When Finns think about GUNS N’ ROSES and the concurrent legend of “Chinese Democracy” (and the 15 or so years put into making that album), they are often reminded of one of their own local bands, WINTERSUN, and the similarly long 12 years that followed the band’s self-titled debut. Band founder Jari Mäenpää left his previous band, ENSIFERUM, back in 2004 due to clashes in the bands’ schedules, so followers hoped that the sequel to their guitar-oriented first album would be a few short years away thanks to the extra time the band had. However, that was not the case. It was October 2012 before the band finally released “Time I” and though that is a disturbingly long time, very few people seemed to be disappointed with the end result.
I can’t say that I was personally a fan of WINTERSUN‘s debut. While one can’t deny that the guitarwork in that album is top-notch, the speedy style of music never particularly appealed to me. As such, I wasn’t one of those people who was waiting impatiently for WINTERSUN‘s next album. In fact, I didn’t really care one way or another about it. So when this album came out, I was pretty much floored by the style and quality of music. Surely, there were some minor complaints about the mixing, though I personally do not have the ear to hear those flaws that some people have pointed out.
Ultimately, this album – with its three long epics and two instrumentals – ended up being something that I had no idea was missing from my life. The often present oriental influence is easily one of its strongest points. The gentle opener, “When Time Fades Away” sounds like a snowy winter scene in Japan (perhaps) and I will give particular points to Kai Hahto‘s drumming style, which sounds very authentic in relation to the influence. The build-up in the intro track is just phenomenal and the way it so seamlessly blends into the second track, “Sons of Winter and Stars,” is perfect.
I have to appreciate the way the latter carries on – “When Time Fades Away” set the bar high for the first track, yet “Sons of Winter and Stars” does not disappoint. This song has more or less everything one could want in music – strong backing keyboard sounds and symphonics by Mäenpää, impressive use of guitar by Mäenpää and Teemu Mäntysaari, as well as bass by Jukka Koskinen, and drums that are not lazy or slow. Jari Mäenpää‘s vocals manage to do the trick, particularly in his growls, though I daresay I wasn’t sure if he could really sing and he clearly can. Mäntysaari and Koskinen are no slouches in the background, as the vocals as a whole sound very nice. There are many nuances to this music and every time you listen you might catch a little bit more from it, which I certainly appreciate.
“The Land of Snow and Sorrow” continues this cold and ambient style… not quite as much energy but still with very powerful backing symphonics. I have to say, I was truly surprised by this album because there isn’t really a single guitar solo, which I had suspected was Mäenpää‘s “thing” – he and Mäntysaari are certainly excellent guitarists, so it was amazing to me to hear more detail and effort put into melodies than riffs on this album. I can’t say it disappointed me in any way. This song is followed by the second short instrumental, “Darkness and Frost,” which has some lovely guitarwork that I would very much like to hear in an acoustic setting someday. It also has more of those oriental drums and a lot of lovely backing symphonics.
Lyrically the album is melancholy and beautiful, without being outright depressing, reflecting more the cold, dark beauty of winter than the often-depressing Finnish take on winter. For example, the sound of the whole thing fits perfectly into a clear day with a fresh snowfall and I particularly enjoy listening to it when I spend an occasional afternoon in the middle of nowhere in the winter, walking through the fresh, untouched snow. The long intro to “Time” works again perfectly coming out of “Darkness and Frost” and the final song on the album feels somehow conclusive and epic all in one. Lyrically it feels as though it is winding down, so I wonder how it will work if one was to listen to it directly into its eventual successor.
When it comes to the sequel to this album, which I have had a taste of in some of WINTERSUN‘s live performances and am very enthusiastic about, I have a few words to say. For one, I don’t particularly care about the personal aspect of the debate between WINTERSUN and Nuclear Blast Records. I believe the label has put a great deal of money into the band and not gotten the albums they were promised. I also believe that a band shouldn’t release material until they are satisfied with it. I don’t particularly care when this album comes out or whose fault it is that it’s taking so long. As long as I get to hear it eventually and as long as it lives up to the incredible legacy of “Time I,” I’ll be happy. WINTERSUN is not the only band in the world who writes good music and there is plenty to look forward to in the meantime. And as such, I’ll happily give this album a full score while sitting back to enjoy some other music while I wait for “Time II.”
Written by Bear Wiseman
- When Time Fades Away
- Sons of Winter and Stars
- Land of Snow and Sorrow
- Darkness and Frost
Jari Mäenpää – vocals, guitars
Teemu Mäntysaari – guitars
Jukka Koskinen – bass
Kai Hahto – drums
Nuclear Blast Records