Genre defying Metallers Wintersun are not a band to be rushed. With a gap of 8 years between their first and second albums, it’s with a hint of ironic surprise at the veritable speed of this their third album being unleashed after a mere 5 years! A band is always setting itself up for cries of anti-climax or disappointment when they wait so long to release a record, such is the anticipation that builds, but I thought “Time I” was such a great album that I didn’t care if it took 8 years, 8 months or 8 days to emerge, it’s quality isn’t diminished when you just judge it on what it is, not how long it took to complete.
So it’s with that same attitude that I approach “The Forest Seasons”. Main-man and founder Jari Mäenpää (Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards) now has a full line up in place – Kai Hahto (Drums), Teemu Mäntysaari (Guitars, Backing Vocals) and Jukka Koskinen (Bass, Backing Vocals) are now joined by additional guitarist Asim Searah – and has taken on a 4 song concept centred around four seasons experienced within a mystical forest…as the album title more than nudges toward. Knowing this beforehand, I decided that my first listen should be effectively blind, each track randomly selected, just to see if the music for each 12-14 minute song was indeed redolent of each individual season. Dismissing thoughts that I might be over-thinking the whole thing I embarked, making a note of which track I felt would represent Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter. The smugness I briefly felt at guessing them all correctly was quickly replaced by the realization that the skill is all down to Wintersun and the songwriting, not to my interpretation.
Of the four, opening song ‘Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)’ is probably the track that people will instantly recognise as Wintersun, full of aggression, intricate rhythms, biting guitar-lines and memorable hooks. It also has an underlying optimism associated with Spring, with it’s up-beat mood and attitude throughout, including the abrasive, energetic mid-section and also incorporated in the short/impacting clean sung section near the end. ‘The Forest That Weeps (Summer)’, is a little more even in approach – not so much laid-back (this IS Wintersun!), but centred around some great guitar work, it’s a little more mid-tempo and a little more structured than it’s predecessor – there’s more clean vocal to carry the melodies that gives a greater balance with the harsh, plus a fabulous folk-ish mid section. As it builds in intensity and power it becomes clear that it’s not exactly watching tennis with a Pimms whilst tucking into strawberries, thank the gods, it’s just…summer. And it is certainly not ‘Eternal Darkness (Autumn)’…
Wintersun’s fantastic ability to change mood and approach so seamlessly, yet so effectively, has to be acknowledged, and there is no better example than the transition from the Summer track into ‘Eternal Darkness (Autumn)’. Eerie sound effects build and eventually give way to blast-beat fuelled Black Metal, channeling the ghost of Emperor alongside the symphonic touches of Dimmu Borgir (maybe with the addition of Copse paint! No? Oh well…), the onslaught is unabating and all encompassing, an unrelenting ferocity determined to shake every leaf from every tree…including the ever-greens! A little, slightly more melancholic respite occurs halfway through (also very Autumn!), and continues to the end of the track, but on the whole and as is always the case – Autumn means business!
If you picked up any hints of melancholy embedded in previous songs, they are nothing compared to those engulfing ‘Loneliness (Winter)’. The title sums the track up – a slower, reflective opus, filled with heart-felt sorrowful clean-sung melodies, over heavy, foreboding guitar and keys, reminding me of Green Carnation at times. This is balanced by a stark, cold, harsh section at it’s core, before the track brings this epic album to it’s epic conclusion…with just a hint of optimism – a slightly jauntier guitar line with huge clean vocals and choirs to remind the listener that Winter is just the end of a year, it begins anew with Spring, and as the sound of a Northern wind smothers the icy guitar/keyboard outro, there is hope. And all you have to do to experience it, is to play the album from the start once more!
But this is just my experience of the album, just one interpretation – everyone will, and should hear something different, but many will agree that Wintersun have achieved the concept that they set out to conquer. Pushing their own identity even further, Wintersun really do defy genres – they are just Wintersun. If you like your Extreme Metal delivered with a forward thinking, unpredictable attitude, happily acceptant that Black/Pagan Metal can, and will stand shoulder to shoulder with Power and Folk Metal then why not spend a year in the company of Wintersun.
(8.5/10 Andy Barker)