ok, i dont usually do reviews because writing them bores me, but there are certain albums that just deserve a review, so here goes:
To any of you who don’t know anything about Wintersun, they are an extreme power metal band fronted by Jari Mäenpää, formerly of the folk/Viking metal band Ensiferum. On this album he recorded all the instruments (vocals, bass, synths, guitars) except for drums, and he does it masterfully. As a vocalist he is very unique in the fact that he manages to mix power-metal operatic vocals with black metal screams and is good at both. The clean vocals are powerful and epic, unlike some whiny power-metal singers, and the screams are not just some guy trying to sound like a tortured cat, they are actually quite musical (if that is possible). If you have ever listened to Ensiferum, Wintersun shares a lot of similarities, but Wintersun's musical complexity and depth is much greater. Wintersun's sound could be best described to someone who has not heard their music as a mix of Blind Guardian, Children of Bodom, Borknagar, and Ensiferum with the speed and skill of John Petrucci. As a guitarist, Jari is absolutely amazing. He is one of the most technical and emotion players i have ever heard, and holy fuck can he shred! His solos and riffs are imaginative, complex, and fucking insane. Every minute of the entire album is full of interesting guitar work and arrangements with the synths, which are also amazing. The only other band member (on the album) is the drummer; Kai Hahto is also a brilliant musician. His blast-beats are never sloppy or overused and his fills are astounding in their speed and complexity. The lyrics are not cheesy at all, which is a marked departure from Jari's days in Ensiferum. Wintersun is his solo band, so he is given as much room as he wants to explore his musical horizons outside of the constricting Viking cheese of Ensiferum. As far as musicianship goes, I would go as far as to say it is as good, if not better than that of Dream Theater or other bands famed for their intense technicality, and in songwriting and emotion Wintersun destroys all competition. The production is also stellar, which is surprising considering it is produced by Jari himself (he must have put a lot of money into it). I would really like to know how he gets the guitar sound he does, because it is amazing and truly unique. Go buy this album now, it is fucking amazing and easily in my top 5 favorite albums of all time.
Now, song by song:
Beyond the Dark Sun
- At 2 minutes and 38 seconds this is by far the shortest song on the album (the next shortest is more than 5 minutes). It opens with a blistering guitar riff which speeds into atmospheric spoken word back by fast picking and blast-beats, the song races at slayer-pace, including multiple versus and a solo within the short duration. The song is a good example of all the Wintersun elements and serves to wet the listener’s appetite for more.
– The opening riff and accompanying blast-beats seem to fit the title, because the breakneck speed is nothing short of musical madness (in a good way that is). The keyboards and soaring clean vocals create an atmosphere which is then contrasted with blistering black-metal riffs. The guitar leads and hooks are reminiscent of Hatebreeder era Children of Bodom. The folk elements of Ensiferum surface for the first time in this song, and are used quite tastefully, without sounding cheesy at all.
- After two extremely fast songs, it is almost a relief to hear a slower tempo track. After about 2 minutes of slow buildup, the drums speed the song up to mid tempo, which gives way to the verse, which is another buildup to the folkish riff found in the chorus. The lyrics seem to tell a story, and the music builds up until within the last minute where the guitars and synths crescendo into the climax and the spoken word takes over. The song fades out into lush string synths which in turn fade into silence.
Battle Against Time
– It’s time for another fast track, a lot like a longer version of "Beyond the Dark Sun" except even better. A fast power-metal riff backed by blast-beats, synths, and choral elements (provided by Jari). All of a sudden the guitars stop and the synths hint that something fucking crazy is coming. Listeners are not disappointed, when an intense drum fill followed by the traditional short black metal grunt which means its time to start headbanging because here comes a crushing and pounding, yet surprisingly melodic riff which is joined by Jari's screams as the first verse begins. This song's chorus is a crazy headbanging riff which is one of the best I have ever heard and reminds me a lot of the riffs found on Sinergy's "Suicide By My Side" album (guitars by Alexi Laiho) which is accented by a new type of vocals, this time a half scream/half singing style (like Hansi from blind guardian). Another incredible solo follows, and it is clear that this song is a masterpiece. The composition is so fluid and perfect it almost ceases to be music and becomes a journey including all senses as the listener is carried away to a sonic landscape created simply by the perfect blend of layered instruments and voices. In case you can’t tell, this is one of my favorite songs.
