REVIEW: WINTERSUN – “The Forest Seasons”
Approaching a Wintersun album for review is always a difficult task. These albums are always filled with a level of elegance and brilliance that demands unbridled attention to fully absorb everything that is being put before the listener. Being a long time Wintersun fan and following the advancement of the beleaguered ‘Time II‘, and the recent foray of the band into crowdfunding the creation of their own headquarters, their latest album ‘The Forest Seasons‘ was always going to have some gigantic boots to fill. Thankfully the band has put forward a pretty sizeable attempt at delivering their best piece of work yet, and fans of the self-titled album will rejoice, as The Forest Seasons feels more like a polished homecoming to ‘Wintersun‘ than an extension of ‘Time‘.
Combining only four tracks and clocking in at approximately 54 minutes of duration, The Forest Seasons on first glance seems like an imposing listen. Beginning with the track “Awaken from the Dark Slumber” (Spring) the album starts off amazingly strong, before moving into a steady pace with “The Forest That Weeps” (Summer). By the halfway mark of the album, the sound travels down a darker road with the song “Eternal Darkness” (Autumn) before coming full circle with the final track “Loneliness” (Winter).
Some notable differences between ‘The Forest Seasons‘ and ‘Time‘ is that there seems to be a larger importance placed on guitar distortion. This helps bring out a rustic feel across the tracks which when combined with each tracks lengthy duration and intertwining orchestral compositions, create a very immersive sound. This particularly shines through on the opening and third tracks, but elements are present throughout the remainder of the album. It also comes as no surprise that the drums on ‘The Forest Seasons‘ provide an integral piece of the overall puzzle and seemingly strike that perfect balance of never coming in over the top while never being diluted in the mix.
The overall arrangements provided in ‘The Forest Seasons‘ has again demonstrated that Wintersun are the masters at creating a fully immersive wall of sound that is not only quick to enrapture listeners, but also maintain their unwavering interest. The meticulous ways in which different orchestral elements are added or removed to these songs highlights the complexities of constructing an album like this and truly demonstrate just how impressive the band is at creating these compositions.
The vocal and lyrical delivery on this album is everything you would expect from Wintersun at this point. Jari Mäenpää‘s fiercely potent growls often taking centre stage with the occasional crowd chant included to enhance the epic feel about each track. Perhaps the greatest surprise came towards the end of the album during the final track “Loneliness” (Winter), where there is little harsh vocal delivery creating a more sobering mood, before surprising the listener with a cleanly sung conclusion to this tale of four seasons. The album appears to have a lyrical theme that encompasses the awakening or rebirth of the forest and its transition throughout the different stages of its life cycle; and is scattered with Wintersun’s usual references to the stars, space and melancholy, basically the things that are very synonymous with Wintersun by now. With that being said, the lyrics are at times some of the greatest parts of the overall sound and perfectly blend into the overall mix.
While there are only four tracks, their placement struck me as unique. When plotting the course throughout the four seasons it seemed weird for the band to close with the coldest and darkest season in “Winter“, rather than a more bright “Spring“ or “Summer“, but it actually works. The uplifting introduction tracks heighten the mood before mellowing it all out in the closing half of the album. With that being said, the songs are that individualistic that you could pick any one track and still find the meaning in it when listening to it on its own.
Much in the same way that Guns N’ Roses ‘Chinese Democracy‘ was adversely impacted due to its long creation process and resulting over-hype, I fear that so too will a similar fate fall upon ‘The Forest Seasons‘. While I acknowledge that this is not ‘Time II‘ and is merely an interim album; this will be considered the follow-up to ‘Time‘ and many listeners will hold it with that same esteem and regard. While the album manages to capture that same level of grandiosity and brilliance from the bands preceding albums in its formative minutes, it transitions into something darker and more brooding during the latter songs; and to use the common tropes of storytelling, the album as a whole climaxes at an earlier point than anticipated and leaves a very long period of resolution in its wake. With that being said, ‘The Forest Seasons‘ is a roller-coaster of a release that achieves its set goal of carrying the listener through a large range of emotions and throws in some extra introspection and self-reflection to boot.
While this won’t be considered the masterpiece that many have been waiting for, there is enough on here to silence the critics that have ridiculed the band for their crowdfunding campaign; and for those that have continued to show interest in and support for Wintersun throughout all the ups and downs, this should hopefully satiate your thirst for their brilliance until the next release comes around.