I wrote two essays on Wintersun’s album Time I about a month ago or so in anticipation for Wintersun’s newest album The Forest Seasons. Yeah, remember that band that releases an album once every eight years? Well they finally managed to release one in five years! It’s their third one in thirteen years. And of course they crowdfunded the album, but that’s not what this review is about.
If there is anyway to describe what most of Wintersun’s previous discography has been, I would say it has been comparable to The Battle of the Five Armies, with colossal forces pitted against one another in constant chaos and unity, fighting either side by side or against each other. The Self-titled album contained straight heavy metal with synths to accompany it, as though Yngwie was contracted by Dimmu Borgir to play guitar. Time I consists entirely of epic compositions, with the songs portraying an epic battle for and against time, each song additionally interconnected by vague synths and massive orchestral instruments. A concept album about time from a philosophical point of view, Time I tells the story of Finland, those known as the “Sons of Winter and Stars” and their quest to unlock the mysteries of the universe, traversing the snowy mountains and questioning their existence before ultimately confessing that time will go on no matter what, and as such, it would be best if they continue along naturally.
Alas, after such a long introductory paragraph, where does all of this leave The Forest Seasons? It leaves it snuggly in the middle of the Debut Album and Time I. For some reason Wintersun’s ability to create epic tracks layered with various melodies and orchestral sections is hampered by the obsessiveness with providing a cohesive musical theme based on the seasons. The songs are too long in length. Many parts drag on and on. Whilst Time I only had one thirteen minute song, The Forest Seasons has two songs fourteen minutes in length and two songs twelve minutes in length. If perhaps they had decided to cut down the amount of time during which certain sections repeated, then the album would’ve likely contained a better kick to its theme. But the spring, summer, fall, and winter are too long, and as I said, the album reflects its theme well. Regardless of its length, The Forest Seasons provides plenty of layers and tracks to examine and pick out, as was the case with Time I.
“Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)” begins the album with a calm, minute long introduction, reminiscent of birth and the beginning of the year as it awakens (hence the word “awaken” in the song title). The song makes nods to the ice and snow during spring, likely faced in Finland, the band’s home country. What’s odd is that for the American southwest (at least for myself), there isn’t really snow in the spring. Spring is just that; it is filled with beauty and the growth and birth of plants and trees, the birds chirping and the like. Maybe that’s because I live in a desert on the surface of the sun that has lukewarm temperatures during spring. I’m unsure. Either way, “Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)” takes on a symphonic black metal approach and lyrically describes the birth of the new year that features the ice and snow, death and decay. In other words, we “awaken from the dark slumber” just as the animals awaken from their slumber in the forest.
The next song is my favorite one, especially the video they provided as a sneak peek into the album of Teemu Mantysaari playing the melody of the song at the 7 minute mark. “The Forest That Weeps (Summer)” is a track with an epic chorus that goes as follows.
In the dark rain the great mountains sing.
A sad song of winter and the howling wind.
V(W)isions of the past in the haunting dreams.
Under the dead sky, under the withered trees.
Of all the chaos and layers occurring throughout The Forest Seasons, “The Forest That Weeps” has the most consistency in its 12 minutes of length. In the song, summer physically manifests to speak of itself as the orchestrator of life. Mimicking shadows, the song opens with a lone acoustic guitar accompanied by forest sounds before ascending into epic metal and Jari’s signature black metal vocals. By midsong, the band ends its long tyranny of the forest that weeps to lead into a section that sounds like it would be on a movie soundtrack. After that, the melody that I really enjoy shows up and commences, bringing thoughts of some epic battle/conflict within the forests. The chorus does end up repeating towards the end after a horned instrument section.
The third song has a consistent black metal aesthetic that remains throughout the song, with a short acoustic section about midway through. “Eternal Darkness (Autumn)” is about none other than the neverending darkness that Fall symbolically represents. When fall is viewed, typically images of leaves falling to the ground, the derision of color and the death of nature represent the season. Instrumentally, the song consists of blast beats and quick drumming, constant tremolo picking and a guitar solo (if you can believe it). An ominous chorus echoes throughout the backdrop of the song, as one thing Wintersun does well is layer the back end of their songs so nothing feels empty.
Other than the melody in “The Forest That Weeps”, “Eternal Darkness” contains one of the few substantial lead guitar parts throughout the album. I do have a problem with the lack of guitar solos, as this also occurred in Time I. Time I, of course, had lead guitar parts interspersed throughout each song, but only one solo from the main song “Time” was worthy of any praise or merit on a technical level. Melodically, the guitar served a viable purpose, but it never took the forefront as it did on the first album.
Just as we began with spring, we end with …Winter… in the song “Loneliness (Winter)”. This song provides a lonely feeling through an isolated, mysterious organ-like sustained note coupled with synth bells, wind and intertwining melodies from various other instruments. The song then dives into a slow guitar riff that walks along a single rope across trees accompanied by orchestral instruments and other elements of Wintersun masterpieces. Yes, this song and “The Forest That Weeps” are the best songs on the album, though the other ones are good too!
Throughout the song, images of ghosts, snow, and the sky are depicted lyrically. This is reflective of the loneliness that winter portrays, where snow is usually a time of hibernation in nature and sleep from the cold months. Lyrical lines such as “… the burning of the falling snow” gives the cold a feeling of pain. One of the song’s last lines “… the trail in the snow disappears, am I finally home?” Gives off a sense of lost direction, one that must be met all too often in the places where our trails disappear so quickly, but especially in the snow that covers the lands of Finland and other cold places (like Colorado) so frequently.
While the album accomplishes much of what is to be expected on progressive Wintersun records (especially since Time I), we don’t receive one of the best packages in terms of hype versus expectation. However, the album is natural and authentic in its conveyance of the seasons and their representation, the growth of orchestral elements in Wintersun, and the accomplishments of virtuosity in Jari’s one man solo project (he composed this album by himself, other than the choirs that required usage of others). Overall, Wintersun’s The Forest Seasons manages to sit high on their best albums, and I would place it on par with Time I.
I give it a 4.5/5 due to thematic consistency, visions of epicness, and improvement in instrumentation.