layered melodies. It is a frosty anthem that paints pictures of merciless winters of the far north. "Battle Against Time" leans towards a different area of metal. The song's most remarkable characteristics focus around majestic, crushing harmonies of epic metal. Raging blast beats and ingenious guitar melodies are completed with bombastic clean choirs and the result is a massively cosmic sound. One of the high points of the album is also the slow, intriguingly wandering "Death and the Healing". It features only noble, clean vocals and offers the listener fascinating visions. The lyrics are excellently supported by long, intricate lead guitar passages that are woven around the main soundscape. Truth to be told, in my opinion every single track on this album is a masterwork of epic, melodic metal but "Starchild" has always been my favourite. This song kind of compiles every best bit of the album and reforms them into a new entirety that surpasses the rest of the songs. It has speed, it has the most memorable melodies, it has in-depth, spacey lyrics and it has great, diverse vocals through which Jari truly shines. Listening to Starchild is like diving through planes of existence on a journey to discover something about oneself and exploring the mind-blowing depths of the universe. No doubt one of the best songs I have ever come across.
Like I mentioned before, each song on Wintersun is a highlight in its own right but I'll leave the secrets of the rest for you to discover. The album is a complex whole of magnificent elements brought together by the creative force that is Jari Mäenpää. However, I also have to specificly mention the drumwork since it's the only thing not done by Mr. Mäenpää. While this album was being made, behind the kit sat one of Finland's most respected drummers, Kai Hahto. His superb skills laid down the spine for the grandiose structures summoned by Jari and that is no minor achievement. All in all, I reside in the camp of those who worship this album and who are awestruck by its elaborate world. So why take 2% off of the rating, you might wonder? Some certain parts of "Sleeping Stars" fall a bit short of the gloomy excellence the song is mostly constructed of. Yes, it's that simple: the album has basically one little flaw. Thus it is almost as close to perfection as possible so reach out your hands and grab this album before the second one finally comes out!
Originally written for http://reflectionsinthousandlakes.blogspot.fi/
This masterpiece tells a story when you listen to it, but since albums can't write reviews - I will have to. This studio album has it all: heavy riffs, orgasmic melodies, inhuman technical guitar solos, progressions, ballads, harsh vocals, clean manly vocals (not like those clean pop parts in gaycore music). Songs are aggressive, but very passionate, and every song is instantly memorable. They are all instantly memorable because: Beyond The Dark Sun is mind-blowing, fast and aggressive opener, with amazing sweep picking, crunchy riffs, fast tempo and monster drumming. That is the shortest track here, so naturally they made a music video. After it comes Winter Madness with insane guitar solo which is one of the best composed solos ever, progressions which are so very well done that you won't even notice tempo change, also this song has contrast between beautiful melodies and harsh vocals. Sleeping Stars is atmospheric song with amazing ambient. Very passionate one, with nicely done vocal parts and excellent lyrics.
Battle Against Time with excellent sing-along refrains, insane technical guitar solo and great headbanging riffs. Death And The Healing is passionate ballad, done with clean vocals, otherwise it would be totally ruined. It has long amazing impossible-to-play guitar solo full of sweeps, shredding and arpeggios and lyrics with really deep meaning. Starchild is the most progressive song from the album. It has head-crushing riffs, tasty lead guitars, excellent lyrics, lots of tempo changes and some folk metal parts appear. Beautiful Death has powerful riffs, another technical guitar solo, great atmosphere and of course, genial lyrics, just like every song here. Sadness And Hate is a bit folk metal, even more than that part of Starchild. It's very calm ending song, to complete the perfection of this release. So, everything is memorable and interesting here. Riffs are heavy, very creative, memorable, powerful, and there are many of them in every song.
Progression happen often, because of that every song changes its "mood" which makes progressive metal feel. Don't forget kids, Järi Mäenpää is guitar god. Just listen to those amazing sweeps, arpeggios, tapping and shredding in Beyond The Dark Sun, Winter Madness, Battle Against Time, Death And The Healing and Beautiful Death. Those solos are godlike, with overdose of feel and passion, and they are impossible to play for ordinary people. Not just riffs and guitar solos, but Jari gave nice keyboard touch to fill the songs with enchanting melodies and sometimes appear in solos. They weren't necessary in solos, but it's not like keyboards in solos of Sonata Arctica or Children Of Bodom. There keyboards play more important role than guitars, and that really sucks. Järi Mäenpää is not just god-like guitar player, but very intelligent philosopher. His lyrics can picture a man who was caught in a snow-storm, and his life comes to an end. I can almost see that man who fell in the snow, and starts slowly to drift into the world between reality and illusion. Also, Death And The Healing is genial song which describes how time flies fast, and how Järi feels because of that.
"Time" is dominant word and inspiration for most of his songs, even if we go back and listen to Ensiferum's songs from Ensiferum and Iron. Also, we all expect his studio album "Time". See? He needs lots of time to create Time... studio album. Not just Järi does amazing job here, but the drummer Kai Hahto. He really knows how to beat the fuck out of the drums, rape those double bass pedals, to smack massive blast beats and play really fast. Some think this band (because it is their only album) is overrated. Is it so? Why do people always bash on talented musicians, and yet enjoy so much popular mediocrity. Almost every melodic death metal band I've listened to is crap. This one is very unique and very enjoyable with talent overdose. Is Jari overrated because of his endless talent? Because of his perfect creativity? Because he can write genial lyrics which actually mean something? Which band can make story like this, giving clear image of almost dead man's state of mind, his way of thinking in his last moments of life? Wintersun is the answer. You can almost feel how harsh the winter storm is, and how helpless is the protagonist. This is not a concept album, but a story about life and death, shown through those amazing songs, and still each song is for its own.
Good sides of this release:
This is the best melodic death metal album, and this band is synonym for melodic death metal. So much talent and creative work here. If you see this album buy it, and help Järi make more perfect songs faster.
Bad sides of this release:
Do not expect other melodic death metal bands to be even close to Wintersun. This is the most perfect melodic death metal band. After them probably come Kalmah, but they stand no chance against almighty Wintersun.
Every single song.
'Wintersun' - Wintersun (7/10)
Arising to the attention of the metal world for his work in folk metal band Enisferum, singer and multi instrumentalist Jari Maenpaa already had a loyal fanbase before 'Wintersun' was released. With little idea what they would receive, the fans eagerly anticipated. While Wintersun is certainly more than a meager extension of the previous band, there are definately many of the things here, that gave Enisferum their fierce fanbase to begin with. Folk and power metal abounds here, with a little bit more heaviness than a typical metal fan may expect of either genre. What makes Wintersun and this debut so noteworthy is that it melds styles that surprisingly rarely cross in the metal scene.
While melodic power metal is generally thought to be something that's left to the whims of operatic dropouts and screechers in the style of Rob Halford, Maenpaa takes the speed and technical considerations of the aforementioned style, and couples it with many traits one might expect from black metal. Blackened screams and heavy-as-hell guitar riffage seems to work magically with the generally lighter lead playing and harmonies.
The album flow of 'Wintersun' seems to be very much relient on a 'shortest-to-longest' format. Over the course of the album (which almost hits the hour mark) one begins to notice that the songs get longer and longer, going from a vicious two minute introduction to a drawn out and frostbitten epic finale that tops the ten minute mark. While this might be an interesting gag, it can make for an uneven feeling of flow along the way. However, 'Wintersun' is the sort of album that is better based on the quality of the songs themselves rather than the overall product.
Besides the drums, this is Jari's show completely. He writes all of the music, and performs all of the instruments except the percussion, which is played skillfully in a black metal style by Kai Hahto. For anyone that is not a fan of speed in heavy metal, it is better to skip by this one. 'Wintersun' blows the doors off in terms of tempo, and more often than not, things are racing by at lightspeed with blastbeats, and fastly picked guitar melodies. This is an area of the music that is completely subjective however. The transitions from the heavy to lighter portions of music can be very rough at times, but the band's emphasis on heaviness in their power metal blend is very refreshing to my ears.
While it is enjoyable to listen to such a powerful and energetic album, it can feel at points like there should be more variety. Throughout, it feels like very similar riffs are being used; and Maenpaa (while being a gifted metal guitarist) is pulling out the same tricks over and over again and expecting it to be just as impressive. All things considered however, this is a very competent debut album, and with a new highly anticipated Wintersun album arriving to shelves late in 2011, the sound of great potential is heard even more in this music.
