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One day WINTERSUN are going to release another album. It’s been six years since this – their debut. Many people would say six long years. What no one can deny is that in those six years the band MySpace site has received near enough to one million hits. Maybe twice that number again have frequented the official WINTERSUN website. And your guess is as good as mine, as to how many fans have bought the DVD bonus edition re-issue of this album just to own something (anything!) new by this band. And as for Nuclear Blast…..well they’ve probably stopped calling asking for updates by now.
So what are we dealing with here? Metal by a metal mastermind kind of sums it up. Because WINTERSUN is, after all, really a one man show. On this album that definition is actually taken to a terrifying extreme with every single note written and performed by Jari Maenpaa himself. The sole exception is the drums. And once you hear this album you’ll understand why that’s such a big deal.
Technically this release cost Jari Maenpaa his frontman gig with ENSIFERUM. Up until that point his Resume was pretty straightforward. He’d chipped in here and there with some mighty tunes and lots of warriors words to help put ENSIFERUM on the map. In between he’d squeezed out a few tracks for an obscure melodic black outfit called ARTHEMESIA. That should have been the first clue. Read my review of that album to dig deeper if you like, but what I will say is that with those handful of songs Maenpaa let loose a vision as epic and uncompromising as metal had seen for a long, long time. WINTERSUN is what then happened when he decided to throw away the rulebook altogether.
“Beyond The Dark Sun” is an overture; a curtain raiser shaped from a sledgehammer riff. How the hell you’ll get this one out of your head is anyone’s guess. The whole thing runs for barely two and a half minutes and yet somehow manages to include an opening narration and two part structure that sets the scene for a whole album of genuinely breathtaking prog theatrics. Forget the kind of prog that sets out to see where we can end up. In Maenpaa’s hands it’s all about knowing exactly where you’re going from the first note to the last.
The rest of the album can pretty much be divided up into two halves that Maenpaa himself designates as either “fast, agressive, technical and melodic shit” or “slower, majestic and epic shit”. Yep, the word “shit” is in the original. The man has a sense of humour and there’s no denying that he certainly knows his shit.
The fast stuff is summed up in tracks like "Winter Madness” and "Battle Against Time". Both race at you like a frenzy of musical insanity until you notice the shivers up and down your spine. The guitar work is speed metal fast and viking metal pounding. But that’s not enough. When all’s said done you just know a page or two of black metal intensity has been reduced to ashes. And that’s Maenpaa on the keyboards too. Somehow he tears a razorblade stab out of every note here too. The THRONE OF CHAOS debut is the last time anyone got this close.
As for the slower stuff; "Sadness and Hate", "Sleeping Stars" and "Death and the Healing" are the song titles you’re dealing with. That tells you something. What follows is cathedrals of metal grandeur that crack the masonry with gut wrenching chords that transfigure the darkest doom metal you’ve ever (or never) heard. And listen very carefully to those hallowed and majestic choirs. It’s actually one guy from Finland. A guy called Jari.
Metal is full of landmark releases. Every single one has as many detractors as it has devotees. But very few albums manage to give rise to an entire mythology. This is one such album. Everything from writers block to studio malfunctions to house moving dramas have delayed album number two. Hell it may never come. And with the working title of ‘Time’, one suspects Mr. Maenpaa has had a private chuckle or two about how long it’s all taking. I know I have.