Eight f***ing years. That’s how long fans all over the world had to wait for a sophomore album from Finland’s Wintersun after their 2004 debut turned the heavy metal community upside down. But somehow, Wintersun’s Time I does not fall short of the impossibly high expectations it set for itself.
When the first album and subsequent tour were met with great critical acclaim, Wintersun’s main man Jari Mäenpää went to work on a follow-up album in 2006. The years between 2006 and its 2012 release were met with announcements of pushed-back release dates and cancelled live appearances, mixed in with teasing statements that the album would be completed soon.
Finally, in March of 2012, Mäenpää finally announced that the album was complete and would be released later in the year. However, they had recorded over eighty minutes of what he describes as “hard listening” and that listening to the entire album in one go was a chore even for him. For that reason, Wintersun decided to split the album into two forty-minute releases, Time I being the first. The opening track on Time I, “When Time Fades Away,” serves as an intro with epic strings, preparing the listener for the journey ahead. The song then transitions seamlessly into the beginning of the thirteen-and-a-half minute epic “Sons of Winter and Stars” where the strings continue, soon accompanied by the familiar sounds of distorted guitars and double-bass drumming, building epic tension.
When Mäenpää’s vocals enter the mix, the album hits its stride. His vocal style is best described as a screamed whisper: he shrieks while still remaining aware of his pitch. Mäenpää easily moves from these death metal vocals to a more melodic style much like he mixes the harsh sounds of heavy metal guitars with the symphonic strings playing chords.
The album continues through “Land of Snow and Sorrow” as Mäenpää’s trademark style continues to show through with fast double-bass drumming and soaring Iron Maiden-esque guitar harmonies. Mäenpää’s vocals have improved tremendously. On their debut, he chanted monotonously. Now he sings acrobatically—jumping throughout his vocal range.
“Darkness and Frost” blends acoustic finger-picking guitar with spacey keyboards playing over the top. The speed and pitch both increase and are joined by bass drums when the song fades.
The culminating track, “Time,” is by far the climax of the album. It jumps straight from the epic buildup into a monstrous pedal toned riff to which it is impossible not to throw Tiger Woods fist pumps. The song jumps from riffs led by electric guitars and distorted vocals to sections highlighted by orchestral sounds and clean singing.
This track also highlights Mäenpää’s neo-classical metal style more than the rest of the album, incorporating string leads atop over-driven guitar chord progressions as well as a guitar solo that would make Yngwie Malmsteen proud. The song then fades into an outro played on strings to conclude an amazing album.
While I wouldn’t recommend the album to a casual rock fan, anyone with the stomach for harsh metal vocals would be remiss not to listen to this album. It is a heavy metal masterpiece that will go down as one of the best releases of 2012.