Album Title: The Forest Seasons
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 21 July 2017
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when the off-stage antics become bigger than the music. I understand that in an environment as volatile, unpredictable and fast-paced as the music industry, very little ever runs smoothly. Sometimes the issues are kept strictly behind closed doors whilst others are just too big to be kept hidden. However, when the issues completely overshadow the music, the thing that I’m most interested in, I lose interest. Particularly when it feels, at least to me anyway, that the dirty laundry is being deliberately aired in public.
It is also for these reasons, generally speaking, that I have never been a fan of Finland’s Wintersun. I am pretty sure that, had I given them more time and attention, I might have found a band with which I could click. After all, originally starting life as the side project of Jari Mäenpää from Ensiferum, the DNA was strong. The fact that Wintersun play melodic extreme metal with strong symphonic and folk overtones, with a flair for the dramatic only adds to the likelihood that they’d find favour, musically-speaking, with my ruined ears.
Unfortunately however, over the years, there have been so many dramas surrounding the Helsinki-based quartet that I have felt reticent to get too involved with the entire saga. From dramas with record labels, to huge delays with releases, to crowdfunding campaigns and a myriad of other ‘stuff’, the whole thing is draining and not conducive to building a positive relationship between the band and potential fans. As a result, aside from the occasional cursory dabble, I have kept Wintersun firmly at arm’s length.
It comes as a surprise therefore, that I find myself penning a review for ‘The Forest Seasons’, only the third album of the Finn’s 14-year career. I don’t really know why I have taken this step if I’m honest, but I was sent the promo by the good people at Nuclear Blast and here I am. It certainly wasn’t the hype, I can tell you. Ever since their inception, Wintersun have been the recipients of some of the most insane hype ever. Some of it is undeniably of their own doing, whilst some of it is, to be fair, not their fault. But either way, the hype has been enormous, almost making me shy away from this.
Right from the off, the fact that this isn’t ‘Time II’ will bother many longer-term fans. I’ve never really listened to it, so I’m not bothered in the slightest. But this review cannot ignore the fact that ‘The Forest Seasons’ is not the sequel to ‘Time I’, the record that many quote as being Wintersun’s finest moment to date. Maybe that’s the reason then – the fact that I can review this record unencumbered by the baggage of expectation and without the inevitable, palpable disappointment experienced by others. Or maybe it’s because I was drawn in by the impressive cover artwork which I rather admire.
Whatever the reason, what do I think of ‘The Forest Season’? Yeah, I’d better get round to that hadn’t I?
Well, to cut to the chase, I like parts of it, I am slightly bored by other parts and I have an overall feeling that can be best explained by a puff of the cheeks and a shrug of the shoulders. Let me explain.
‘The Forest Seasons’ has a running time of around 55 minutes but is split into just four distinct compositions. This means that each track requires the expenditure of quite some time, as the shortest clocks in at 12 minutes whilst the longest falls just shy of 15 minutes. Now, as many of you know, I love long, epic tracks – it’s in my blood as a fan of prog. However, this love is predicated on the fact that the composition has a reason for the extended life. If it doesn’t, I do get bored. And that’s part of the problem here with ‘The Forest Seasons’. Each track contains some excellent moments where either a riff, a melody or a symphonic arrangement will strike a chord with me. The problem is, these are not quite frequent enough to keep my attention unwavering throughout. I tried, I really did, but something fails to click enough for me to fully immerse myself in it and therefore it prevents me from recommending it unconditionally.
The opening track is entitled ‘Awaken The Dark Slumber’ and naturally for an album that is clearly meant to represent the seasons, it is Wintersun’s interpretation of Spring. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the overt black metal feel, complete with dramatic swathes of synths and raspy vocals. However, it takes until the fifth minute for my interest to be fully piqued, when the vocals break out into a bold, almost pleading clean croon. For a couple of minutes, I get swept up in the music but as the track ploughs on, I again switch off as it lacks sufficient variety to pull me along. The last two minutes then see out the longest composition of the four in a much more positive vein.
Summer follows in the form of ‘The Forest That Weeps’ and it’s here that Wintersun’s game is upped. With a much stronger folk element to it, this slightly shorter track bounds along at a great pace and with a little swagger too. The melodies, although a little repetitive in the latter stages, are a lot more memorable, to the point where I find myself humming the chorus when I least expect it. I really like the over-the-top choir vocals, as they add an epic gravitas to the composition and nicely juxtapose the extended foray into quieter, more laid-back folk territory which arrives around the mid-way point. This is a very nice song, possibly my favourite on the album.
After a dark foreboding intro, ‘Eternal Darkness’ explodes into something very Dimmu Borgir-esque. Furious double-pedal drumming, layer upon layer of grandiose synths and raw, spiteful growls combine to create a very striking passage of music. However, in my opinion, it goes on a little too long without sufficient variety and so it’s not until the six-minute mark that my attention is fully held. At this point, the song slows and opens up allowing a really nice passage that builds whilst all the while being dominated by some increasingly flamboyant lead guitar work. I will also accede to enjoying the bombastic closure of the track which is rather epic and atmospheric
The final season, winter, is represented by ‘Loneliness’, a track that begins quietly and then plods along at a markedly slower pace than their norm. The swathes of synths literally drench the music in atmosphere in keeping with the song’s title, whilst there is a greater variety in the vocal delivery for my money. In fact, I wish we’d heard more of Jari Mäenpää’s clean delivery elsewhere because when he lets go, he can really sing, as demonstrated in the sequence that leads up to the mid-way point as well as the truly excellent final crescendo. At points, this vies for top spot with ‘Summer’ but in between, my mind wanders yet again.
So, in summary, ‘The Forest Seasons’ is a frustrating record. There is a lot to like about it when you start to dissect the music. However, these moments or passages of excellence feel to me like they are too few and far between, padded out by some average music along the way. Put it like this – if ‘The Forest Seasons’ was a ten track record, there’d be about four killer tracks surrounded by six disappointing fillers. That, to me, is not the recipe for a great album. And that’s a shame because when Wintersun fire on all cylinders, it sounds immense.
The Score of Much Metal: 7
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day