The Forest Seasons review by Wintersun

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  • Released: Jul 21, 2017
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 8.2 (26 votes)
Wintersun: The Forest Seasons
7

Sound — 7
Straddling the lines between power metal, melodic death metal, and black metal, Wintersun have been redefining what it means to be "epic" in metal since 2003, even though the band is only on their third studio album to date. Helmed by former Ensiferum frontman Jari Mäenpää, and also featuring guitarist Teemu Mäntysaari, bassist Jukka Koskinen, and drummer Kai Hahto, Wintersun's music is often grandiose in the same manner as some of the most excessive of '70s prog-rock albums, especially with their 2012 record "Time I", a high water mark for melodic death metal as a whole. "Time I", containing nearly two to three instrument tracks per song, was an especially ambitious project, and while the music was pretty great, it didn't seem to resonate in terms of album sales, and when it came time to do the sequel that had already been planned out (and at press time for this review, mostly completed), the band found they did not have enough money to afford the studio time or equipment to make "Time II" happen. So the band embarked on an equally ambitious crowdfunding campaign, raising more money than any other band to crowdfund an album so far, almost half a million US dollars.

But rather than give us "Time II" right out of the gate, that money was spent on a four-song concept album about the four seasons. Each track exceeds twelve minutes in length (except the acoustic bonus track, at a relatively "short" eight minutes long), and if you're already starting to get "Tales From Topographic Oceans" vibes, then depending on your opinion of that controversial Yes album, the plot is only going to thicken from here. While "Time I" offered us plenty in terms of complexity and, dare I say it, progressive metal tendencies, "The Forest Seasons" runs a touch overly long. The four tracks on offer here are often steeped in a symphonic black/death metal sound, with intense tremolo-picked chords underpinning symphonic swells and fast drum beats. Jari's harsh vocals dominate three-quarters of this record, but in the first three tracks, clean vocals do pop up from time to time. "Loneliness (Winter)", the album's closing track, is mostly sung with clean vocals, which is a welcome departure. Throughout the album, Jari's and Teemu's guitar playing is far more subdued than it was on "Time I", with solos being few and far between. Riffs are mostly confined to the "tremolo-picked minor/major chord progression" realm, with most of the melodic legwork being done by the orchestral elements. Kai and Jukka perform well, even though their work does often feel a little "phoned in".

Where this album really seems to suffer is the songwriting. With all four main tracks clocking in at over twelve minutes, one would expect a bit more progression and variety in the music, but it often feels as if these four tracks contain a minimal number of parts that simply repeat endlessly. At first, this doesn't present much of a problem, but after a while, you start to realize you're still on the first track, and you can't remember a single thing that's gone by. While there are some really good guitar melodies, particularly in the middle of the opening track "Awaken From the Dark Slumber (Spring)", the whole album just seems like a few decent ideas stretched out and milked for all they're worth. In a lot of ways, this album is reminiscent of Green Carnation's "Light of Day, Day of Darkness", but that hour-long song even managed to work without getting overly boring, though fans may look to that album as an example of a similar musical style (albeit with more clean vocals) being done correctly.

The production, as should be expected from Wintersun, is incredibly "epic". Orchestral elements dominate the mix throughout, and there doesn't seem to be a single moment that goes by on this record without some instrumental element coming in to fill all of the space. Despite this, the mix is not all that hot, and it's not physically fatiguing to listen to, though the length of the tracks compared to their lack of variety make it a bit mentally draining. A cool bonus is that "Loneliness" also features as an acoustic bonus track, and it's actually a very nice acoustic rendition, really showcasing Jari's epic clean vocal prowess well. The bonus disc also features all four album tracks and the acoustic version of "Loneliness" as instrumental versions.



