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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.