Released: 2004, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Let me say right off the bat that I am not a fan of power metal. There are VERY FEW bands of this genre that actually appeal to me so when I saw the cover of the new Wintersun CD, I instantly thought, “Ugh! Here come the dragons and wizards nonsense.” I instantly cringed facing the arduous task of reviewing it. Once I popped the CD in, though, I was blown away! Wintersun is the new band formed by ex-Ensiferum vocalist Jari Mäenpäa with the drummer from grindcore/death band Rotten Sound, Kai Hahto. Mäenpäa sings, plays guitar, bass and keyboards on WINTERSUN, so this is clearly his baby. The songs definitely contain elements of power metal, but there is also Viking/folk influences, death metal, black metal…a bit of everything really! I noticed similarities to Children of Bodom here and there as well as Bathory’s Viking period, fellow Finns Finntroll and Mäenpäa’s former band Ensiferum. The songs are incredibly well-crafted and Mäenpäa’s multi-instrumental prowess is remarkable. Even his voice veers from death metal growl, to black metal shriek, to emotive powerful clean vocals, to choir-like Viking chants. The production of this CD is also worth mentioning as rolling so many different elements into one package and having everything sound good is quite a formidable task.
Epic songs that tell a story are the name of the game, with the exception of the leadoff track, “Beyond The Dark Sun,” at only 2:38. The songs were written entirely by Mäenpäa between 1995 and 2003 and he handles the production of the CD, as well. Mäenpäa is nothing short of a musical and lyrical genius. His vocals perfectly capture the aura of the lyrics and the ambience created by the music. The fact that he plays everything on the CD except for the drums solidifies this claim. The guitarwork is flawless. Melodic, yet heavy, and technical, yet raw. Hahto’s drums are just crushing in their fluidity and precision. The introduction of strings and atmospheric elements are perfectly balanced and never seem forced or intrusive.
The ultra-fast riffing and speedy keyboards on “Beyond the Dark Sun” and “Starchild” drip with Children of Bodom influence. In the lead-off track, Mäenpäa’s spoken word intro segues into a blackened thrash vocal that he explores on much of the CD. The folk influences begin to appear on “Winter Madness” and “Sleeping Stars.” The cold, harsh atmosphere written into the lyrics is perfectly captured through the musical landscape and Mäenpäa’s vocals, which waver between the earlier shriek to a cleaner, Viking metal croon. My favorite track on WINTERSUN, “Death and the Healing,” is the personification of great Viking and folk metal. The melodic chorus of this track is enchanting and you can almost picture a group of warriors gathered around a table, cup of mead in hand, singing in victory after conquering the northern shores. “Beautiful Death” follows a galloping riff and an intensity only found elsewhere within a Devin Townsend vocal performance. The swirling guitar solos and almost psychedelic outro are simply spellbinding.
Along with Demonoid’s RIDERS OF THE APOCALYPSE, this month has brought two CDs that will surely make my year-end list of favorites. WINTERSUN is an album that any metal fan will enjoy as the musicianship, vocals, production…ahh, screw it! This CD is a must-have. Go and buy it!
KILLER KUTS: “Beyond The Dark Sun,” “Winter Madness,” “Death and The Healing,” “Beautiful Death”