Sound — 9
Ah yes, Mäenpää and his epic journey to achieve a soundscape true to his singular vision has exasperated and excited fans of Wintersun for years now, especially regarding "Time II." Now, it seems that we are a one step closer to that vision. "The Forest Seasons" is characterized by a rich, deeply layered massive wall of sound. Guitars, drums, vocals and choirs, synths and orchestra blend together quite nicely, with vocals (and snare drum) being very prominently present. It might prove a challenge to aurally deconstruct all the layers and instruments used, and I would argue it to be a futile exercise, as in this case sum is indeed greater than it's parts. All the elements support each other pleasantly, and manage to breath life into the composition itself, painting a pretty picture of the majesty that is nature. Overall it is a pleasant listening experience, though the in-your-face mixing of vocals and prominent snare might divide opinions.
Lyrics — 7
Lyrics have always been in my opinion weakest link in Wintersun due the overuse of arguably very metal \m/ words like "dark", "shadows", different articulations of "sorrow" and of course "winter" with all it's accompanying connotations like "frost". As fitting for an album named "The Forest Seasons," lyrics mainly deal with, you guessed it, nature and it's cycles. The way lyrics are construed is also quite straightforward, as X (forests, mountains, night) is usually doing Y (weeping, singing, falling) - There is little room for ambiguity and interpretation here. Indeed, ff we strictly define lyrics as words lined after each other, there is not much to see (or hear). However, the way these lyrics are delivered as part of the music is noteworthy. Mäenpää has an excellent voice, and with accompanying choirs and orchestra, lyrics like "In the dark rain, gray mountains sing, a sad song of winter, of the howling wind" come truly alive.
Overall Impression — 8
The challenge of Wintersun, as is with many bands, is that their newest albums will always be contrasted to 1) previous releases which retain nostalgic value and 2) releases yet to come that are loaded with high expectations. "The Forest Seasons" does indeed deliver better sounds than "Time I," getting closer in a way to their debut album, yet still retaining lot of refinement and layerness that was exempt from their first album. It is unclear however, to what extend this newest album meets the expectations set forth by eager fans, both compositionally and sonically. For me, "The Forest Seasons" is a solid melodeath album with a penchance for the epic and majestic. Compositionally it flows from segment to segment nicely, yet neither does it invent the wheel anew. From four songs panning from 12 to 14 minutes, there aren't any moments that feel out of place or stretched out. Only the last song called "Loneliness (Winter)" has a hard time catching the attention of the listener, which might not be a bad thing, as it acts as a closing act for the album, giving some time to breathe and relax after the journey.
I rate this album a solid 8+ , as it is a good melodeath album with impressive delivery in terms of musicianship and mixing. Yet at the same time, the riffs, melodies and rhythms are not par with their debut album, which had truly great and memorable moments. A challenge with music this layered is that good riff ideas and melodies might end up buried beneath a ton of tracks, and the layers itself become the main meat of the songs, rather than being in a supportive role.