Dissociating the artist and his art - A review of Wintersun's "The Forest Seasons"
Can you disscciate an artist from his art? This is a very difficult question. It's up to each individual to answer it. Jari Mäenpää is at constant war with his label, tries to lure fans into spending an exaggerated amount of money to support his megalomaniac visions and has offended numerous supporters with his questionable release strategies. The Forest Seasons is a very controversial release. Instead of the promised second part of Time, this record is more like a filler release which was nearly entirely made by Jari Mäenpäa. He performed vocals, played the guitar and the bass, worked out the keyboard orchestrations, programmed drums and percussion and even took care of the mastering and production. The name Wintersun on the album cover is pretty much a lie because this is nothing but a Jari Mäenpää solo record. Many people didn't give this record a chance because of those controversial circumstances. Others genuinely hated the album. Some praised this release as a masterpiece. While reviews are always subjective, most people had a biased judgement of this release because of its release history and often failed to solely analyze the qualities of the final product. Just take a look at the numerous reviews on the internet. I'm aware that this is difficult but this is what I'm going to try now that this formal introduction is out of the way. I will dissociate the artist from his art.
The Forest Seasons is a positive surprise to me. The predecessor included two instrumental tracks out of five songs, sounded all over the place concerning the instruments, the production and even the songwriting and had massive ups and downs concerning its quality. The Forest Seasons has a simpler and more coherent topic, structure and instrumental guideline. The record has a great flow and rarely feels out of focus. There are no filler instrumentals, overtly overproduced orchestral passages and this album isn't the first part of something either. Each of the four tracks has some positively outstanding elements. The songs all make sense separetly and as a whole unit. The opener "Awaken from the Dark Slumber" has an appeasing atmospheric overture that gets you into a hypnotizing and relaxing mood before the song evolves into a gripping symphonic extreme metal track that takes the better elements from both black and death metal with cold riffs and harsh vocals before the songs ends with an epic finale thanks to majestic choirs. In my book, this might be the best song in the history of Wintersun or even the greatest track Jari Mäenpää has ever written. "The Forest That Weeps" convinces with its vivid folk influences and epic choirs, "Eternal Darkness" surprises with the record's best guitar solo and an abrupt finale and "Loneliness" is a melancholic mid-tempo track that takes its time to develop a haunting atmosphere. All four songs are at least clearly above average and I would consider the opener a nearly excellent track and the closer almost on the same level.
The record also has a few imperfections however, especially in the middle section. "The Forest That Weeps" has an overlong and repetitive middle section despite being the shortest song on this release. The track would have sounded much more compact and impactful if it had been three minutes shorter. "Eternal Darkness" suffers from uninspired and clinical blastbeats throughout the track's most important passages. The record's biggest issue is the production. The drum computer sound is clinical and takes away from an otherwise vivid atmosphere. The lead guitar riffs are sometimes static and buried under the keyboard orchestrations. The production isn't as overloaded as the predecessor's but would have been much better with a more dynamic and organic sound.
On the other side, the choirs and orchestrations sound majestic and the diversified vocals sound very gripping, no matter if they are rooted in the black, death, folk or even power metal genres.
An additional positive aspect is the absolutely stunning cover artwork which is one of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. It really captures the four seasons and the spirit of nature. As someone who loves nature, I can really relate to the artwork, some of the lyrics and most of the music.
From a point of view that solely focuses on the final product, The Forest Seasons is a very good album and a highlight for epic folk metal and symphonic extreme metal fans. It's a very creative, detailed and diversified album that does its ambitious topic justice and brings the different seasons and the spirit of nature to life. Only the flawed production and a few repetitions in the songwriting keep this record away from being a serious contender for metal album of the year. It's definitely a record to discover over and over again which justifies a purchase rather than just listening to it via Bandcamp or other legal streaming websites.
Now, if you can't dissociate the artist and his art, I might understand that you wouldn't want to purchase this release. If you are however able to do so, I would recommend you to buy this gem.
Final Rating: 80%« La Cara Oculta / The Hidden Face (2011) - The storytelling wastes the initial idea's promising potential - 6/10 (31/07/17)Dissociating the artist and his art - A review of Wintersun's "The Forest Seasons" »
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