Metal and classical music have always held a kinship that other genres really cannot compete with. The beauty and grace of violins, strings and brass over the aggression of down-tuned guitars and pounding drums is a combination that has worked wonders over the years for so many bands, from METALLICA to KISS, DEEP PURPLE to BRING ME THE HORIZON. Rarer is the beast, however, of a band taking a significant classical composition and moulding it into their own image. WINTERSUN have done such a thing. Released on Friday, third album The Forest Seasons is loosely based on the classic Vivaldi arrangement The Four Seasons, and is once again brought out by Nuclear Blast.
The first WINTERSUN album, their self-titled release, had eight tracks; 2012’s follow up Time I had six. The Forest Seasons has, you’ve guessed it, just four, although this is probably less due to the band wanting to keep the sequence going and more that there are four seasons, go figure. That said, they clock in at an almighty 54 minutes in total, with each track between 12 and 15 minutes in length. This doesn’t make for an easy listen in the slightest but it’s worth persevering, because once The Forest Seasons full sinks in, the journey it takes you on is so brilliant and moving that you’ll lose an hour of your life in the greatest way possible.
Perhaps the overriding achievement on the record is that each movement (it seems insulting to describe them as songs when they are so much more) perfectly captures each time of year down to the tee. Opening Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring) begins with the faintest of winds before building into chimes and WINTERSUN‘s distinctive symphonic metal, Mäenpää‘s gruff vocals emphasising a cold atmosphere that halfway through becomes a battle cry for a new world rising. From the realms below we ride come the lyrics, symbolising the melting of the snow and the dawning of new life as the temperatures get warmer. The Forest That Weeps (Summer) has a more traditional metal feel to it: another gradual opening, granted, but this is followed by a more JUDAS PRIEST-esque vibe which makes it the most accessible track on the record. It’s also aided by the more medieval acoustics in the middle that incite visions of village fetes and bright sunshine; from here, the song moves into IRON MAIDEN guitars and a carefree attitude very much associated with the summer months.
By the time the album reaches Eternal Darkness (Autumn), there is a much different atmosphere; more reminiscent of black metal with a harsher production and overall sound. Drummer Kai Hahto, back from touring with NIGHTWISH, is a tour de force on this track, his blast beats and precision providing a brilliant foundation as there is another evolution with a hardened stomp, testimony to the nights drawing in and the frosts beginning to appear on the ground. The entire record finishes with probably the best song of the records, Loneliness (Winter); beginning with the same chilling wind as …Spring and moving into a slow, doom-laden riff, it takes the listener to a very bleak landscape but never loses any of its epic overtones. It’s also a chance for Mäenpää to let his clean vocals take centre stage which are so wonderful you question why he doesn’t utilise them more often. The rip-roaring solo from Teemu Mäntysaari is absolutely masterful and as the winds settle back in, The Forest Seasons comes full circle, ready to begin a new year and new cycle.
These sorts of albums come across once in a blue moon because there’s so much that a band needs to get right in order for them to flow properly, stop the listener from losing interest and keep the energy at such a high tempo. WINTERSUN have nailed it six ways to Sunday, and if this is anything to go by then they’ll find the Sophie Lancaster tent overflowing on the last night of Bloodstock when they take to the stage as headliners.
The Forest Seasons is set for release on July 21st via Nuclear Blast Records.
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