There are only a few bands that already have a legendary status after their debut album. The stunning legacy and mystery that already surrounds the band's future output "Time" that has been delayed over and over again and seems to be a very one of the most epic, complex and complicated albums that have ever been created in the metal universe is comparable to the story of Guns 'n' Roses' "Chinese Democracy". That's why I wanted to take a closer look on this band and I must admit that the hype is exagerated.
"Wintersun" deliver dark and very epic folk metal and their album goes from the shortest to the longest track. The musical and lyrical directions in general remind a lot of the Finnish metal legends "Ensiferum" and other folk metal bands like "Tyr" while the epic constructions are inspired by older bands with epic sounds such as the inventors of Viking Metal that are "Bathory" but they also take some bits and pieces from rather modern epic melodic death or folk metal bands such as "Children of Bodom" or "Equilibrium". ´
While this mixture is not truly original or innovating, the band proves that they are great and ambitious musicians and create diversified mixtures of all those influences. The main prioblem in here is that they exagerate a little bit and put sometimes too many overwhelming elements in their sound which is also a problem I have with bands such as "Blind Guardian" or "Rhapsody of Fire". Instead of remaining and focussing on a great melody they put too many ideas in one single song and that's sometimes a little bit hard to digest and asks several tries and a lot of attention. Technically, this band is brilliant and honours their multiple influences but the songwriting could be starighter and more coherent. Sometimes, I'm losing them in the longer songs and they don't get down to earth and to the point even if every song has some good ideas from long and epic narrative passages to violent melodic death metal parts.
This diversity only works completely well in the shortest piece of the record which is "Beyond the dark sun" and the band already puts ideas in this short and sweet song of two and a half minutes that other bands would put in three songs of about five minutes: power metal guitar riffs and keyboard interludes that remind of "Stratovarius", epic narrative passages that remind of "Bathory", catchy death metal vocals that remind of "Children of Bodom", slight folk tale melodies that use abnds such as "Equilibrium" and a general atmosphere that is similar to the first two albums of "Ensuiferum". The track is though shorte nough top remain catchy and addictable which isn't the case for the longer and longer tracks that put three times as much ideas in almost ten minutes of music.
There is one single exception on this album which is the last song called "Sadness and hate" that takes some time to focus on an epic and majestic atmosphere, simple but addicting melodies and a fascinating story with interesting lyrics. This best song is a great closure for the record and I hope that the band will create more epic songs in that style on their fortchcoming record.
In the end we have a very ambitious, epic and diversified record here that aims very high but that is too overwhelming, creatiev and megalomaniac at some points. While every song is interesting and has great passages, the tracks as a whole are sometimes hectical, confusing and simply frustrating. The shortest and the longest track represnet the two extremes and how the band should and could work in the future to create catchier tunes. Sometimes, less is more and structure and patience is better than exagerated intellectuality and pressure. For the next record, the abnd took a lot of time and I hope they trained their focus to elaborate their songs slower and further at the same time. Nevertheless, anybody that likes the bands I have all mentioned above will appreciate the record at least as much as a critical person like me and probably even more so that I can only suggest to give this record a try. This is surely on a way better level than other folk metal bands such as "Alestorm", "Swashbuckle" or "Eluveitie". If you happen to like epic folk metal but you find this stuff too hard I can suggest you to try out the latest albums of "Tyr", "Turisas" and maybe "Heljareyga".
It’s not very often that I reward an album with a perfect score, but Wintersun’s debut album really earns it. As we’re all still waiting for over seven years for the second album to be on the way, just one glance at this record reminds us why the hell we still hope for that second album to come out. But most of all we want to know how the hell Jari Mäenpää can top this masterpiece of epic power metal.
Nothing but good words from me about this record. From the opening track “Beyond the Dark Sun” on you will be bombarded with epic chord progressions, strong melodies straight from the gut and in-your-face heaviness combined with virtuosic solos. Mr. Mäenpää sorted his songs from short to long and released them in exactly that form and surprisingly the winning formula of variation coincides. After the fast, epic introduction of “Beyond the Dark Sun” we get to know the heavy side of Mäenpää and the true nature of drummer Kai Hahto as furious blastbeats dominate the track, ironically topped with a melodic, icy ambience. Mäenpää’s screams sound very convincing and full of emotion; not something I often experience when hearing screams, growls or grunts. The great solo in the middle also deserves a little mention. From fast and melodic to heavy and aggressive to the third song of the album: “Sleeping Stars”. As the title might suggest this song tends to be an epic ballad-ish type of song. Given that Mäenpää still uses his screams might indicate this is not truly a ballad, but we also get to hear him sing here and he does it alright. Too bad his singing voice is mixed a little to the background so it doesn’t fully come to its right. With these three first tracks, we’ve seen the many-sidedness of Wintersun and the next few tracks will blend these elements to longer tracks with worthy mentions being the epic ballad “Death and the Healing”, the progressive “Starchild”, the blackened “Beautiful Death” and the beautiful album closer “Sadness and Hate”. I could write another paragraph to describe each and every one of them, but it will contain the word ‘epic’ a little too many times.
Instead, I’ll focus upon what makes this album thrive so much. The concept of a dark sun, a winter sun, is nothing new within the Scandinavian metal acts, but I have rarely seen an album so obsessed by eternal winter, by epic darkness, that it actually brings a melancholic element to the band. Within this aggressive record of despair, grief, anger and regret there’s a very strong longing for light; a desperate cry to reach the warm sun, which is a source of positive energy. I think it might very well be a feeling familiar to many inhabitants of northern Scandinavia and other countries close to the North Pole. For me, someone who doesn’t know the effect of the dark winter sun in my country, the feeling is still familiar, but not the literal phenomenon. On pictures it always is a beautiful sight to see such an image, but in reality, such a long period of darkness affects your mood. This album totally captures that mood. Its melodies and sounds are beautiful, but in reality Mäenpää and Hahto want to make us feel like they do and the lyrics are as dark as the night. I think it’s a really thrilling concept and they did a good job bringing that concept to a credible and terrific end.
In short, if you want an album that not only sounds original, but also has a thrilling concept combined with excellent music, executed by virtuosos, this album should be on your ‘to-get’-list. Today, almost five years after I discovered this album, I still listen to it and enjoy it to the full. I have different favourites every time I hear it though.
Strongest moments: “Winter Madness”, “Death and the Healing” and “Beautiful Death”.
There’s just something about Finland that I don’t think we Yanks will ever understand. More often than not, all those extreme metal bands that keep popping up like pimples on a pubescent’s face from the thousand lakes are just excellent beyond excellence, coupling bone-shattering heaviness with heroin-esque addictive hooks that keep the listener mesmerized. There is something in the atmosphere, something appealing with a country that spends half a year under swaths of snow that makes for great, heavy, and catchy-as-fuck music.
And the cream of the crop, all present BS aside, is this here Wintersun band.
Wintersun is, in my eyes, an amalgam of pretty much every great aspect of Finnish metal…a feast of neo-classical/progressive/Viking/folky/melodic black metal done with that “Kaiitos”-evoking touch. For all his perfectionism, this Jari Maenpaa fella can definitely craft some amazing music, and this is shown in the most absolute of spades on this album. While not stretching too far from his Ensiferum-ridden roots in the musical sense, Wintersun instead conjures up more of an image of wintry dominion and natural wonder versus the former-mentioned group’s chants of Viking dominance (funny how certain bands can create a sound that’s taken straight from nature with electronic instrumentation…but that’s neither here nor there). All this comes together as a double-edged sword of infectious melody and head smashing brutality the likes of which so few equals can ever come close to capturing, made all the more intriguing due to the fact that Mr. Maenpaa pretty much did all this by himself (except for the drum work); being able to bring to little those tasty guitar licks, powerful riffs, atmospheric keyboard lines, epic screams and booming choirs by one’s lonesome is something that earns an A+ in my book, even if the wild abandon percussive rolls and blast beats come from outside sources. Every song on this disc is a invocation of extreme metal perfection…that combination of seemingly contrasting styles pushed through a potent production wringer and shot forth with the madness and intensity of sudden winter gales; I truly don’t see anything wrong on this, nothing that shouldn’t be complete and utter ear candy to anyone in the melodic black/death metal world, where songs like “Winter Madness”, “Battle Against Time” and “Beautiful Death” shove more ideas at you than your poor, abused ears can possibly handle. Such is the never-ending insanity known as the most prominent self-titled album I’ve come across, present and past bands included.
