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Yeah it's ass, but he wiped it so well! - 34%

BastardHead, February 8th, 2013

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"
"Winter Madness"
"Death and the Healing"
"Beyond the Dark Sun"
"Sadness and Hate"
"Sleeping Stars"
"Beautiful Death"

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