Although Finland’s Wintersun made quite the name for themselves following the release of their self-titled debut album in 2004 (though they were more frontman Jari Mäenpää’s side project then as he was still in Ensiferum up to the point of recording), the band has become perhaps more well known since then for the frankly horrendous wait they’ve put their fans through to produce a follow-up album. The album, originally titled Time but now split into two parts, has finally begun to surface in 2012. Time I, containing five tracks, is the first chapter of this long-awaited release, with Time II scheduled to follow in 2013. Many jokes have surfaced about the album being better named as About Time and with good reason, so let’s see if Time I is actually worth it then. Time I features an extensive guest choir featuring members of bands such as Ensiferum, Kiuas, Turisas and Týr.
Wintersun has changed since their debut in 2004. The self-titled effort was not your typical sounding album by any means, being a combination of mostly power metal and melodic death metal, or power-death, as I prefer to call such hybrids. Time I does contain elements of both genres, but is not a power-death album. There is a lot going on during the album, but ultimately there is one near constant element which defines the album – symphonic metal. The extreme variation of it that is, as the vocals are still mostly growled as per the debut which was more or less power metal music with growling vocals.
But although extreme symphonic metal may be the best way to describe the album if you can only label it with one genre, it doesn’t go as far to describe what the album actually sounds like as you may think. Parts of the album are progressive, while there are also folk influences to be found. Add in the power metal and melodic death metal I already mentioned and you’ve got quite a varied album in Time I, one which uses lengthy epic songs to chop and change between styles effortlessly, as in the 13:31 minute second track, Sons of Winter and Stars, a four movement piece which flows on perfectly from the opening instrumental When Time Fades Away. The first track could easily just be a part of the second so seamless is the transition. Land of Snow and Sorrow, the third track, clocks in at 8:22 so is the shortest of the vocal songs on the album, but it still getting up there in terms of epic length.
I’d understand if there was some concern after all this time that now Time I has finally dropped that Wintersun have only actually included three songs which contain vocals on the album as despite it’s 4:08 length When Time Fades Away is pretty much an extended intro track and fourth track Darkness and Frost is the shortest piece at 2:24 and is pretty much an interlude between Land of Snow and Sorrow and the closing Time, but the album does clock in at a respectable 40:07 minutes of music. Shorter than the debut’s 54:09 certainly, but one must not forgot that Time II is on the way to complete the package and at this stage it remains to be seen if the decision behind the split is justified. If Time II isn’t of a length that would keep all the material off of one disc of music then I’m sure they’ll be a backlash but until we find out either way I’m going to reserve judgement, although after eight years a double album in one package would not have gone amiss. Just saying, because eight years for five tracks is most definitely testing the patience of your fans regardless of the length of three of those tracks.
Time I is about as epic as symphonic metal can get though, and although it is quite different to the debut, I’d say that this is very satisfactory even with the wait Wintersun put everyone through. The album is symphonic metal but not quite in the way you’re probably used to hearing it. It’s got something special, the kind of album that makes every note count and at its conclusion leaves you wanting more. That’s the biggest problem with the split. After this I for one really want to hear Time II now, not next year. And ultimately that’s where Time I suffers the most since after all this time (it’s impossible to get away from this pun by the way) it feels like only half the end product, which of course it is.
Musically this is exceptional however. Maybe not quite top tier for me, and in all honesty not quite as good as the debut, although they’re very different albums so there’s plenty of room here to like one but not the other. I’d definitely say Time I is not as immediate than the self-titled though, and it took me a couple of spins for it to grow on me, and I want to put on record I didn’t actually hear the debut until after Time I, so this especially holds true I think, as I believe being familiar with the debut will hinder enjoyment of Time I at first, that’s how different the album is. It’s like a completely different band. But keeping an open mind and you’re left with one of the finest symphonic metal releases of the year.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org))