In the end the first Wintersun blew me the fuck away and has given the metal world the first entry of quite possibly the best Finnish metal band in recent years. The first album is so damned good one would have to wonder…where the hell can it possibly go from here? How can it get any better than this? I guess “Time” will tell…when it comes to pass
If you haven't already heard of Wintersun, I pity you. In 2002, Jari Maenpaa (not the proper characters, but oh well) left another band called Ensiferum to pursue his own goals as a musician. The result was Wintersun; a band that fused folk metal, black metal and melodic death metal all into one bundle of echoing beauty.
Their debut, self-titled album is loaded with exactly what you would expect from the above-mentioned combination of music; melodic riffs, insane drumming (thanks to ex-Rotten Sound drummer Kai Hahto), and a mix up between clean and harsh vocals. The music puts imagery right in your head and you can instantly tell what Jari was trying to depict with whatever song you're listening to.
But to go into further detail, the album has a fair amount of variety to it, albeit only having eight songs on it. There's the more intense, "in your face" type of songs ("Beyond The Dark Sun", and the aptly titled "Winter Madness") that are more up-tempo. Then there's the slower paced songs that are more oriented towards the beauty behind them as opposed to aggression ("Star Child", "Sleeping Stars"). The songs are anywhere from 3 minutes to 10 minutes in length, which somewhat compensates for the fact that there aren't many songs to be heard here.
Aside from the above mentioned, Kai Hahto really shows off his drumming abilities in terms of variety in style and endurance (the intro to "Battle Against Time" having a full two minutes of blast-beating). Jari Maenpaa handles the vocals, guitar, bass and keyboard roles on this album, and he is pretty skilled in all of them. He shows off his ability to lay down clean singing and harsh screams all in one song...even doing a growl in "Beautiful Death". His keyboards are very atmospheric and add to the theme of the song. The real part of him that shines here, however, is his guitar playing. Songs like "Winter Madness", "Death and the Healing" and "Beautiful Death" all display his abilities to fuse phrasing, dynamics, melody, and some pretty crazy shredding all into one beautiful solo. His solos are probably the highlight of this album.
My only real gripe about this album is that it's only eight songs long. I would hope that since alot of these songs were written YEARS before Wintersun was even formed that Jari would have more material. I would also rant about how only about half of the songs on here have guitar solos, but I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
So all in all, if you want some variety in your metal, yet you can't seem to stray from the more extreme side of metal, pick up Wintersun's self-titled album; especially if you're a fan of black metal, folk metal, and/or melodic death metal, because it literally has it all.
I don't hate this album. In fact, it has some really good moments here and there, but those are diluted by the fact that Wintersun are a product of the frightening and growing trend of all style and no substance. Jari Maenpaa is revered highly by many people for reasons that I will never agree with. Yeah, he can string together a lot of riffs and keyboards and drum tracks and vocal tracks and screaming and everything else that he could possibly think of - seriously, man, where are the accordion solos, A Capella sections and rapping verses? I think you forgot a few things. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.
This album is basically just every In Flames/Dark Tranquillity kid's wet dream: flashy, overly sweet melodies, processed speed metal riffs polished to a sickening sheen and of course harsh vocals that, while competent and workable, wouldn't even scare away your five year old sibling, most likely. Why do bands like this even use harsh vocals to begin with, anyway? That's a good question that I think needs some answering. Do they just not want to take the extra time to find a strong clean vocalist to sing over their rather melodically inclined music? I mean, really, the basic function of harsh vocals in the first place is to act as an extra instrument of sorts, to provide atmosphere and help the music out in that regard - were they ever intended to lead the music in the same fashion as clean vocals? I don't think so, and it might just be personal taste shining through here, but that is about why I cannot get into the vocal stylings in most melodeath bands.
So, really, what can you say about Wintersun? It's melodramatic, it's jam-packed with ideas and you certainly can't fault Mr. Maenpaa for not trying - the effort here is obvious, I just don't happen to enjoy this very much. A few times I thought it was really getting good, like on the Children of Bodom-esque "Winter Madness" and the somber "Sleeping Stars," but that never happened, as pretty much every other song on here is not good. This is very tiring music, very over-saturated, very much like a stick of cotton candy. It tastes good and sweet, but there's not much to chew on. This is music that basically just wants to be as extreme (not extreme like extreme metal though, just extreme like DragonForce's last couple of albums) as possible; nothing else. The creativity in the arrangements unfortunately lends nothing to the enjoyment of the music. This is basically just early Children of Bodom with dignity, and that just takes all the fun out of it; it's missing the point of early Bodom entirely.
These songs - yes, all of them except for the two I mentioned before - spend too much time being technical and fast and not enough with rich hooks and memorable guitar licks and everything else that makes metal such a pleasure to listen to. A lot of modern bands do this, and it never turns out good, and Wintersun have done nothing to rectify it. If you don't want anything else in your music but wading-pool-level theatrics and meaningless technicality, you will fucking love this, but me, I can't get that excited about it. Fuck, I don't even hate this or anything, but it's already annoying me more the more I think about it. Then again, though, I guess I shouldn't expect much from a guy who calls his music "Extreme Technical Majestic Epic Melodic Metal," or some shit like that. What a fucking joke.
Here, in Wintersun's debut album, I find a very solid and very good release. First of all, as far as songwriting goes, Jari really steped up his game. All of the melodies in all of the songs are pretty exceptional. Honestly, I would probably give the album a good 10 percent higher if I received a copy of only the lead guitar and the vocals. All lead guitar parts and melodies are extremely thoughtful, and even if they do sound similar from time to time, what band doesn't have similar sounding lead parts? You really can't find any. I could really go on all day about the power of these lead melodies. From fast paced in your face riffs like the one off of beyond the dark sun, to the slower and soothing melody of death and healing, the lead melodies took me into another world.
Jari suceeded in painting an atmosphere with these melodies. Jari was always very good with melodies. His work in Ensiferum completely backs this up. But unlike in his work with ensiferum, the melodies and lead parts were not only very interesting, but they also completely took me into another world. In Wintersun, the music certainly painted a clear picture of many different sectinos of an epic journey, similar to what listening to any moonsorrow album will do.
The big problem I found in the album though, came in the rythm section. Almost everything lead oriented was really spot on, but the rythm sections of this album completely lacked. The drumming was downright boring, the rythm guitar palm muted and tremelo picked everything, you couldn't even come close to hearing the bass because it was just following the guitars, and when the synth wasn't playing a lead, the chords just distracted me from really getting into the song. I think the problem here was that Jari did EVERYTHING. As good of a lead guitarist and vocalist as he is, he cannot write interesting rythms to save his life. In Ensiferum, Jari had other people to do this. He had a bassist, a rythm guitarist, and a drummer. Here, he did not have a bassist, did not have a rythm guitarist, and although he had a drummer I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Jari told the drummer exactly what to do because no good drummer should ever use blast beats as much as he did in this album.
The rythm section of really ruined this album for me, mainly because I really believe that a strong rythm is needed for any lead parts to really shine. In this album, there are multiple examples of where well written lead lines were boring and dull because of simplistic rythms. The opening riff to starchild is a great example of this. The leading riff is great, I love it, I learned it by ear and I play it all the time. It's fun, upbeat, interesting, and still very melodic. But if you listen to the drums, bass, synth, and rythm guitar, it just kills what the lead is playing. On drums we have a very fast tremelo double bass drum with some hits on the snare and symbols. Nothing is less interesting than listening to a straight tremelo double bass drum pattern for more than one measure. I love double bass, but it needs to be used tactfully. Listening to the same, fast, back and forth pattern instantly bores me. On the rythm guitar we have more tremelo, big surprise. Palm mutes, tremelo, switching notes as in accordance to the lead line. Now, this isn't always bad. This kind of rythm is actually very complimentary for the lead guitar at some points. But when the drummer is doing the exact same tremelo on the double bass, its just to dull. On top of all that, I don't even know if bass was recorded here. I can't hear it. Probably because its just following the rythm guitar. No surprise though, that's what happens when lead guitarists write bass parts. Then on top of all that, in the very light background we have this shrill synth playing these chords that just make me want to jump off a bridge.
