Wintersun’s The Forest Seasons might be the album that has split most opinions in 2017. Their Indiegogo campaign raised 464 330 euros (!) to be spent on their new headquarters that’d allow them to reach their “true vision” in future releases. As the frontman/main composer Jari Mäenpää stated, expensive limited studio time is not ideal for the massive compositions he wants to make.
The Forest Seasons represents a rawer sound that they can reach without the top notch equipment that is planned for the eternally overdue Time II. In fact, The Forest Seasons is almost completely a bedroom recording. All instruments are recorded by Jari Mäenpää.
The only reward level of the campaign was 50 euros and the reward: The Forest Package. It includes a new album, master files + bonus track, isolated tracks of the new album, live album from Tuska 2013, First album remaster 2.0, Time I remaster 1.5, Time I master files + isolated tracks, booklets, wallpapers, photos & instrumentals.
Some have praised the album, some accused Jari Mäenpää of being a conman before even getting the rewards. The truth is still out there, but following the whole campaign from the start till the end; I appreciated the honesty that they portrayed in a making of documentary. It was a good long watch in itself (1h 25min), and obviously free in Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MscAKtZt80I.
The Forest Seasons currently stands at 56 % in Metal-archives (19 reviews). I would say this is not based on just the music.
Wintersun’s first record (2004) has a special place in my heart though it has not lasted time (no pun intended) as well as some of the melodeath albums of its … Wait for it … Time… I did not think the second album Time I (2012) was much more than alright, 7-8/10. A lot of people are accusing The Forest Seasons of having bad sounds which is so puzzling considering Time I symphonics are at worst near frigging Casio quality. At times they are great, but the base level is not what I was expecting. I can totally understand Jari wanting to have more a bombastic sound in the future.
What bothers me about The Forest Seasons
I already thanked Wintersun about their honesty BUT one has to acknowledge that they did manage to kind of conceal the fact that drums are actually programmed. They are not played by the drummer of the band Kai Hahto. Obviously they never stated anything other. The drums are luckily very well programmed. The drum sound does not bother me at all, just the fact that they weren’t openly expressing that Kai Hahto is not going to play the drums. He is a drummer a lot of people rave about after all and made a lot of appearances in the documentary. Including appearing in the booklet as a band member.
I personally feel some cheese in the lyrics could have been avoided. At times the folk/viking metal aesthetics sound out of place on an album that is strongly based on the elements and seasons. Wintersun’s phrase book of cliche fantasy literature elements could have been set a bit farther away. Clear cut example of this is the last 7 minutes of power metal and viking choirs in Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring). I enjoy the end nevertheless, it just could have been less of a cheesefest. As an undermining factor, I rarely enjoy power metal. On the other hand I find the sing-along choirs of The Forest That Weeps (Summer) totally irresistible.
On with the good stuff
In short, The Forest Seasons is a damn good album, which is all that should matter. First three tracks are packed with memorable melodies, good song-writing and fine sounding symphonics. I really like bombastic elements, so for me the symphonics are a bit too much on the background. The guitar sound could have also been more powerful at times, but it’s a minor concern except in the last track. There’s a fine amount of details and stuff happening but also a great sense of progression present. For example how the Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring) meanders to small climax on 4.30. Slows down and finally gets to the chorus at about 7 minute mark.
The Forest That Weeps (Summer) has a similar meandering progression, the chorus comes early but it’s still not as climactic as later in the track. Some details like “I saw the lakes that shimmer” with echoing/airy keyboard melodies create images powerfully. It’s actually stunning how the track turns melancholic in the end. It brilliantly portrays a familiar August melancholy when the summer is almost at an end. This might be the best track of 2017 & Wintersun discography.
The 3rd track Eternal Darkness (Autumn) surprises with straight to your face fierce black metallish tempo. I didn’t expect Jari, a composer known for his power metal antics, to pull off black metal so well. Also, a fitting last.fm comment about the god tier solo at about 8.20:
Not all of it is of my liking
Wintersun succeeded in black metal atmosphere but the last track Loneliness (Winter) does not succeed as a doom track as well. The atmosphere is mostly there but the track fails to resound my nerves. First explanation could be the main riff that is quite buried, and not that special. Heavy guitars are quite instrumental in creating, umm, heavy atmosphere. Now the guitars are just a backing track there. I listen to a lot of melancholic doom metal and I just don’t get the feels from Loneliness (Winter).
The 8 minute acoustic version that’s a bonus track in The Forest Package is a bit more compact and a better version too. The c-part before the final chorus with its emotional guitar leads and vocal harmonies nearly gives me chills. That’s a lot more than what the distorted version does. The acoustic guitar sound is a bit steely, I’ve heard better and more natural sounds, it is not a huge concern nevertheless.
Short sum up
Even with skipping the last track, which seems to have its fans, the album still has 41 minutes of material that I’d classify great. Can’t complain too much.