Music fans tend to be quite binary in their opinion. There exists a love it/hate it extreme in most cases, with a vast ‘no man’s land’ in between the polarizing opinions. Fans of metal music are no different, and when it comes to polarizing views, no one gets it more than Jari Mäenpää and his band Wintersun. While a sizeable chunk of the metal crowd considers the band to be the most unique offering in the world, others simply think the project a grand joke. Amidst all of this, they returned, and are now back with their much-awaited third outing, The Forest Seasons.
For those unacquainted with the band in question, it came into existence back in 2003 as a side project for Jari when he was in Ensiferum; but soon after, he left that band, as Wintersun became his main focus. Releasing its debut self-titled record in 2004, the band’s music was met with great acclaim from critics and fans alike. Over the following years, Mäenpää et al. started speaking about grand conceptual albums, and finally released Time I in 2012, after a wait of 8 years. The wait seemed to have paid off, as the album was a pure masterstroke. And then began the impatient wait for Time II.
Fast forward to 2017, and the band has released their latest offering The Forest Seasons, a four-song concept record modelled after Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This immediately begs the question: ‘Is it a worthy successor to the last record? And, more importantly, is it the Time II record many have been waiting for?‘
As for the latter part of the question, we already know it’s not, as the band maintains that they are still working on the fabled Time II. But sadly, it’s not even a good successor to Time I, and actually represents a step down from that last record. Not to say it’s all flat and dull; it does have sufficient artistic creativity built into it, to please (only) fans of Wintersun. This brings me to the point of the crowd funding behind the album. It has been talked about a lot, criticised in detail, yet one fact remains: It was highly successful, showing that the band indeed has a dedicated fan base, and The Forest Seasons seems to be a record crafted solely for those belonging to that pack.
The music is still the good mix of symphonic black metal and melodic death metal that we know from Wintersun. Where the record flounders is the overboard attempt to bring in the concept of four seasons through four tracks. The Forest Seasons feels extremely uncreative for a band one has come to expect the most unexpected tunes from. Moreover, with each song being twelve to 14 minutes long, they feel repetitive, drawn-out and artificially stretched. Each track has segments that do not really gel perfectly, and one is left feeling that each track could have been easily split into a couple of separate ones.
Not all is amiss here though, as Wintersun‘s ability to meticulously use orchestral elements once again shines brightly. This is one element the band uses to perfection, bringing it in at just the essential moments and slowly fading it out when deemed unnecessary. “Eternal Darkness (Autumn)” showcases this side of the record perfectly: The orchestral elements, though omnipresent throughout its runtime, come to the forefront at critical junctions to create a much more immersive sound. Jari Mäenpää’s vocal delivery must also get the praise it deserves, as he delivers the growls and cleans with equal ferocity and clarity. When coupled with the backing chorus vocals of guitarist Teemu Mäntysaari and bassist Jukka Koskinen, they do help counter the drawn-out nature of the music.
Also, on a record that does feel monotonous at times, “The Forest That Weeps (Summer)” truly stands apart from the rest. While being the shortest track on the record, it still clocks at just over twelve minutes. Although it has the aforementioned ‘non-combining sections’, it does feel the most cohesive of the lot. Each segment holds its own charm and there is a natural flow from one section to the other.
Is The Forest Seasons just a block of ideas on the path to Time II? I certainly hope so, as it clearly is Wintersun‘s least creative output to date. It’s slightly generic, and one can think of multiple bands that could put out a similar record. While the fans are bound to rally in support of this record, and while many others may enjoy this new release through and through, this is not the Wintersun I was personally hoping for. The album does have brilliant moments where it shines bright, but overall it falls and crumbles through its playtime.
Notable Tracks: “The Forest That Weeps (Summer)”; “Wintersun – Eternal Darkness (Autumn)”
FFO: Ensiferum, Whispered, Moonsorrow