And that's just one example of failure in the rythm section. Those kind of things are all over the album. The drumming is plagued with blast beats and your simple average rock drum patterns, the bass is consistantly just doing what the rythm guitar does. And the rythm guitar is either playing tremelo or long held out power chords to compliment the leads. I really cannot find a decent rythm on this whole album, despite the genious that is the lead lines.
So after bashing probably the most important part of any rock album, you might ask, "why the hell did you give this album an 80 percent?" Well, that's because, despite the horrid rythms, I cannot get past the genious of the lead lines, vocal patterns, and composition of the album. This is probably the only album where the lead parts and composition is so good that it overshadows poor rythms.
So in conclusion, I would certainly suggest this album to pretty much anyone. Especially anyone that enjoys blast beats and mindless rythms (and I guarantee there are people out there like that). The leads and melodies are just so good that everyone should get a chance to listen to them, even if they dont like the album as a whole. I personally am very excited to hear Wintersun's upcoming release of "Time." Hopefully, if Jari has a real bassit and rythm guitarist to work with, the rythms wont be so common and typical as if the guy who just put all that time into writing lead lines came up with something simple in a few seconds.
Over the years, my musical interests have evolved slowly, but surely. It went from Slipknot and Korn to Killswitch Engage and modern In Flames. Alas, my tolerance for music with technicality rose and any album that can place excessive solos and guitar squeals in an efficient manner without sounding too audacious, I'd listen to it (production and vocals evidently coming in to play). When I hit this stage, my friends were constantly recommending Wintersun. I was being spammed with links to "Beyond the Dark Sun" on a daily basis. At first, the music came across as brash and full of abhorrent wankery, but in due time, I loved the song. It was time to get their debut.
When I put it in, I was expecting the awesome riffing and technicality of the album-opener all the way through. While this is true, it's done in a coma-inducing manner. By that, I mean they copied every riff and drum pattern then pasted it on every song, threw in some symphonic sound effects to make it "epic" and added some awful clean vocals to top it off. The last track finished and I was just sitting there going, "Was that one song?" Jari and his fellow band mates are undeniably talented and the solo in "Winter Madness" is probably something all guitar players fantasize over, but it's not enough to save this album. Normally, I pan albums for the inconsistency that plagues a lot of albums these days, but Wintersun's debut is TOO consistent. An abrasive consistency, if you will. Every song is dragged on far, far too long with very, very stale riffing/solos. The sad part of this is that it was good at first. Imagine receiving oral sex from an extremely beautiful woman for 7 minutes (which represents the first two tracks), but she then tells you she has STDs (representing the rest of the album). It's an extreme disappointment to know that such talent went to waste with this record. Had most of the songs been cut in half and maybe added variety and added more crunch and bang to the guitars/drums, respectively, the album would be an absolute masterpiece. Unfortunately, uninspired and repulsive song writing gets the best of this potentially-amazing album and you're left to wonder what the fuck happened.
My unbiased viewpoint on this album should be taken into consideration before buying this. What you're getting is paradise that takes a quick turn into unrelenting disaster. I'll be checking out their next record, "Time", for the sake of these guys' talents, but something tells me the title of their next album is an indication that the songs on it will be much longer.
I don't like Ensiferum, or their ilk of shallow saccharine folk metal. I don't like much power metal or faux-symphonic wank, and I generally don't like albums like this: unabashedly pompous, often flowery and straining ever-so-hard to reach the heights of epicness.
It should have been a mess... but it's not. It works. Somehow. It's hard to put my finger on it, but there's a level of composition skill and genuine expressiveness of emotion usually absent on these kinds of albums. Well, the term "these kinds of albums" is not very apt; there's nothing much that sounds like Wintersun's blend of prog, power and melodic death. But you know what I mean; those unabashedly pompous, often flowery and straining to be epic type of things.
The two openers are the closest to standard power metal. But the riffs, catchy as they are, are not easy to grab hold of. Unlike many power metal riffs, which start off catchy and get old really quickly, there's a depth and elusiveness to them. They kick, twist and writhe. The emphasis of particular riff doesn't quite fall where you expect it to; the tempo changes occur unexpectedly but not awkwardly. A large part of this is thanks to the excellent percussion, which is varied and expressive. For example, 'Winter Madness' opens with a power metal riff underpinned by blastbeats. Unusual in theory but it works.
And the same is true for the rest of the album, though less rooted in power metal. But there's something else - that intangible quality of memorability and expressiveness which really does take this album to a level of epicness close to that intended by its writer. 'Sleeping Stars' embodies this. It's a Primordial-ish epic centred around a massive barrelling riff (though this is more of a lighter, proggier sound than Primordial's more doomish sound). Jari's vocals are excellent and diverse throughout too.
'Battle Against Time' is probably the only weak track on the album. Aside from that, my only criticism is of the production which is a little too fluffy for my taste. I can understand how this can turn people off (and at the same time attract the dreaded newbie fanbase) but it's stomach-able for me at least. Asking for an symphonic, proggish epic without the fluffiness is probably like asking for french fries without potato, but I think a slightly rougher production could have been managed without sacrificing Jari's goals.
Whenever a prominent musician decides to leave his current band and work on a wholly different project, it can be sure that their fans and detractors alike are braced to be cock-slapped with whatever fetid music they have envisioned; they descend down to another circle of hell all in the name of exercising their creativity. Wintersun's self titled debut did not have the same effect on the fanbase that Jari had gathered from his days with Ensiferum and as a whole has been warmly received by the metal community despite the fact it's pretty shit; most of the time at least.
'Wintersun' is an oddity; at times it sounds like Jari had been listening to one too many Children of Bodom LPs (the early ones of course) and in other sections it is disturbingly reminiscent of Ensiferum, just without all the ghastly folk instruments pervading every square inch of the music. The two opening songs, "Beyond the Dark Sun" and "Winter Madness", are pretty fucking awesome; very majestic sounding melodic death metal. Again, the closest description I can think of is Children of Bodom's 'Hatebreeder' which is a compliment if you're thinking otherwise; there's nothing wrong with ball-bustingly fast riffs and solos with some exceptionally flamboyant but appropriate keyboards. Even the more melodic sections in "Winter Madness" seem to flow unhindered within the confines of the song and enhance it.
At this point of the album my cynicism gland kicked in and reminded me that the gentleman fronting this band had previously been in Ensiferum and thus, it was inevitable he'd cock this up somehow and by golly, he upped that cock with some legendary talent indeed. The remainder of the album can be split into two distinct species, songs that are; far too long or far too melodic.
Let's tackle the first species of this decrepit pair; exceptionalis longus (note: I know absolutely no Latin. Consider this abuse of an ancient language as being artistic license or something). This creature isn't necessarily repulsive; at first glance songs such as "Battle Against Time" and "Starchild" hardly differ from the two aforementioned tracks and are quite enjoyable for the first four minutes or so. After this time though you've got the idea, and the riffs aren't being varied to such a degree to alleviate the glaringly obvious flaw that you've still got another three or four minutes of this to go. There are quite a few melodic and keyboard breaks throughout that have been wedged in as a rather limp-dicked effort at being epic, but hardly achieve what their entire purpose is based on.
The second species is far more numerous however and will at times exhibit similar initial attributes as the previous one; fast riffing, lots of decent keyboards and such (I was going to give this one a Latin name as well but it'd be the same as above except I was going to bastardise the word 'melodic'). Regardless, this species is far more guileful and will gush forth with a deluge of melodious keyboards and slower riffs that will send to sleep faster than a flunitrazepam martini (shaken, not stirred). "Sleeping Stars" and "Death and Healing" are the most devoid of any substance, being nothing more than an exercise in exhausting your patience by going through the typical melodic/ballad song structure. I can only assume that Wintersun are still trying to be epic but at this point in the album I'm finding my 1300 page book on university-level calculus to be far more enthralling.