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Lyrics — 9
As mentioned earlier, this is a concept album revolving around the four seasons, with the setting being a forest (guys, it's right there in the title). All jokes about the obviousness of the title aside, the lyrics in this album are incredible, considering the subject matter, and a great counterpoint to many of the usual themes employed by other death metal and power metal artists. The album is a journey through the four seasons starting with "Awaken From the Dark Slumber (Spring)", which is split into two movements, "The Dark Slumber" and "The Awakening". The first movement describes the forest in the end of winter ("Beneath the murky soil/The draw of the ancient spell/Swallowing everything in the ground/And then there was no sound/Twisting the roots of life/Distorting the obscure shapes/The day was creeping into night/And then there was no light"), while the second movement echoes the spring thaw and the beginning of new life in the forest ("Creatures of the dawn/Crawling from the depths of the frozen earth/As the shadows were twisting and turning beneath the sun/The sound of the moaning beasts/Blaring through the forest/As they're roaming wild beneath the morning sun/Ride! Ride with us again!/Fight! And live as free men!/Die! And be born again!"). "The Forest that Weeps (Summer)" reflects the natural beauty and grandeur of a Finnish forest summer ("I saw the lakes that shimmer/I heard the clanging of the wild rivers/You are the voice that carries throughout the land/I felt the strength of my ancestors/As I walked through the land of the dead/You are the fire that burns forever"). As someone who lives in a very similar biome in Canada, I find these lyrics beautiful and relateable, and these are the kind of lyrics that are certainly chill-inducing for anyone who enjoys the taiga.

In "Eternal Darkness (Autumn)", we start to see things winding down in the forest ("Haunting darkness forming inside of man/Calling to return the blood of the earth/Baleful shadows gathering under the blackened sky/Reversing the evolution of the forbidden birth/Devastation of the hollow universe/Executed by wrath and absolute power/Completion of the perfect chaos/The pure destruction of stars"), and after the leaves have fallen, we finally get to the "Loneliness" of winter ("Washed away by the morning sun/Hear the howling call from the other side/And so much was left undone/The weight of the world quietly crushed the dying light/Washed away by the frozen stars/Feel the burning coldness of the falling snow/And one day when everything is gone/The trail in the snow disappears, am I finally home").

While the music is comparatively weak on "The Forest Seasons", the lyrics on this album are incredibly strong, and they're also delivered quite well by Jari Mäenpää. His harsh vocals are present on much of the album, and they're definitely the traditional Scanndinavian black/death style, and done particularly well. There's not a whole lot of variety to them, but his clear enunciation is great. His clean vocals are extremely well-done, though. At times, he sings cleanly with a bit of a growl to his voice, not entirely unlike Devin Townsend, and in the album's final track, "Loneliness", his clean vocals are the dominant force, and provide an absolutely beautiful contrast to the album's darker harsh vocals.

Overall Impression — 7
Much like the aforementioned Yes album above, Wintersun has made an album that's sure to divide people into love it/hate it camps, with its rather bloated writing and lack of any real clear musical direction. While there are some absolutely great musical ideas on display here, the album often feels like it's going on more of a tangent, plodding on with its repetitive riffs and never really stopping to do anything too different. Even when the pace changes on the album, like on "Eternal Darkness (Autumn)", the elements that have changed just seem to drag on far too long, with this song's blastbeat intro seeming to last an eternity. But what this album lacks musically, it makes up for vocally and lyrically. Had the lyrical concept and chill-inducing vocals been underlined with better musical accompaniment, Jari would have definitely made that half-million he crowdfunded for this album worth it to those who contributed.

But compared to "Time I", this can hold no candle. And it's rather disappointing that all of the money pouring in from fans went to this rather than the long-anticipated sequel to that album, considering that "Time I" was, in this reviewer's opinion, an absolutely wonderful record with a lot of the musical complexity and variety missing from this release. I don't think "The Forest Seasons" truly lives up to all the hype around it. And with so much length to the songs and so little direction, this album might be looked on in many years to come as the "Tales From Topographic Oceans" of modern metal. Here's to hoping "Time II" is worth the wait.



