Well, I asked for it. I've been bugging Brickhouse for years for the chance to review this album when it came out, but as the months and years went by, I grew ever skeptical that Time in any incarnation would be released in my lifetime. By now we all know the story of how the release of Time was delayed for years. Four, to be exact, as the initial release was scheduled for 2008. In fact, a good number of my metal brethren took to calling it Finnish Democracy. Fans soured on the band and wrote them off while the hype machine kept on churning.
Wintersun's self-titled debut in 2004 was a benchmark for epic metal that literally eviscerated anything that came before it, and that many bands have tried to equal since and fallen far short of. Expectations were through the roof. Jari was deified by his fans, a role he is clearly uncomfortable in. There were months of silence in between updates as he had to tune out the world and focus solely on his writing, recording, and mixing.
When I heard that Time was slated for an October release a few months ago my first reaction was doubt. How many times can a band cry wolf? Something would come up, something would push it back yet again. I resigned myself to the possibility that Time may never see the light of day and by the time it does, the ship will have sailed for Wintersun's brand of metal. The self-titled is a great album, if it's a one-and-done, it's the best one-and-done ever, and if it did come out, would it live up to the anticipation built up over the years?
My doubts were erased when Wintersun announced that Time would be split into two albums due to the overall length of the project. Well now, half an album is better than none at all, right? Fans rejoiced and we began counting the days. As reviews started rolling in I began pestering Brickhouse and Wren. And then, it arrived.
Let me deviate for a moment here and tell you my Wintersun story. The first song I heard from them, way back when, was Beautiful Death, and it was such a lousy quality mp3 I didn't pay it much mind. It did stick with me, though, and I kept an eye out for the CD. By mistake I bought a CD by a band called Winter Solstice, which was really awful metalcore, and immediately recognized that this wasn't the band I was looking for. Then, one afternoon after my training session in Moorestown, NJ, I stopped by a Tower Records (RIP) and went looking for some new music. I was pretty bored with what I had and was craving something different. I purchased two CD's that day- Strapping Young Lad's The New Black and the Wintersun album. I had completely forgotten about my previous search, but I was immediately drawn in by the cover art, so I bought it. Upon entering my car I put it in first, I knew what SYL sounded like, I wanted to hear Wintersun.
And it was all I listened to for the next six weeks.
I heard Wintersun before I heard Ensiferum, even. I quickly devoured every project Jari had touched and passively influenced, and I myself became heavily influenced by his songwriting and composition as well. So as I held my iPod in my hand staring at the cover art, waiting to hit "play" on this long-awaited release, I hoped to the gods I wouldn't be let down.
I am happy to say that not only am I not let down, but that once again, Wintersun has changed the way I hear music.
It's not the same album as their self-titled, not even close. It's reminiscent in parts and starkly different in others. The heavy hammer of classical composition is ever present. There are as many layers in this recording as there are multiple universes, or so it sounds. The depth of Time I is simply staggering and impossible to perceive all at once, and never before has music and lyrical concept so perfectly reflected each other. There is not as much riffing or soloing on this album as there was on Wintersun. There is much more orchestration and play between instruments. If you think Kai and Jari were locked in before, then you will be stunned to hear how tight they are now. The prog and jazz elements present make counting the beats and time signatures nearly impossible, but the flow of the music is such that you never really notice that element unless you listen for it.
And where to start with the vocals. For someone who writes music that literally drops the temperature of any room it's heard in, Jari's vocals blaze through with fire and passion, whether he is growling, singing, or putting that Devin Townsend-like rasp on his higher notes. Traditional harmony structures are less present, instead, many vocal parts are interwoven, and not just with each other, but with guitar and keyboard lines as well. In fact, part of the fascinating depth I mentioned earlier is how the instruments interact with each other. It's more than simple layering, this is musical DNA. How can there be so much going on and not one wasted note, not one thing out of balance?
I can see why this took years to produce. It must have been an endless nightmare even without the delays. When you try and comprehend everything recorded here and realize that nothing is stepping on anything else, that every instrument and note can be heard separately and together, that you can hear it as separate parts or songs or as a whole and it works any way you listen, think to yourself, when was the last time any band in any genre released an album like that?
Yes, this is a short album, with two classical breaks and only three actual metal songs, but Wintersun easily puts three album's worth of material in Sons of Winter and Stars alone. The scale of Time I is far more ambitious than I anticipated. This surpasses metal and music in general. When someone says that music is art, this is what I will hold up as that benchmark. A true work of art.
"I'd sacrifice everything just for one moment... I'd throw away everything that matters to me".
That can be a risk that pays off, or it could be famous last words. It pays off in stars here, surpassing expectations and pushing the envelope further than it's ever been pushed. I will have to re-evaluate how I rate every metal album I hear thanks to this. And like any true cinematic piece of art, it leaves you wanting more at the end. I already want to hear Time II, but Time I will keep me warmed over for another 8 years, if that's what it takes.