On the whole though, there are just so many moments that are just irrevocably terrible; the (synth?) trumpets in the latter half of "Starchild", the stupid whispering over the ambient backdrop in the first half of "Beautiful Death" and the entirety of the song "Sadness and Hate". However if they aren't bowel-clenchingly bad then they're most likely to be completely redundant and in most cases they're detrimental to the overall quality, like a thorned appendix.
I suppose the only real saving grace (besides the first two tracks) is that the musicians are extraordinarily talented and there are some amazing solos and lead work throughout the entire album. Even the faster riffs, despite their repetition and tendency to wear thin, are a great listen during the first couple of times they cycle through. The problem is that Wintersun suffer from trying far too hard to create an epic album when they could make an excellent, straight-up melodic death metal album; it would certainly be far greater than the usual gothenburg plague we've been weathering these past few years.
Thus in the name of wanking off to one's own superiority, we end up with Wintersun's self titled; an album that will appeal to if you couldn't get enough of early Children of Bodom and have an immense tolerance for soul-draining melodic songs/sections and keyboards. Also recommended for the hardcore BDSM crowd; the sounds emitted from this album will get your sub squealing louder than your other 'sounds'.
This is one of those rare albums that only happens once or twice a year. Something where you just think "wow, where did this come from?". Before 2004 there was absolutely no indication that this band would ever form, even though it had been in the works for almost a good 10 years. I was lucky enough to discover Wintersun back in the summer 2004, before the album release, on a sampler with the track "Sleeping Stars". I remember thinking how is it that a band this good is completely unknown to me and that I've never heard mention of them before. I could simply not believe that this was the first album of what was virtually a solo project.
Anyway, these days Wintersun is well known in the metal community. The line-up has been augmented by Norther and Imperanon members, and there is a pretty respectable fanbase around the world. There are so many styles displayed on this album that it is no wonder that it was a ten year effort. There are also so many intricacies and small details in the music that three years later, I am still hearing small synth parts in the background on certain songs. This album has that much depth. There is such a high replay value on this album that it almost forgives the fact that the new CD has been delayed almost 2 years.
The main style of the music is fast and melodic metal with harsh vocals. But one should not that there are also excellent clean vocals, folk influences, black metal (though minimal), and progressive influences. A quick breakdown of the styles you will encounter on the tracks -
Beyond the Dark Sun - fast, aggressive, melodic
Winter Madness - fast, progressive, somewhat folky
Sleeping Stars - slow, melancholic, folky, epic
Battle Against Time - fast, aggressive, almost vikingish at times
Death and the Healing - slow, melodic, clean vocals
Starchild - progressive, technical, epic
Beautiful Death - heavy, blackened influence, ambient (ending)
Sadness and Hate - slow, folky, heavy, melodic
You only get a small sense from the above list about how varied the album truly is. One need only look at the solos in Winter Madness, Death and the Healing, and Battle Against Time to see what a great lead guitarist/soloist Jari is (the sweep picking is inhumanly clean!). The genius of his songwriting and structures are seen on songs like Sleeping Stars and Starchild, where there is a longer story told in the songs, with tons of riffs that still form a coherent song. Other songs will show off Jari's vocals, be it the cleans on Death and the Healing and Sadness and Hate, or the harsh ones in Winter Madness and Beautiful Death. It would be fair to say that this cd displays mastery of vocals and guitar work in the metal genre. Did I mention that Jari also played synth and bass in addition?
The drumming is just as fantastic. When technical skill is called for, Kai Hahto delivers on all fronts, however he also has the restraint to never let the drums get in the way, especially on slower parts. The entire kit is used on almost every song, with so many good fills to transition between riffs that the flow of the album is completely flawless. The production is also great on this album. Very clear, but now so clear that it feels sterile. It is still dirty enough to make song s like Beautiful Death work, but still clean enough to make the guitar solos sound great. Mixing is also great, as I mentioned, there are many less important melodies and lines that can be heard in the background that are not very apparent at first, but after several listens are a nice enhancement and definitely help the replay value.
The style is itself hard to describe. Think Stratovarius meets Ensiferum meets Moonsorrow meets Yngwie Malmsteen. The riffs are generally very melodic with nice harmonies and several different guitar lines. Synth plays a small role, either backing the melodies with strings and choir, or doubling the lead guitar to create a different texture. The songs tend to follow a verse and chorus structure, but on several songs the verse and chorus riff never repeat, but are one continuous melody. On others the riffs are repeated but either have variations made to them or build up so that there is always something new happening. Interestingly, the end of Sadness and Hate is also a synth medley of several melodies from throughout the CD, a very good way of ending the CD.
Although invoking the Viking rune of the sun and the winter that precedes Ragnarök isn’t in line with Finland’s own collection of legends, they are a fitting title to describe the sounds canvassed onto this rather unique album. The artwork that introduces the prospective listener to it depicts a lone individual lying dead in the snow, his body positioned to reflect the final stagger of a broken soul condemned under a vicious winter sun. But the contents are what truly articulate this album’s chilling sense of fate, futility, and the struggles of life.
The general flow of the album is a steady progression from simplicity and brevity to complexity and epic composition, as each track is progressively longer than the one preceding it. The longer each song gets, the more difficult the album gets to follow, as the songs’ structures accumulate in complexity as well as duration. “Sadness and Hate” has so many twists and turns that one could listen to it a dozen times back to back and still have a hard time recalling some of its many themes.
Although Winter Sun functions as a full band, Jari Mäenpää plays all instruments but drums, which you wouldn’t guess otherwise. The guitar sound is one of the most powerful and punchy I’ve heard since MegaDeth’s “Rust in Peace”, and is not diminished by the occasional added effects. The leads invoke a variety of influences flawlessly, be it an impressive Yngwie-inspired Baroque style fill found early on in “Beyond the Dark Sun”, or the tinny exotic clean solo that closes out “Beautiful Death”. The keyboards go mostly for atmosphere, but are heavily present, almost to the point of giving the music a slight Sonata Arctica sound at times.
The vocals, likewise, give the impression of an ensemble of 6 vocalists as they vary constantly. The clean singing creates the perfect set of dialogues and foils for the heavily present harsh lead vocals, which don’t limit themselves to atonal barks but also occasionally imitate Rob Halford and King Diamond. “Winter Madness” and “Starchild” have the most frequent dialogues and change-ups, all following suit from the rapid pace set by the music, the latter having an incredibly catchy yet somber chorus.
It’s extremely tough to pick out one song as a favorite out of this extremely impressive set of atmospherically dense melodic death opuses. “Beyond the Dark Sun” takes the lead for the most powerful main riff, which I still can’t get out of my head, and will likely be the easiest song to follow out of the lot. “Death and the Healing” is definitely the most mellow and melancholy, while “Starchild” makes the most effective use of Jari’s folk inspired melodies. To this day I still can’t decide on a particular song as being above the rest, making track skipping a non-issue.
Fans of Ensiferum, In Flames, Into Eternity, Skyfire, Children of Bodom and Amon Amarth will all probably enjoy this album, perhaps in most cases more than said bands. It definitely has crossover appeal to power/thrash metal fans, as I was instantly taken in by this when I heard it. Although most will question the necessity of the former front man of a band starting a new one with a similar style, I think the more music of this caliber, the merrier.
A very cohesive, well-polished, and masterfully performed record. Where to start? The riffs are fast, aggressive, and edgy, yet they are still melodic and folk driven. Jari, the mastermind behind the album who recorded all but the drums for it, seems to have found close to that perfect balance between extreme and melodic which so many other bands appear to be struggling with today. His vocals and impeccably clear, yet rough enough to not be "poppy" and his use of choral vocals and the mixing of screams with singing is great. Much diversity in the vocals, gotta love that.
Unfortunately, not much diversity elsewhere. He seems to think that one riff can make about 2 1/2 songs worth of good material, which is definitely not the case. Some of the songs feel pretty rehashed by the end of the album (listen to the staggered riff in "Starchild" and compare it to "Beyond the Darkened Sun", you'll see what I mean). But, that aside there is much melody and cool stuff abound and the album is sure to please even if it does get a little repetitive.