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22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Loon 2.5
    So the thing about this album, is that everything was done by Jari. Literally everything not vocal related. Drums were programmed by Jari, bass and guitar both by Jari. Hence the "phoning in." They also didn't use their fundraising money to make this album... this album was what you got for participating in said fundraiser! To go towards a new studio! Wowee.
    travislausch
    Okay, that clears things up a bit, thanks! And there were some additional guitars and bass from Teemu and Jukka, it seems. But you're right, Jari pretty much did the rest of it himself.
    Funnyname99
    So, sorry, they are making a new album separate to this one? - This is just a teaser/ep?
    Mahoru
    According to Jari, Time II has been in the making since Time I was released. It's just that he wanted to record so many tracks and use so many VSTs that he said no studio in the world is good enough for him, so in order to record Time II and other possible records in the future, he did a fundraising to build his own complex (with a studio, a sauna, and other unnecessary stuff, hence part of the popular criticism). As an incentive for that fundraising, this new album was offered to supporters as an exclusive release, which otherwise would never be released according to Jari. The thing is, now that it's out we've seen it's not Wintersun, it's a Jari solo album he recorded without the band and without his studio anyway. So to answer your questions; are they making a new album? Maybe, who knows? They've unofficially been working on Time II for almost 11 years now. Is this a teaser/EP? No, it's a completely independant LP 100% written and 99% performed by Jari for his fundraising.
    Funnyname99
    Ah, cool... Well, pros n cons... In either case Time 1 was utterly wonderful, but I can't imagine how he could make is "more produced" tan that was...
    GuitarManiac110
    The bass and drums are midi...honestly, I've lost all faith in Jari. I have no problem using vst:s if that's the sound you prefer (I don't), but the fact that he just kept avoiding all the questions about this and marketed the album as a "band album" makes him look really  bad. I remember reading an earlier interview where he said that real performances are always superior...I just feel that he slapped this album together to get the money for his studio. Here's the link to the bass comparison if anyone's interested: https://www.dropbox.com/s/spsug9kheq0ho8v/Winte... Note: the first riff was programmed by a forum member and the second is from the album.
    Cavalcade
    Here's the thing: the bare-bones basswork and drumming on this album is obvious, yeah. I noticed it from the start, and the fact that they were programmed isn't surprising. But even on the self-titled and Time I (both great albums, definitely), it still doesn't feel like Kai and Jukka had much room to do their own thing anyway. Norther had a lot of good bass moments, because they left some room for Jukka to improvise and riff around in their arrangements. Parts like the outro from "The Cure", or the bass break in "Everything Is An End", come from the fact that Norther, whether you liked them or not, treated their songs as a band effort, and everyone in the band contributed to the writing. Ensiferum gives Sami Hinkka about the same amount of leeway too, and it works out for them. But Wintersun is The Jari Maenpaa Project, for better or worse, and I can't help but wonder how much better they would be if they acted like a full band.
    Anarkyofadown
    I agree that real performances are better than using midi and that he used this crowd funded album mainly to get funds for his studio. But for an album that's just slapped together and done all by himself...I'd say this is pretty fucking awesome. Sure it's not the self titled album or Time I, but don't give up on Jari and the band, the brand of metal these guys produce is better than a lot of new stuff coming out lately
    Peres.T.Peanut
    Hated the album the first times I heard it. Now I really enjoy it. Winter is probably one of my favourite songs by Wintersun now, and its probably Jari's best vocal performance. And yes, "probably", like Gojira's last album, this one will take time (lul) to digest, so try to come back to it later, it will probably sound better then.  Meanwhile, Dying Fetus released the besst album in their career, so go listen to that.
    DissonantTimbre
    At least songs like that make sense of why he won't play guitar live anymore and is focusing on vocals.
    mybyte
    I wish Jari would have taken 1% of the crowdfunding money he got and used it to hire a decent mixing engineer. The guitars lack clarity, the mix lacks punch and overall, the sound is pretty muddy.
    Mahoru
