Winter’s Sun: The Waning Career of Jari Mäenpää

Let’s set the stage: 2004, Finland. Former Ensiferum frontman Jari Mäenpää releases his debut semi-solo album under the name Wintersun. Featuring a unique blend of power metal, prog, folk, symphony and black metal, this powerful album is met with wide acclaim. Two years later, the recording process for the follow-up begins, with a release date of 2007. The follow-up releases in 2012, and is split into two, with the second part being promised for later in the year. Five years later, the follow up (Time II) is no longer coming, and Jari announces a new project with basically the same line-up. What the hell happened? Let’s take a look.

Note: If you want some entertainment, you can hear me rant about the subject matter of this post on this week’s podcast here.

People who have followed the development of Wintersun’s sophomore album Time (well, Time I as it ended up being called), might be aware of some of the shenanigans that have taken place. For the unaware, Jari has a reputation of being somewhat of an ambitious perfectionist. The reasons for the delaying of Time were numerous. Originally, Jari wanted to mix an astounding number of synth tracks together, reaching as much as 300, according to posts he made in online forums. Obviously, this requires a lot of memory, and at the time 64 bit computers weren’t common yet, and 32 bit computers couldn’t handle that many simulated instruments. This technical limitation has been cited many times for being the cause of the delay. Perhaps a more efficient artist (surely one Jari would think is settling for less) could, instead of mixing batches of tracks together, rendering the mix into a single track, then repeating this process until one has an amount of track groups that could fit in memory could get the album done by then, but of course that takes a lot of effort and time. Clearly that process would have taken more than 6 years, which is how much it took for Time I to complete from inception to release, otherwise Jari would have followed this approach, right? And of course he couldn’t have hired a professional producer to take care of this process.

Eventually, Jari made enough public complaints that the label agreed to fund his purchase of a new computer if he played a few shows. Jari accepted this deal, complaining about how it would cause delays in the mixing process and that the money wasn’t enough because they’re a small time band. Of course, if bands don’t capitalize on the hype for a cult hit release and don’t play shows or follow it up with a timely successor, they can’t really grow. The label’s good will in tow, Wintersun ended up playing the shows. A few years later, Time II was ready for release! But not really. Half of the album was cut out. It’s not like the songs weren’t already written, as they played some of those songs in their aforementioned live shows, but they weren’t on the album. Ironically, despite the six-year mixing process, the album’s mix had quite a few issues as well. Perhaps as a result, Jari decided to ask for the label to fund the construction of a studio for Wintersun, equipment and sauna included. Suddenly, the deal went from “Time II is coming soon!” to “we need an entire new studio to make the album we said was already made!”, and the label, being the controlling and stingy capitalists they are, refused. Despite claiming that Time was done being recorded in 2007, he claimed in 2012 that he was unable to complete the second part of the album because his working conditions gave him writer’s block, which is a shame. Too bad Nuclear Blast doesn’t have a relationship with excellent producers who could totally handle a large amount of synth tracks, like Jens Bogren or Fredrik Thordendal, otherwise they would have recommended that Jari work with those producers and Jari would have totally taken the offer.

Well, at some point, Jari got the idea that maybe he could crowd fund the construction of his studio. Unfortunately, he deemed this to be infeasible. The label, having a stake in Wintersun and Time II, would apparently lay claim to the money. Also, the Finnish government, because taxes. It’s not like he could ask for a larger sum of money to compensate for that. Or perhaps the final ask would have been too high? Considering the immense cost of building a studio and purchasing all the equipment. Here is Jari’s take:

They see the crowd funding as a threat to their business and they would rather see Wintersun dead, than me doing a crowd funding. I think this would not hurt them at all, only benefit them, but they cannot see the big picture of Wintersun doing well. They actually told me point blank that I should just stop making music and they will never release Wintersun from the contract. It’s really like this, because they can’t or won’t loan me enough money to build a studio and fund an album, they don’t want other people (the fans) to fund it either… unless they get a crazy big cut of the funding (for doing absolutely nothing).

Never mind the label’s stake in making Time I happen and presumably their previous investments towards Time II, which was originally supposed to not be separate from the first album. But wait, there’s more.

Finally, Wintersun post an update about Time II, except not really. Their Facebook reads:

WHAT IS “IT”

It’s 2017 folks and it’s going to be a great year! Time for some big Wintersun news? Yes it is!

When we said that “IT IS DONE”, we did not mean TIME II, but we meant a NEW ALBUM for sure! TIME II won´t be the next Wintersun album, because of reasons you already know from past updates and interviews.

So what is IT? IT is a NEW ALBUM and it is 100% done! And no, that’s not the name of the album. This album will be something new and different, but equally great or perhaps even better in some ways. Over 53 minutes of solid Wintersun material (with no intro tracks) and with a killer concept!

This album will be THE 3rd FULL LENGTH Wintersun album. We will release the name of it soon and other details like track list etc. We’re gonna start putting the pieces of the puzzle together for you guys how it’s going to be released and what will happen… It will be a whole new experience to enjoy a Wintersun album! It will all make sense to you very soon!

And this album is not the only thing we’ve done, not by a long shot! In fact your minds will be blown soon! That is a guarantee. So click the notifications ON in our Wintersun Page, if you don’t want to miss out on the new Wintersun album! (Because of Facebook algorithm reach limit). THANKS GUYS!

In short, they’re releasing an album of material, totally not tracks previously written for Time II, under a different name to avoid interacting with the label, I guess? Alright. While everyone loves to love a tortured artist, these shenanigans are past the point of being endearing and just frustrating. What happened to the inability to record/mix without a proper studio? What happened to Time II? Why are fans being jerked around? At this point this all seems like some smoke and mirrors. We received a half-baked album after an 8 year wait and then were left waiting for the completion for five years, then that was thrown out? And still we are just given some empty hype about an album that’s supposed to release this year with no other detail beyond vagaries? Are we supposed to get excited because the band are known for sticking to their deadlines?

Really, this is almost tragic. We have a band that, despite not capitalizing on their stellar release, could have easily taken the metal world by storm. Even with the way things are, everyone is always excited for more Wintersun and their name is revered. Or at least was, until four years ago. The lackluster Time I, along with an ever-growing Nordic prog scene have taken a lot of wind out of Wintersun’s sails. Surely the goodwill still hasn’t been used up, but imagine if a complete version of Time, both parts, released in 2007. For context, that’s the same year Dimmu Borgir put out In Sorte Diaboli, four years before Fleshgod Apocalypse put out Agony. Imagine how amazing and ground-breaking that could have been. At this point, whatever “IT” is, if it actually releases in 2017, we will have the result of a decade of drama and failed promises landing onto a scene that has moved on. Of course, surely Jari faced some legitimate problems. But he isn’t the only musician to have issues, but many have done so much with so much less than what he had. He had the backing of a label, the fame of having been the frontman of Ensiferum, a crew of talented musicians behind him, endorsements from guitar companies and so much more. We’ve heard this story many times before, of the musician who was held back by their perfectionism that looks an awful lot like procrastination, except this time the failure was at a much larger scale with a much larger support network.

All I can say is, I really hope “IT” is incredible, but it’s facing such tremendous odds that it might not even matter anymore.

 

“If a tree falls in a cave and no one sees it, does it cast a shadow onto the cave wall?”