Another cool thing about the album is the all around feel of it. The production is sleek, and very clean which gives it a cold and mechanical sound, which fits the theme of the lyrics, and the band name, quite well. On a side note, the lyrics are great too and really capture the struggle Jari went through during his band transition from Ensiferum to Wintersun. The folk melodies also remind the listener of Nordic tunes and winter etc. ; all in all it's a very cool effect. I also personally enjoyed the speed and accuracy of his playing; not all guitar players are created (or practice) equally and Jari most certainly is a master of the instrument. Along with the hyper-fast keyboard fills. Gotta love those.
In summation, if you are a fan of power metal of any kind, check it out and don't be afraid of the harsh vocals. If you are an extreme metal fan, don't be afraid of the melody and keyboards, there are lots of very extreme moments (and songs) and it's a very emotionally packed and aggressive album. And if you like both worlds like me, then are you waiting for?! Go buy this album now!
This album is a masterpiece, a fusion of mainly melodic death metal, black metal and folk themes and ideas, resulting in perfection. The brainchild of Jari Maenpaa, former Ensiferum lead singer and guitarist, Wintersun is his latest creation. While it is unfortunate Jari is no longer with his former band, he moves onto greater things, namely, this.
Jari does everything on the album. He handles vocals (both clean and harsh), backing vocals, lead guitar, guitar, bass, and keyboards (synth), everything with the exception of the drums played by Kai Hahto. Jari is clearly enormously talented, handling each part extremely well. His vocals are something which really stand out, his growls are second to none, and he is in my humble opinion the best metal vocalist I’ve ever heard, being able to merge melody and brutality into his voice. His clean vocals are also fantastic and are used sparingly on the album to give a great contrast to his harsh vocals.
The music is not that dissimilar from Ensiferum, however if Wintersun is winter (hint: the clues in the name), then Ensiferum was autumn (fall). Time has moved on since autumn, things are colder and people have grown older, this is reflected in the music. The album actually sounds colder and more technical than Ensiferum, and is precise and calculated, rather than thrashy and bombastic. The core elements remain the same with a melodic guitar riff backed by another and some keyboards carrying the melody with the drums taking the rhythm and bass. The bass guitar often has simplistic parts which simply add to the overall sound, rather than leading it.
The songs are masterfully constructed, and we can see the great part Jari had in Ensiferums writing from their latest efforts (Victory songs). Jari writes more epic and lengthy songs for this album, with some shorter ones thrown in as well. The pacing on each is well handled, songs like ‘Beyond the Dark Sun’ being very fast, while others like ‘Sadness and Hate’ being slower. However a lot of songs have faster, slower and mid paced parts bleed together, to give the songs greater emotion and power. Clean vocals are usually used on the slower parts to give a ‘calm within a storm’ feel. The album creates a great atmosphere, as I said earlier, the music actually sounds cold.
Songs like ‘Starchild’ show just how great the album is. The song starts off with a fast paced chugging guitar riff, drums and the keyboards and lead guitar taking the melody. It slows twists and turns and really shows off Jari’s vocals when it gets to the line ‘I fall like a burning star’. The lyrics, address themes of life, death, space and time, and are philosophical in a sense, in this case, the song ‘Starchild’ being about a god like being who is a ‘creator of dimensions’. The music is also incredibly complex with up to 7 different parts going at once, all great on their own, but put together create a rich tapestry of sound, the level of musicianship and high standard of composition unmatched by all put a few artists.
The album is also remarkably consistent, with each song being of outstanding quality, one can have favourites but each song has different merits and it merely comes down to personal preference. Personally I fell ‘Starchild’ (Jari’s personal favourite) and ‘Sadness and Hate’ (with a beautiful clean interlude) stand out as epic songs.
This album is timeless perfection. Don’t let the cynics put you off, there is none better than Jari, and this is his Masterpiece. Just be glad your blessed enough to hear it.
This is it? THIS is the source of all that hype? What's wrong with this world?
Everyone was creaming their pants over this one, so I figured I'd pick it up to see what all the fuss was about. Well, several listens later, I still don't know what all the fuss is about. This album is painfully average all the way through, and while it's definitely worth getting, there's nothing here that justifies the kind of worship it's been getting. Jari should have stuck with Ensiferum. Ensiferum wasn't (and still isn't) all that great, but their stuff is a hell of a lot more fun than this.
The album kicks off with "Beyond the Dark Sun," which opens with a speedy, "melodeath" riff. No need to pay much attention to that riff, you'll hear it again. And again. And again. "Battle Against Time" uses a modification of it, "Starchild" is driven by a choppier version of it, and so on. What drags this album down more than anything else is sheer repetition, so much so that the only headbanging you'll be doing is pounding your head against a wall.
Anyway, "Beyond the Dark Sun" isn't too memorable, but it's a pretty nice, speedy little song, less than three minutes in length. Then every subsequent song is over the five minute mark, with all but two topping seven minutes and one lasting over ten. And there's no reason for that. Most of those songs could have been half their length, easily. But no, this is an "Epic Melodic Death Metal" band, and we all know that "epic" means "long fucking songs." Not just long fucking songs, but pointlessly long fucking songs. And if you have to be reptitive to do it, then so be it, because the gods of metal do not smile on concision. Good lord. It's not artful, it's not "thinking man's metal," it's just stupid.
There are many songs that are both long and deserving of their length. None of them happen to be on this album.
Then there's the production. Now, I'm no stickler for rawness, and I don't mind slick production, but damn, this is TOO slick. There's absolutely no crunch at to the guitars, and the bass is just...there. But it sounds so "cold" and fits the mood, say the fanboys. Well, the fact is, it doesn't sound "cold," it sounds mechanical and lifeless. There are some blisteringly fast parts to some of these songs, but the production manages to suck out all the intensity out of the whole thing. Some riffs on this album, for all their repetition, could be pretty lethal if the guitar tone wasn't so blah. The whole black metal obsession with underproduction is pretty moronic, but Jari really went too far the other way.
With all that said, it's not really all that bad. There are some pretty catchy parts, and it'd probably be a halfway decent album if the songs were shorter (or just better-written), the production better, and the content a little more varied. As it is, it's still a good listen, although it gets a little boring if you try to sit through the whole thing. Worth picking up, certainly.
Bottom line: If you've got the disposable income, there are worse albums to spend your money on. It's slightly above average folk-ish metal with some fairly blatant Children of Bodom influences, and it's definitely worth listening to. But classic? Perfect? Hah, no. Not even close. What the hell are you smoking?
Does the name Jari Maenpaa mean anything to you? Probably not. But if you're into metal, particularly power or folk metal, chances are you've heard some of his material. For Jari was once the frontman and guitarist of Ensiferum, one of Viking metal's most recognizable groups. Now, Ensiferum is quite obviously a very good band as proven by excellent offerings such as their s/t or Iron, yet despite this Jari still felt that his new solo project, Wintersun, was higher on his priority list. When the recording of Wintersun's s/t conflicted with the touring of Ensiferum, the guitarist/vocalist decided enough was enough and parted ways with his Viking metal friends. And he had to have felt his new solo work was stronger then that of the promising Ensiferum. And while this all boils down to personal opinion, I believe Jari made the correct decision for as good as Ensiferum might be, Wintersun is stronger.
The album cover off Wintersun's debut album portrays a cold winter night, probably in the wilderness of Maenpaa's home country of Finland. A figure can be seen lying in the snow, frozen in the snow. It's quite a mysterious, yet beautiful painting. The music on Wintersun is quite similar to its album art. Combining the likes of neoclassical metal, folk metal, power metal, black metal, and melodic death metal, Jari Maenpaa is able to create a sound that is both very bleak and cold sounding, yet at the same time, has a mystical attractiveness to it. The melodious guitars or keyboards, as heard in say Starchild or Death and the Healing, create an excellent, often epic atmosphere from which Wintersun can draw momentum from, moulding the song into a five to ten minute song in which Jari makes use of musical passages akin to progressive metal or the folk metal sound he played in Ensiferum. Armed with a plethora of long tracks, Jari has plenty of room to show his skill, both vocally, instrumentally and song writing-wise. Maenpaa has the whole harsh vocal aspect down pat, as those who knew him from Ensiferum would know. His shrieks convey the emotion and power required to make such a production successful, and along with the guitars and keyboards, they are very high in the mix. The clean singing, on the other hand, is not quite as refined. Unlike Jari's powerful screams, which command the attention of the listener, his clean vocals are more passive sounding and low in the mix. They don't impact the music as effectively as some of Jari's shrieks; they're just kind of there. They aren't all that bad, especially in a song like Death and the Healing, but they aren't as strong has the harsh vocals.
