Even for the most hardcore of fans, seven odd years is a long time to wait for a follow-up album. Wintersun, the neo-classical melodic death metal project of former Ensiferum singer/guitarist Jari Mäenpää, released their debut self-titled album in 2005, and it was universally hailed as one of the best metal albums of the year. Face-meltingly intense, the epic Wintersun showcased Mäenpää’s virtuosic playing ability and, as always, his brilliant song-writing skills. A near-perfect offering, it was easily my favourite album of that year, and still ranks as one of my favourite metal albums of all time. So you can imagine how anxious I was to hear Wintersun’s next release, tentatively scheduled for the autumn of 2006. So began a saga of personal suffering rivaled only by the agonizing wait for the fifth book in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Plagued mostly by technical issues, the recording process for Wintersun’s second album was delayed continuously. At one point they had to effectively restart the process, as the computer they were using couldn’t handle the size of the songs being recorded (the tunes on Time I average at over 200 tracks a piece!). The album Wintersun finally did put out earlier this year, as the name suggests, is in fact the first half of what Mäenpää had envisioned as simply Time. Well, despite only being one half of a complete artistic vision, Time I was worth the wait.
The album opens with ‘Time Fades Away’, a beautiful, four-minute acoustic introduction. Mäenpää stated prior to the release that the writing for Time I had been influenced heavily by traditional Japanese music, and this is evident from the outset. Listening to ‘Time Fades Away’ with closed eyes and an open imagination, one could as easily be in the forests of Japan as those of Finland. Appropriately enough, the song ‘fades away’ into the second track, ‘Sons of Winter and Stars’, for which it serves as a sort of auditory palate cleanser. Divided into four parts, this ambitious song is the highlight of the album, and one of the best metal songs I’ve heard in a long time. Simply put, ‘Sons of Winter and Stars’ is a sonic wonderland. Interesting time signatures, the relentless blast beats of Kai Hahto, beautiful melodies and counter-melodies, and, of course, the epic choruses and intense and driving guitar work we’ve come to expect of Mäenpää make for a truly amazing thirteen and a half minutes of metal. The track is a clear departure from the tone set in their first album. Wintersun was more influenced by Mäenpää’s time in Ensiferum, and the folk metal scene in general, and in ‘Sons of Winter and Stars’, as with the rest of Time I, it’s evident Wintersun have taken a route towards more thoughtful orchestration at the expense of simple, frantic intensity. The third song, ‘Land of Snow and Sorrow’, is pretty straightforward. A relatively simple, eight-minute track heavy with soaring, melancholy vocal lines, it won’t melt your face off, but it’s definitely worth listening to. The fourth track, ‘Darkness and Frost’, is another acoustic track, barely two and a half minutes long, and serves as the introduction to the final song on the album, ‘Time’, a nearly twelve-minute long epic. For me the highlight of this song is Mäenpää’s virtuosic soloing, something that littered Wintersun, and I was anxious to hear throughout listening to Time I.
Overall Time I is an incredible album. While fans that loved the intense pace of Wintersun might be disappointed, Time I shows significant artistic growth, proving that Mäenpää isn’t a one trick pony, and still has much to contribute to the scene. The follow-up, Time II, is scheduled to release in 2013. Fingers crossed.