For a few years now, the proverbial white whale of the heavy metal scene has been a new Wintersun record. After the band’s initial, highly acclaimed (some would say overrated), self-titled debut from 2004 former Ensiferum frontman Jari Mäenpää essentially fell off the face of the earth. Now, I’m not a die-hard fan, so I have not kept up with the ridiculous, neurotic, Axl Rose-like kabuki theater that apparently drove fans nuts, but the fact that 8 years later we’re getting record number two should probably tell you the torture that Jari put his fans through. Teaming up with Kai Hanto of Swallow the Sun on drums, Jukka Koskinen of Amberian Dawn and Cain’s Offering on bass and Teemu Mäntysaari of the short-lived Imperanon on guitar, Jari’s new record, what we now know to be 2012’s Time I, has teased fans for years and has ruffled some feathers. So the question is at it always is: can this record possibly live up to the sky-high expectations that the fans have.
The answer is “obviously not.” And that’s not because this record isn’t good or that the band hasn’t displayed enough grit and gumption or something, it’s just that metal in 2004 versus 2012 are very different – it’s fair to question whether or not Wintersun‘s brand of melodic death metal is really even exciting to many fans of metal these days. Oh, and after the release high, the result will always be disappointing because people have had such high expectations for 8 years. But Time I is really no carbon copy of the self-titled debut, either. Instead, it’s a pondering slog of orchestrations and textures; pretentious meanderings into the esoteric nature of life and death and modern recording budgets. Consisting of five tracks, two of which are musical interludes, the record takes a surprising amount of time to develop musically. It starts out with the four minute long introduction “When Time Fades Away” [Jari writing what he knows, apparently – AMG], which reveals some of the cards the band has to play – the use of “oriental” (Japanese?) tones and melodic structuring – before merging into “Sons of Winter and Stars.” This 13 minute and 31 second epic which takes until the 11th minute to really reach an emotional high point – with the Manly Viking Manchoir™ punctuating the chorus that must be repeated 40 times.
Track 3, “Land of Snow and Sorrow,” moves smoothly into Jari’s “other” mode, the mid-paced power metal death of the early Ensiferum era (and least entertaining tracks from Wintersun) – only much more lushly orchestrated. What this song does well is counter-melodies and textures – again, the orchestration stands out, but also the countermelodies and harmonies on the guitar and keyboards really show off the melodic death/borderline power metal chops that fans know to expect. But at 8 minutes, the repetition of the themes and chorus causes the song to fade into the background for me, and if it weren’t for the great interlude between it and the powerful beginning of final track “Time,” I might have walked away disappointed from this record.
But the slow build of “Time” actually works remarkably effectively. With a fantastic introduction and chorus riff, coupled with the impassioned vocal performance of our Finnish hero, the song finally picks up speed at about 3 and half minutes and the song is a roller coaster ride of awesome orchestration, finger gymnastics and powerful peaks, showing of Jari’s incredible guitar skill. Sure, it’s melodramatic and over-the-top, but we here at Angry Metal Guy happen to love that stuff. Which reminds me, this record actually is remarkably similar in production tone to the new Nightwish album and in writing style – though arguably less catchy and more plodding – to the immense Crimfall. This tone surprised me, but in good speakers it sounds immense, adding extra heft with orchestral hits and punctuating Jari’s crooning baritone. But it is quite removed from the guitar-in-front, blast-happy Ensiferumesque post-Children of Bodom neo-classical guitar orgy that Wintersun exhibited.
Ultimately, though Time I isn’t a hugely successful album, just a good one. There are great moments, but the repetition and the continued pounding of themes into the ground for 13, 8 and 11 minutes makes for songs that fade into the background. While the songs in Wintersun were longer than I remember them being, they were much more self-contained, but the self-editing process appears to have just gone out the window on Time I (further evidence: there is a Time II on the way). So while the seeds of the songs are good and the material is great (at times and the production is definitely a step up in terms of its high quality), the energy gets sucked out by excessive repetition and too much downtime.
You’ve probably already heard the record and will have made up your own minds – thanks for nothing Nuclear Blast – but if I had to make a recommendation I would say find a stream and give it a go. This record will grow on you, but I don’t know that it will set deep roots. I’m interested to see if it will hold up better back to back with Time II.