As I mentioned earlier, the songs off of the Wintersun album display very strong song writing skills. The combined runtime of the eight tracks which are featured on the band's debut album is 54 minutes, including five tracks exceed the 7 minute mark. But Jari Maenpaa has done an excellent job ensuring that the several long songs are entertaining and exciting. For the various interludes, solos, and melodic passages are very tasteful and Jari rarely, if ever resorts to mindless noodling to get the job done. Death and the Healing is one song where this is the case. Made up of slower, depressing melodies which flow exceedingly well, the song creates an atmosphere reflected by the track's title. The calm, soothing melodies are especially fun to listen to and once again replicate the epic atmosphere that the album art stresses. Wintersun shows off some of its metal diversity with songs like Winter Madness and Beautiful Death. While both tracks are based around fast, up tempo riffing, Winter Madness is more of a nod toward Maenpaa's power metal background, while Beautiful Death better reflects the black metal influences in the band's sound. Fans of both genres should enjoy the emphasis placed on both sounds, as they are very well put together and enjoyable tracks to listen to.
Though he was leaving a very promising Viking metal band, in recording this album Jari Maenpaa looks to have himself and the rest of the newly formed Wintersun quite the future. With influences ranging from folk metal, to black metal, to progressive metal, to power metal, the band's sound is very likeable and easy to get into. The music itself is very melodic and emotional, be it soothing or cold; aggressive or slower; harsh or calm; and encompasses a variety of atmospheres and themes. Fans of Ensiferum or Children of Bodom should give Wintersun a shot as should anybody looking to delve deeper in that of the respective genres in which Wintersun employs. Superb album all around.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
Wintersun caught my attention some time ago when I began finding interest in metal that focused on epic and melodic elements, and of course, this was what Jari Mäenpää's reincarnation appeared to be. Aside from the cool artwork and gimmick, I was simply stunned by all the positive things said about Wintersun's self-titled debut. The never-ending worship convinced me this was an album of the ages, but my assumption was a grave error. There has been a lot of praise hovering around Wintersun’s first CD since its release, but my experience with the album is far different from the majority. Some would say Wintersun plays an epic style of melodic death metal that warms the soul with its beauty, but the group is just a bland project attempting to sound wondrous without any structure or meaning in the harshest reality.
The biggest blunder here isn't the music, but the way the songs are written. Mäenpää can clearly perform multiple instruments with ease, but all his talent is simply buried underneath poor musical formation. With the exception of "Beyond The Dark Sun," each track is forged upon a series of melodic riffs being used again and again, the same drum pattern with an occasional fill, and a few predictable leads. The time length for all but one of the songs reaches past five minutes with "Sadness And Hate" hitting the ten minute marker, which is simply ridiculous considering the dull structure of each track. The music itself seems very good at hindsight, but it just keeps going in the same boring direction until the listener is caught in a REM cycle. The only song worth mentioning is “Beyond The Dark Sun,” which contains rapid melodic riffs, rich keyboard harmonies, and blistering solos all performed at flashing speed. The remaining seven tunes transform into sickening abominations of repetitive music, dull vocals, and half-assed epic misfortunes that might induce a coma.
I find it hard to digest the music, but the vocals lead to a massive bowel movement of messy composition and dreadful execution that simply destroys core parts of this album. Jari Mäenpää applies two vocal techniques throughout Wintersun's debut: shrieking and singing, but he manages to screw both of them up. Jari's shrieks are incredibly annoying and appear to be a bit forced considering the musical atmosphere. The clean voice sounds great, but it's typically placed in sloppy arrangements without any formulated patterns or texture. You can be the greatest vocalist in the world, but randomly tossing lyrics in the air isn't a smart thing to do, and that's exactly what happens here with Mäenpää's singing voice.
I’ve listened to Wintersun’s debut countless times, and I still don’t understand why this record gets so much praise. I originally believed in all the hype Wintersun had obtained, but my view on the band has voluminously changed after hearing this disdainful record. It may be tempting to check this one out, but I challenge anyone who plans on buying Wintersun’s self-titled CD to put their purchase on hiatus and consider different opinions.
When I first heard this album by Finnish band Wintersun, born from the carcass of Ensiferum, I was immediately entranced by its brilliance. Wintersun is an album of incomparable depth, packed with variety and ear-bleeding brilliance on so many levels. It certainly ranks among the finest metal albums I have ever heard. It is all the more amazing then that this is the band’s first album.
Wintersun is an exquisite composition of metal. It is extremely difficult to pigeonhole the genre into one specific category. There are strong elements of power metal in the music, with heavily symphonic keyboards and savagely fast drums and guitar riffs, but there are also many black metal style aspects to Wintersun, with its harsh vocals and heavy sounds. I have categorized it as Viking power metal, because of its style and lyrical themes, which evoke images of Vikings, the cosmos and winter. This album is an extremely unique offering, which is totally different to almost anything I have ever heard.
From the first song of Wintersun, the brief ‘Beyond the Dark Sun’, the album drips with quality and imagination. It has a superb, epic sound, which at times is brutal and angry, as in the first two tracks. In other cases, such as the superb ‘Sleeping Stars’, the music is soaring, melodic, entrancing and bewitching. The lamenting cries of Jari Mäenpää are supremely passionate and remorseful, despite the harsh vocals, which is far more than can be said for the attempts of most such bands to achieve an epic sound. He also displays a fantastic singing voice, which is peircing and deep.
Throughout, Wintersun is majestic and powerful, with incredible guitar riffs that actually sound like some kind of lonely Viking melody which was played on a wintery coast hundreds of years ago. This album invokes so much emotion and passion for a metal album, managing to get the balance between brutality and beauty just right. Wintersun continually segues savage war cries into heart-rending melodies, creating a sublime metal masterpiece. If you are a fan of metal of any kind, I recommend you buy this album now, and support a fantastic band.
Most I've heard from so far mentioning Wintersun have originally been lead to hearing Wintersun through the separation of Ensiferum's genius, Jari, and Ensiferum. I feel alone in this sense, because I stumbled across Wintersun, completely oblivious to the existence of Ensiferum. This could be construed as sad, but fear not, there is back-story reasoning behind my lack of knowledge of Ensiferum, and that can be present in an upcoming new review for Ensiferum's debut album.
Now to start. What can I say about this album, other than, perfect?
To start off with, possibly the most out-shot aspect of this album is the sheer faultlessness of the drums and guitars. This album is a symphony of crystal-clear riffing, flawless drumming, and untiring vocals, and it's surely noticeable to any skeptic of Viking Metal potential. It's not like any other typical melodic death metal band, simply because of the amount of folk influence that is present in this album. Quite obviously all the influence comes from Jari's Viking musical ways of life, seeing as he composes everything on this album, but adding to the super-aggressive drumming and riffing, and also the technicality of the guitar and keyboard solos to typical viking folk melodies creates only one thing in my books: Perfection.
Being a guitarist, I'm obviously going to look for stringed integrity in any music I hear, other than Black Metal, which is something I listen to for different reasons. But quite simply said, the guitar solos present on this album are simply superb, if not completely and utterly perfect. At impecable 3/4 pace, the guitar solos present a mixture of melodic arpeggiated progressions and red-hot licks that just really get your head moving in a hard head-banging circular motion. The riffs, also outlining the backing synths and vocals, create a much more aggressive approach to the melodic side of the songs. The tone of the guitar is very dry, yet fat, and every note is perfectly audio and lyrical in it's own sense, rather than the cacophonic guitar work of about 99% of all Death Metal bands. The thing I absolutely loved during my observation of this band's combinations, was that the drums accentuate the guitars, and at the same time, the guitars are accentuating the drums, all the while being sprinkled with the rusted melancholic aural orgasm that is Jari's voice.
Second of all is the vocals. Now, seeing as I had not heard any Ensiferum prior to hearing this mastery, I did not know what to associate the vocals with. But all I know was the mixture of very harsh high-range screaming alternating with high-range raspy power yells and choiric vocals created JUST the perfect atmosphere to accompany the Epic Melodic sound. Jari's vocal ability is quite diverse in fact, He has a very deep singing voice, can pull of about any type of scream, and has quite an impressive high-range singing voice. Again, another star on the black-board for these guys, right next to the perfection of the guitar work...Let's see if the other three star outlines can be filled...
