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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.