So, it finally happened. The long awaited new album of Finnish Wintersun has seen the light. This album will surely attract a lot of admirers and Nuclear Blast will profit. The box set, which is nicely done, contains a big portion of music, from which the most interesting is the 54 minutes of the new songs. Wintersun walked on the thin ice, for due to the massive propagation of their work and thanks to the success of their previous album ‘Time I.’, they put themselves at mercy of reviewers and critical fans. And the executioners are preparing their axes. I’m going to sharpen mine a bit first.
Just like a child, I’ll start from the most attractive and shiny cover. It’s glittering, colourful and luxurious. For an acceptable price, one can get a set of five records; two types of vinyl, two CDs, and ‘Wintersun live in Tuska’. A truly nice packet. Those, who were watching the releasing of the new album know that it contains four tracks, which has an instrumental and acoustic version. Those who don’t the luxurious things can buy the new album on common CD or vinyl. And now we can rip the wrapping…
Wintersun has prepared a conceptual album. Four tracks, four seasons. The shortest track is about twelve minutes and the longest ‘Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)’ has almost 15 minutes. Those, who complained that Wintersun did not build on their previous album ‘Time I.’ can remain calm. As for the music, Wintersun didn’t leave the tracks of their style and both albums, therefore, sound alike. There is no experiment on ‘The Forest Season’, which makes this album a safe bet. The band bet on their best musical practice, so if you were afraid of hearing something new and innovative, you can put your worries aside. Even quality of the instrumentation remains untouched. It’s still that epic, pompous music, which would make a good film soundtrack. A good soundtrack for a film full of shiny armours, big shiny swords, shiny dragons and shining eyes. The use of all those sound effects pushed the acoustic part of the music. Wintersun thus made another step from the folk metal bearing signs of melodeath to the purely symphonic metal, which might guarantee its success. People usually like ‘big’ music and great themes.
Now, I come across the first problem of the whole concept. While ‘Time I.’ was literally filled with music ideas, there are not so many of those in ‘The Forest Seasons’. Jari Mäenpää is surely very skilful composer, who can catch one’s attention, nevertheless, on the last album he chose a mere sound effect over ideas, and therefore the tracks are not so distinctive and memorable. Despite the elegant guitar solos and excellent drums mastered by Kai Hahto, we can’t take pleasure of any catchy melody, which would stick in our minds and which we could hum in the shower. The effect of the ‘background’ music is even stronger because of this lack of creativity. When I first heard the song ‘Sons of Winter and Stars’, that melody would wake me from my sleep. It was great and a bit annoying melody. I was whistling it on my way to work and couldn’t get it out of my head. This didn’t happen to me with the new album. And it’s not about complicated motifs, nor their abundance. Despite all those beautiful sounds and nice solos, despite the massive waves of chorales, I couldn’t hear even one single nice, memorable tune. To tell the truth, I prefer the instrumental version, which can create a nice background to housework, and where I’m not bothered by the urgent scream of the main protagonist.
The vocals are perhaps the weakness and the strong side of the album. Given that Wintersun has left the field of melodic death metal and stepped into the world of symphonic metal, the clean vocals suit this album better. If I could rate ‘The Forest Seasons’ as a symphonic work, I would say that it’s quite nice. Maybe even great (though the absence of a good melodic idea remains). However, for melodeath, this is not enough. The scream of the main vocalist suited well to the folk character, from which the band grew and it was good on the previous two albums. On this album it’s a disturbing element, moreover, it’s quite hearable that this isn’t Mäenpää’s strength. In fact, he is a great vocalist with a nice voice, unfortunately, the competition of excellent harsh vocalists on the Finnish scene is too big and Jari, therefore, doesn’t have much chance there.
The best song is the winter part ‘Loneliness’. It builds on ‘Time I’, it has a beautiful melodic line, great vocals and on the top of the things, it’s the only melodic death metal piece on the whole album. We can hear instruments more than sound effects and we can enjoy what Wintersun is really good at. The emotive track does not push on the listener’s feelings but leaves the freedom to deal with them on your own. Every time Mäenpää stops trying too hard, his music is suddenly better. And ‘Loneliness’ is a good piece. The reason for this might be that it is a song, not a concept. Moreover, it’s not background music. If there had been two such tracks on the album, I’d be happy.
I close that tempting box and the review. Wintersun promised a lot. The expectation was perhaps too high. I have to appreciate that wonderful instrumentation. We’re used to this high quality from many Finnish bands and a listener expects nothing less. All the members of the band are very skilled musicians and masters of their instruments. ‘The Forest Season’ is not a bad album. It’s a symphonic, conceptual experiment, which has its bright sides. Still, it won’t beat the two previous albums, for it lacks a portion of creativity and a catchy melody. It may success on the market thanks to the huge marketing. But to the music itself, there have been many releases in Finland since January and they are undoubtedly better than this album. This doesn’t mean that the review wouldn’t appreciate the artists or that he would want to undermine their popularity. Wintersun is surely a band, which has potential to create other, better album. Perhaps the promised ‘Time II.’, will be the album, which will bring the excitement.