01. When Time Fades Away
02. Sons of Winter and Stars
03. Land of Snow and Sorrow
04. Darkness and Frost
Is the Time really upon us? Is the wait finally over? Famed Finnish symphonic progressive folk metal project Wintersun‘s sophomore album Time I is actually getting released. For those unfamiliar with the story; former Ensiferum singer/guitarist Jari Mäenpää created Wintersun, and released a self-titled album in 2004. It was received with high praise and Jari promised he would release a follow-up titled “Time” in 2006. Unfortunately, the computer hardware at the time did not allow for Jari to incorporate all the orchestral elements that he had composed. When the equipment was available, there were financial issues that were sorted out by the label in exchange for the band touring. These and a lot of other factors contributed to the delay of Time, but Jari finally put everything together and made the album happen. But it was announced that the album will be split into two halves and released separately. Long story short, the Time has come for Time to be released, and now we can finally take a look at the album.
First of all, Jari was definitely not kidding when he said that computers of the time could not handle the orchestration on this album. The symphonic elements are absolutely unparalleled by anything that has been demonstrated in metal so far. In fact, they are comparable in quality of composition to big names of symphony like Hans Zimmer. There is mostly a battle metal vibe to the orchestration, but it would be completely understandable if it was used as the soundtrack to movies like Braveheart, Lord of The Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact, if a version of this album with minimal metal instrumentation and mostly orchestral components were to be released, it would definitely still be worth listening to. That, though, is a curse as much as it is a blessing. This is where one of the flaws (at least for some listeners) of the album become apparent: This album is more symphony-driven than metal driven. The guitar-intense sections, the blast beats and the jaw-dropping guitar solos from the first album are less prominent on Time I. That’s not to say that they don’t exist, but they are significantly more infrequent than they used to be on the self-titled debut album. Those elements were quite important for a lot of people, so disappointment at their taking the backseat is understandable.
One thing that makes the “extreme metal” elements seem more lacking than they actually are is the production. The album is quite obviously produced with an emphasis on the symphonic elements. The guitars and drums aren’t presented as a separate entity from the orchestra, but as a member of it. This is quite unconventional for metal, but in a way it makes sense. With this comes a minor gripe about the production. In this sort of orchestral music, tension and emotion are highlighted by sudden increases in volume after a quiet section. This is very conventional in that sort of music, but it is unheard of in metal. Metal, especially most modern metal, is always as loud as it can be without being deafening (or in the case of some bands with bad production, while being actually deafening), so this sort of dynamism can be unusual during a first listen. In the end, this is a minor gripe, and the album is produced beautifully, and it is no small feat of sound engineering that something of this level of complexity works at all. Jari deserves a lot of recognition for his production work on Time I.
Now that the production is out of the way, what does the album actually sound like? The assertion of metal elements being slightly toned down doesn’t actually hurt “the Wintersun sound”. This is still unmistakably Wintersun, even if one were to only look at the lyrics. The words “winter”, “sorrow”, “stars”, “snow”, “cold”, “time”, “death”, “darkness”, “night” are used as frequently as ever, coming close to the point of being parody without quite getting there. Jari’s voice is powerful or emotional when it needs to be. The opening track and ‘Darkness and Frost’ are symphonic interludes, so that really leaves only three songs (that are admittedly pretty long, at 8, 11 and 13 minutes) in the album. With a running length of 40 minutes, the album is pretty short; but at least it is packed to the brim with epic moments of melodic and symphonic overdose. Memorable melodies are all over the place. Sometimes the songs drift towards folk-melodeath autopilot mode and the riffs get a bit generic, but it never gets to the point where it feels like filler for the sake of extending the length of the album. The progression in the symphonic elements especially help to drive those riffs. In the end, any fan of Wintersun would probably at least appreciate the songs here, and many will fall in love with the beauty on display. The slight stylistic shift might alienate fans of the band who expected more of the extreme elements, but those elements are still used, and the overall sound is unmistakably Wintersun which will probably win over those fans after multiple listens.
The length of the album is a real issue though. Without knowledge of the length of the upcoming Time II, it’s hard to speculate whether the split was warranted. One can assume from the press releases that the album was split because it’s not entirely complete yet; and releasing it in two parts would ensure the fans get something sooner than later, and this would also help with the funding of the second part. However, the split was done and one has to accept and judge the album for what it is. As it stands, Time I is pretty short, bordering on being too short. 3 actual songs makes it sound more like an EP than a full length, but the effort put into these songs is significantly over the level of effort that a traditional EP would contain. Again, this is almost an issue, however it can be argued that the band deserves the benefit of the doubt and most fans are probably happy enough to have something at all to begin with.
In the end, Time I is a majestic album, both in terms of sound and quality. There are definitely issues with it, but those issues aren’t significant enough for most fans of the band to be turned off by them. It probably won’t win over many fans, but it will definitely satisfy fans of the genre at least. The big question is: Was it worth the wait? Of course it was. Time I is unparalleled in its use of symphonic elements, and it’s a glorious journey of emotions.
Wintersun – Time I gets…