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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)