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Jari's Masterpiece - 100%

BurningPentagram, August 5th, 2014

I am going to attempt to review what might be my favorite album of all time. I don’t know if I have the skill to properly articulate how perfect this album is, but I will give it a shot. I am sure at the time, back in 2004, people thought it was crazy that Jari Mäenpää had left Ensiferum, at (in my humble opinion) a time when they were at their best, to record a solo project. But thank the one-eyed god he did because this album is an emotional and epic frostbitten journey. Wintersun’s self-titled album combines the best elements of epic, melodic death, black, and folk metal together to create a true masterpiece of metal. This album is 10 years now and it stands out as one of the best of the 21st century.

The music on this album has a great deal of diversity – there are blazingly fast parts with soaring guitars showcasing Jari’s skill as a musician, and there are slower majestic parts, layered with synths that provide a cold and lonely atmosphere. What it all has in common is Jari’s masterful composition. These songs – short (like Beyond the Dark Sun, coming in at only 02:38) and long alike (like Sadness and Hate at 10:16) – are well crafted. They don’t follow the general boring verse-chorus structure found in more generic compositions. These songs carry the listener along, through dead forests and up snowy mountains – Jari knows how to build up to, and reward a listener with a musical climax in each of his compositions. Wintersun is full of moments like this, moments that give you goosebumps and leave you craving for another listen.

The music often utilizes a black metal style tremolo picking combined with keyboards evocative of some of power metal’s most accomplished acts – but without all the cheese. The drumming is top notch and includes blast beats that are used sparingly and appropriately (check out 00:50 on track 2, ‘Winter Madness’). Jari’s harsh vocals are top notch. His screams are black metal worthy, yet the lyrics are fairly comprehensible. As in Ensiferum, one can expect moments of clean singing, sometimes even layered to create a more ‘choral’ effect. These moments are very well done and incorporated seamlessly into the composition as a whole (for example, see 03:25 on track 6, ‘Starchild’). Those fans of technical finesse and guitar virtuosity will not be disappointed with the album’s guitar solos. Though they are complex and impressive to hear, they are not pointless expressions of guitar mastery. These solos fit very well on the album and accompany the rest of the songs well often providing the aforementioned musical climax. Here’s a specific example of that: Listen to track 4, ‘Battle Against Time,’ starting at about 4:09 and listen to how well the song flows into the guitar solo and then back into the song’s main chorus.

The music is the sonic accompaniment to the stories crafted in the lyrics. Jari has the chops to write quite good lyrics to go along with his music. The lyrics primarily deal with introspection and yearning to discover the meaning of life and death all with a backdrop of ice and snow and the coldness of the void of space. Jari uses a good deal of imagery to bring his epic to life – it is particularly impressive since he is a non-native English speaker.

Wintersun is epic without being too cheesy, virtuosity without being pretentious, enjoyable and accessible, yet layered and deep – worthy of multiple listens. This album is a classic, and even at its 10th birthday, it continues to stand the test of time.