    Can't really call it a disappointment since I didn't expect much to begin with, but the end result has been absolutely forgettable, which for someone with Jari's talent shold be embarrassing. He asked for a ludicrous amount of money for his sauna/studio, because according to him the enormous Nuclear Blast funding wasn't enough for his "vision", and what the fans got as a proof of what the band is capable of is... these 4 tracks sloppily put together, 99% of them performed and programmed by Jari (so he called this a Wintersun album, but in fact it isn't, there's no band in here), with a piss poor mix (no clipping at least, but vocals are too loud, drums are too dry and compressed and so obviously fake, guitars are too low and their tone is awful, bass is almost inaudible, the other VSTs are all over the place...). And on top of that, the songs just aren't there: all of them are at least 4 or 5 minutes too long, very repetitive, with absolutely no new ideas whatsoever. The only decently enjoyable song for me here is Winter, and still it's your typical Ensiferum/Wintersun song we've all heard a hundred times. I loved his work with Ensiferum and Wintersun's first album. I was really disappointed with Time I, but it still had its moments. But this? He just phoned it in last minute, and the result is an album completely devoid of anything memorable (and maybe it sounds this bad as a "proof" that he needs his sauna/studio?). Honestly, after all this circus that's been going around Jari and this as his statement, I now have zero interest in Time II, if it ever comes out.
    mulefish
    Completely agree, everything that comes out of this guy's mouth is so pretentious, I can't believe how many people supported the crowdfunding campaigns. Especially as you didn't get anything unless you spent 50 euro or some shit.  None of his mixes have been that good. His best ones had external engineers/producers. Frankly, I don't think his $800,000 (or however much it is now) studio will help him. Maybe using some of that money to hire out an actual world class studio (I truly doubt his $800,000 studio will be able to match it with the really big studios), with world class production staff who know how to get the best sounds with the equipment in the studio might help... But no, nothing that currently exists is good enough. What is clear, is that Time II could be made and released if this guy had the wil. Building a new studio isn't required. The fact that he says otherwise is laughable.
    travislausch
    For all those complaining about the programmed drums too... it actually really shows when you compare against the live versions of some of the tracks. It seems the tracks translate a little better on stage:
    ensifer1
    When I first heard the album, I thought "Holy shit, this is death metal elevator music", but now it's grown on me and I really enjoy the album.
    JaguarGod
    I feel like this album would be much better received if people didn't get so pissed off and made accusations of being "ripped off". Still a pretty good album though, not as good as Time I though. 
    travislausch
    To me, such is the problem with crowdfunding. You're putting your money, and a lot of faith, in a band that hasn't even done as much as set up a recording studio for the album yet, and there's no telling what kind of results you're going to see. Even typical pre-orders are usually done for products where there's some level of completion where they can show off a part of it. Personally, I don't think crowdfunding is bad, but it's really easy to see where people come with the "ripped off" accusations.
    colster6000
    I have to correct you on a few things here. The Forest Seasons album was completely recorded and finalised using money from Nuclear Blast before the crowdfunding started. During the crowdfunding there was heaps of audio, behind the scenes footage and other material released so this was not a typical crowdfunding album where the money raised is then used to record the album! You really can't argue that the people who contributed to the crowdfunding (i am one) didn't have a good idea what they were getting as a result. In general this review is pretty spot on. There are some really great parts of the album (Loneliness is an excellent song) but everything is just a bit too stretched out and overmilked. As a crowdfunder I am happy overall but the real reward will come in the eventual release of Time II and other future albums which will be to the higher standard that Wintersun is clearly capable of creating! Here's hoping!
    haifisch234
    This album was meant to sound raw and primitive. It's more about the vibe and the lyrics, not necessarily perfect production quality and "shredding". For this we have to wait until the new studio is done and Time II is released. Nevertheless, the new album is definitely not on the same level like magnificent Time I, though Jari has a lot of material for another 5 albums, so let's look forward to them.