Thirdly come the drums. My god. Wonderful. Superb. Bravo, Kai, bravo. You've outdone yourself. This guy has a very impressive endurance rate when it comes to blast-beating and double-bass. His gravity blasts and basic blasts are perfect. Adding to these most stand-out aspects, is that it's being played just the way I fucking love it: Hard and fucking fast. So much anger comes out of this guy's drum sticks, and it's so blatantly punching you on both sides of the head when you're sitting between two speakers that are bellowing out this musical mastery that is Wintersun.
Fourthly comes the keyboards and synths. Again, this is another set of instruments in the band that is at a perfect level; it's not drowning out the guitars, but the guitars aren't drowning out the kayboards. It's perfectly audible, yet still exaultedly accentuates the crisp crunch of the guitar riffs and solos. My favourite keyboard effort is still track 1, "Beyond the Dark Sun" at exactly 0:17 comes the guitar/keyboard dual arpeggios. Perfect. The guitar was still perfectly audible, and so were the keyboards, yet you can still easily tell the dominant force was the guitar, which is how it is supposed to be, unlike the right honourable epitomy of homosexuality, Rhapsody, who feel the need to drown out every soundwave of guitars with keyboards. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Rhapsody, but god they piss me off sometimes. But anyway...
And finally, the production and sound effort. Every deci`bel of every form of gain and frequency in this album is levelled perfectly. A lot of viking metal or death metal albums that I've heard have had red-line gain jumps, and they hurt your ears like fuck. Whether it be a high-pitched scream, or a distorted, over-forced flute solo, or just the guitar pinched-harmonics, whatever. This album has none of these problems at all. Every second of every track seems to be secured with an orange-line frequnecy level, which doesn't let anything jump out and anal-fuck your ear drums to the point of ear-perforation. Being a sort of self-proclaimed audio engineer myself, I generally look out for safe-level frequencies in metal albums. Because I do enjoy hearing, and too many bands I've listened to have nearly jeopardised this blessing. But no, this album is perfect sound-wise, and it has been mixed to my liking 100% of the way.
The about wraps up the review on the instruments and playing, and lastly:
In conclusion: Fuck yeah.
I strongly recommend this album to everybody in existence, but seeing as 90% of those people are close-minded pop-heads, I recommend this album strongly to every metal head in existence. It is purely perfect in every way, and provides something for every type of metal head: The synths, keyboards, solos and double-bass supremacy for the Power Metal heads; the harsh vocals for the Death Metal and Black Metal heads, as well as the technical drum work and blistering guitar solos; the all-round folk influence for the Viking/Folk Metal heads (such as myself); and just the basic mastery that milks you of every drop of semen that you contain. Or for any other type of Metal head that actually has a brain...Or a sex drive.
Get it, or die in eternal misery and pain due to your body's deprivation of this fine piece of ass...I mean art...by Wintersun.
Wintersun - Wintersun: 100/100
If you could only fathom how floored I was when I learned that members of Rhapsody and Ensiferum had joined forces with the one and only Yngwie J. Malmsteen, to bring forth the super group of all metal super groups. Later, it was brought to my attention that Children Of Bodom's very own Alexi Laiho had closed the books on his highly acclaimed band to hook up with none other than Finntroll. Such events will undoubtedly house some of the most spine-tingling music ever to be put on tape. Okay, so you caught me! Both of the previous statements were indeed falsified, but I meant well. At least now you have a pretty accurate understanding of what lies ahead when you listen to Wintersun's bewildering eight track debut album.
The self-titled disc is an unprecedented neo-folk shredfest from former Ensiferum main man, Jari Mäenpää. Revealing just how adept he is, Jari wrote, recorded, and produced the entire record with no more assistance than a session drummer (courtesy of Rotten Sound's Kai Hahto) and his own staggering talents. He sings, screams, plays guitar and keys; Who knew the man was capable of so much? Certainly not this kid. I would have to reluctantly presume this is what initially led to his departure from Ensiferum. He clearly needed to focus his efforts on a band that would allow him to fully showcase his potential and ability.
There really isn't a whole lot about Wintersun that my doctored description doesn't already convey. Just take my word for it when I tell you that this is one of the most breathtaking debut offerings to grace the scene in a very long time. Between the headlines over at Nuclear Blast reading 'The powerful and majestic rebirth of former Ensiferum vocalist, Jari Mäenpää!' and Norther vocalist Petri Lindroos joining Ensiferum to fill Jari's shoes as the momentary front man, this should garner up some much deserved attention for all three bands.
Firstly, I would like to state that I am an advocate of folk and viking metal, and enjoy acts like Falkenbach, Ensiferum and Lumsk. Immensely.
This is something very different indeed.
I first heard of Wintersun when I bought a Nuclear Blast CD in September '04, and when I saw the cover art for this album within the promo leaflet, I immediately fell in love with it. I'd start listing it as my favourite cover art all over the place despite having never heard any Wintersun material at this stage.
I became determined to own the album after downloading Beautiful Death from Kai's website. Back then, I despised growled vocals and absolutely loathed all black and death metal. However, this was intriguing enough to get me to look into it more deeply. A harshly-sung song I liked? It was still something alien to me.
Having bought the album, I started to have one or two initial regrets - "I don't even like death metal, what am I doing?" - but once the CD arrived, I noticed the plain white slipcase with metallic blue text, and once again flared up with enthusiasm for Wintersun. I dashed to a computer and immediately ripped the CD.
Beyond The Dark Sun is the shortest track on the album. However, it works very well, and has an excellent beat to it. The vocals at the beginning are simply Jari speaking, but they quickly evolve into fully-fledged death metal vocals, and his voice is transformed. This may well be one of the fastest and most catchy songs on the album, but the ending left me a bit cold... It's a long shot, but I'd love for an extended version of this song to crop up in the future.
Winter Madness is very technical. The drumming, guitars and keyboards are all insane - The vocals are probably the harshest on the album, save Sadness and Hate. It wasn't my favourite track on this cd by any means, but that doesn't stop it from being a very nice piece of work. It's only about a minute twenty into the song that it really picks up, and the singing is clear enough for one to hear the lyrics properly. There's also a nice melodic, harmonious singing interlude that crops up occasionally. Not much else to say, other than that this song has one of the best choruses I've ever heard.
Sleeping Stars is the antipode of Winter Madness, in effect. The harmonised clean vocals are as prominent than the growled ones, but they're both still in there. It has a slightly symphonic feel to it, and it's very slow and epic in this manner. There are some great guitar spots in here, and it's quite a bit more rythmic (and less progressive) than some of the other songs here.
Battle Against Time is, in my opinion, not one of the better tracks on the album. It's quite progressive, but this doesn't stop it from getting slightly boring at parts. It's also the only song on the album I couldn't really "get into"... Only really a listen for when you're bored of the other tracks.
Death and the Healing is *fantastic*, mark my words. It's a mellow, vaguely symphonic ballad about the cruelty of the wilderness, and - my favourite part of this song - it's sung entirely in clean vocals. This was the easiest track for me to enjoy when I first listened to the album. And the chorus is amazingly melodic and well-sung. The lyrics are kinda... Not as good as some of the others, but it's still one of the superior tracks on the album. One of the only memorable guitar solos is in here, too, and it's a wonderful one at that.
Starchild... The only album divided into separate parts like any decent, age-long prog-metal piece. Each section sounds quite different to any of the others, and this is without a doubt the most "epic" song on here. Worth a good, long hour of listening and re-listening.
Beautiful Death begins with distorted background noise, and then tells you loud and clear that it's going to be the most brutal song on the whole cd. At points, the singing is completely out of sync with the instruments, and it sounds really quite good. This song has more expressionless growls and screams than any of the other tracks on the CD.
Sadness and Hate is a stunning end track to what I consider one of the best albums of all time. It's packed with emotion, and gets better and better as the song progresses, climaxing with the expressionless, ambient soundscape that ended Beautiful Death. If any other song was ever so melancholic and had as much effort poured into it as this, I must hear it. Now.
Definitely a must-have for Ensiferum fans. Essential for prog-metal fanatics looking for something different.