Ah, Wintersun. For a band with only two full-length records under their belt, they sure do generate a lot of hype. And rightly so; the brainchild of Finnish musician Jari Mäenpää, who formed Wintersun as a side-project when he was in folk metal mainstays Ensiferum, the self-titled debut has become something of a legend in metal circles. Jari wrote all the music himself and enlisted the talents of drummer extraordinaire Kai Hahto, who was probably the one of the only drummers who could keep up with the extreme technicality Wintersun's music demanded. Combining folk melodies with supersonic riffs and an epicness that rivaled that of a battle scene from Lord of the Rings, Wintersun was about as close to a perfect debut as a band could get. The eight years between it and the band's follow-up, Time I, revealed Jari's penchant for being a perfectionist, which is one of his greatest strengths as a musician, but also, as it turns out, his greatest flaws.
Time I was a truly ambitious project that was just as strong, if not even better, than the band's debut. For Time I, Jari enlisted two more musicians into the fold, guitarist Teemu Måntysaari and bassist Jukka Koskinen, and each song contained more than 200 tracks. It's album that redefined what it means for a metal band to be epic, and Jari promised it would be the first in a two-part series of records. Unfortunately, Time II has yet to be released, which leads us to this juncture in the band's history. So what exactly is The Forest Seasons? Long story short, Jari has spent the past five years writing and recording Time II (the album is actually complete for the most part), but somewhere along the line, he discovered he didn't have the proper equipment or studio to complete the project up to the standards he'd envisioned. So, after cutting a deal with Nuclear Blast Records, Wintersun created an entirely new album called The Forest Seasons to fund the creation of a mega-studio that will be used to finish Time II, and presumably all future Wintersun albums.
In what has become the most successful crowdfunding campaign to date for a band, Wintersun has raised almost $500,000 of their $800,000 goal to build a new studio. This is great for Wintersun and those who are eagerly awaiting Time II, but the questions remains: how does The Forest Seasons stack up to the band's past output? Frankly, not so good. As the work's title implies, it's a reimagining of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, but is only related in name only. The four tracks that comprise The Forest Seasons are certainly Wintersun through and through, and while they're not necessarily bad, they are nowhere near the same quality Wintersun has proved itself to be capable of in the past. Jari and the rest of the gang has shot themselves in the foot with The Forest Seasons.
In the interest of full disclosure, this writer really wanted to love The Forest Seasons. However, the effort as a whole feels extremely lazy on the band's part, from the songwriting and compositions all the way down to the production. The drums sound extremely plastic and fake, and Kai doesn't give near the caliber of performance he gave on the first two records. Musically, there are some prominent black metal vibes found throughout the album, especially on its first two tracks, "Awaken From the Dark Slumber" and "The Forest That Weeps." Coincidentally, these are The Forest Seasons' most redeeming moments. Each of these songs contain a shadow of what Wintersun is great at; namely, epic, uplifting melodies and some really cool riffs and ideas – ideas that unfortunately materialize into nothing. Again, the songwriting here is just not what it could be. Jari is one of metal's most talented minds, but this feels very phoned in on his part.
It's tough to acknowledge, but the elephant in the room is that The Forest Seasons feels like a subpar album that was made simply to tide the band's hardcore fan base over and raise a crapload of money to make a much better album in the future. If Time II is really all its hyped up to be, then The Forest Seasons could very well become Wintersun's Load or St. Anger. Until then, however, fans may be disappointed that The Forest Seasons is all Wintersun could muster up after a long five-year gap. At least we'll always have the first two records.
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