Death and the Healing
- Just when you thought that there was no way that Jari could possibly top "Battle Against Time," the slow, simple and atmospherically guitar lead which opens "Death and the Healing" begins. The lead flows seamlessly into another perfect guitar-line, this time accompanied by a beautiful mix of synths and choral vocals. This lead is one of the most stunningly beautiful guitar parts I have ever heard, almost bringing me to tears when I am in the right mood. The song is sung entirely in clean vocals and manages to stay slow to mid tempo (which is a first for this album). The entire piece is songwriting and composition at its absolute best. the same feeling of the creation of a sonic landscape created by "Battle Against Healing" is present in the track, but used to a slightly different effect. The focus of this song is much more on musical emotion and beauty rather than shreding and headbanging. Another folkish passage appears (reminding me a lot of the Asian sounding guitar solo in Blind Guardian's "Fly"). It quickly flows into a mid-tempo guitar solo which like the entire sing, focuses more on melody than speed (he has already more than proved that he can shred). After awhile it seems that Jari simply can’t do something that slow, and busts out a short, absolutely insane shred solo when all the other instruments stop. This solo quickly segues back into the previous theme of emotion over technique, almost as if he just needed to get the shred out of his system before he continued. A key feature of this song is that unlike the previous ones, it has an obvious pattern of choruses, solos, breaks, and versus and instead of constricting the song; it allows the listener to focus completely and totally on the music and completely take in its sonic, rather than compositional complexity.
- A rather unimaginative, but still catchy twin guitar lead opens this song, not even coming close to hinting at the genius which is to follow. The riff suddenly changes after a synth passage to become another blistering shredfest, forming one of the heaviest parts of the entire album. This is perfectly counterbalanced with the reserved, operatic sub-chorus. When the actual chorus comes it is full on epic mode, using the beginning riff which seemed un-imaginative at first to a brilliant effect. yet again, jari exhibits his vocal versatility by introducing another vocal style, this time a deep clean voice which reminds me of Messiah from candlemass. All this gives way to a double-bass drum riff backed by an accordion-sounding synth, sounding a lot like Fintroll. Although not equal to the previous two tracks, this song shows what expertly used synths and vocals can do to a relatively unimpressive riff.
- A strange underproduced guitar-buzz gives way to a haunting set of chords which in turn melds into THE heaviest riff on the album; not only the heaviest, but the one that lends itself to uncontrollable headbanging the most. It is a relief when this riff is revealed as more than an intro and becomes the verse riff. This song is a polar opposite to "Death and the Healing" because the focus is reversed. Heavy riffs are used more on this song as opposed to the previously dominant twin guitar leads and power-metal riffs. The heaviness does not take away from the atmosphere, in fact is creates sense of desperation, as the vocalist laments at approaching death "unprepared to die" at the hands of a freezing storm. This song features the best lyric on the album: "the winds are blowing the colors of life away." Finally the unknown narrator succumbs to the ferocity of the unrelenting cold and a haunting acoustic outro laments his death.
Sadness and Hate
– Slow, long, epic songs are always good album closers and this one is no exception. Whenever I realize that the album is almost over I wish that it was longer, but even though it only has 8 tracks, the album clocks in at 55 minutes, so it’s no Reign in Blood. This song is basically “Death and the Healing Part II” with screaming vocals. It is probably the weakest track on the album, but it is by no means anything less than a brilliant song. The folk elements are particularly noticeable and add a texture which saves the song from becoming a little boring. Luckily, the song switches back and forth between folk passages and heavy riffing, keeping the listener constantly interested. The song then fades out as peacefully as it faded in, almost like the calm after a storm, leaving only synth/strings and a sense that you have listened to one of the greatest albums ever recorded.
In short, this album is a winner, easily on my top five, and well on its way to becoming my favorite album of all time.
FAVORITE SONG: DEATH AND THE HEALING (Battle Against Time gets an Honorable Mention)
Btw, I do my ratings in letter grades because number ratings suffer from different people having different systems of rating. My 9 might be your 7 because I’m an easier “grader.” Letter grades don’t have this problem since everybody has been to school and understands what they mean.