Since 2004, we have endured two Presidential terms, foreign wars, steroids scandals in sports, the Olympic games four times over, and a slew of other notable events. This all falls into the eight years since Finnish symphonic metallers Wintersun released their debut album. Charged with the task of not only making another album, but eclipsing their original work, they went to work on what would become their sophomore album. Featuring in their ranks Kai Hahto, who is also the current drummer for Swallow The Sun, this four piece suffered through a myriad of delays and tribulations before completing work earlier this year. The only question that remains is whether "Time I" is worth the wait, or if it will be the metal equivalent of "Chinese Democracy."
While most intros and interludes are short and sweet, "When Time Fades Away" is so much more. Majestic orchestrations fill the bulk of the four minute plus offering, beginning with a thick layer of strings. Somewhere in the middle of this piece, you are transported to another time and place, one of vibrant color. The imagery is fantastic, setting the scene for the epic "Sons Of Winter And Stars." It is here that Wintersun find their home and balance, teetering between the instrumental grace of power metal, and a grittier heavy metal vocal delivery. The guitar melodies are catchy, to say the least, flipping and fluttering through riff gymnastics. But as vocalist Jari Mäenpää enters, the full effect can finally be felt. On top of the symphonics and dynamic guitar work is a coarse blend of growls and and raspy chanting. And within each subsection is a different blend of styles, sometimes taking on a darker tone. What you get is a taste of all things metal, through the lyrics and varied delivery of Mäenpää, and the ever building and evolving instrumental below. And while there are clear break points between movements, the flow from one to the next is impeccable, never breaking stride along the way. This pacing becomes important as the track progresses, crossing the thirteen minute mark. Even as it takes on the more triumphant folk atmosphere, the balance of fragility and strength never waver.
While "Land Of Snow And Sorrow" may be a far more restrained effort than the track before, it is certainly no less powerful. Built on a guitar riff that has as much beauty as it does staying power, the track evolves with every drum beat. Mäenpää chooses to adopt a clean vocal pattern, showing off his range and strength, in addition to his penchant for the hard nosed screams. It is the orchestration, once again, that puts you over the top, especially when layered into a crystal clear rhythm section. The desire to sway back and forth that arises from the two minute long "Darkness And Frost" is normal, and you are encouraged to act on it. For it is that melody that forms the foundation of the closing track, "Time,"
albeit with a harder edge. Mäenpää throws caution out the window and adopts a devastating blackneed scream, to complement his already soaring clean vocals. The true beauty, however, is in the cinematic climate this all creates, leaving you trapped in a different world all together. The guitar work is at its best in the bridge section here, running wild over the fretboard, flying up and down the neck of the guitar in a show of pure talent. What is amazing is the infusion of emotion that the track shows, an investment that is not only important, but necessary for an album of this scope and grandeur. This isn't limited to vocals, of course, as each members puts their own fingerprint on each and every note of the track, putting a piece of themselves in the fabric of the music. Even when the music begins to fade, you are treated to one last stunning outro, quiet, peaceful, and delicate.
For most bands, an eight year gap between albums is either a result of lack of interest, or a full scale breakup (see also, hiatus). But Wintersun, through all the trials and tribulations of the last eight years, kept their eyes on the proverbial prize and never lost sight of their vision. With the album fully realized, it would be easy to look back and say what could have been done differently to speed up the process. Instead, everyone involved should look at the here and now. On this piece of plastic with existential artwork, you have a masterpiece that, while nearly a decade in the making, was fully worth every second poured into it. Maybe it was the time itself that helped craft an album of this proportion. Or maybe these Finnish musicians are just that damn good. Either way, "Time I" would have been an album of the year contender in any year; especially 2012.
Official Site - http://www.wintersun.fi/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/wintersun