Review Summary: Very likely the most epic metal album ever made.
Every listener, myself included, makes assumptions about the sound of an album prior to listening. Very often, these assumptions are wrong. When I first heard of Death, I judged by their generic name that they would be a generic, chugging, and boring death metal band. I was wrong. When I first heard of the Wu-Tang Clan, I expected a dull rap album that would contain a bland beat with some monotonous rhymed vocals on top. Yet again, I was wrong. When I saw the name Wintersun and the album cover, featuring a warrior lying dead in a snowy plane in front of a mountain, I expected some Dragonforce clone filled with cheesy melodies and over-indulgent, superfluous technicality. Fortunately, I was very, very, wrong.
Wintersun was formed in 2004 by ex-Ensiferum singer/guitarist Jari Maenpaa. The sound of the two bands is very similar, only Wintersun goes down a slightly more progressive and less folk-inspired path than Ensiferum. While Ensiferum would often indulge in folky passages and instrumentation, Wintersun decides to avoid such elements, and instead contains focus more on the use of keyboards and guitars, both acoustic and electric.
, the band attempts to stand out from other metal bands, with much success. One of the more unconventional aspects of Wintersun’s sound is the lyrics. Wintersun eschews many traditional lyrical themes discussed in metal, and instead decide to tell stories reminiscent of folklore. Also, there are numerous power metal influences in the music, which is most noticeable in the keyboard melodies and frequent use of clean, soaring vocals. This influence often adds a welcome feeling of levity in the music, especially when compared to the work of other metal bands.
Throughout the album, the songwriting is consistently concise and focused. Most songs are around seven minutes long, but it truly feels that every second is absolutely necessary, and absolutely no time is wasted. Wintersun skillfully blends power metal and black metal, and there is a constant focus on melody, which makes the album much more memorable. Throughout the album, there is not a second of filler material.
Of particular highlight is the colossal, ten minute masterpiece, Sadness and Hate
. This song starts off with a soft, foreboding, acoustic solo. Soon, it escalates into a mournful, melodic, and incredibly heavy saga containing bone-chilling shrieks, longing clean vocals, blistering guitars, beautiful keyboards, and yearning acoustic solos. Finally, it ends with a vast, peaceful string melody that conjures up images of a deserted snowy plain, much like the one depicted on the album cover.
Unfortunately, one small flaw holds this album back and stops it from achieving perfection. Much like most power metal, some parts seem slightly over-indulgent, particularly when choruses of male vocals are used. This problem greatly weakened Ensiferum, and it’s still present in Wintersun. Thankfully, most of the clean vocals on Wintersun
seem rather natural, so this is a very infrequent flaw.
Despite a small amount of overly operatic vocals and melodies, this album is truly transcendent, and a truly essential listen for everybody interested in metal.