So former Ensiferum guitarist/vocalist Jari Maenpaa forms this solo project with the help of some session musicians (including Rotten Sound drummer Kai Hahto), and ends up delivering a debut album that instantly rises to the top of the Finnish metal heap, equaling his former bands pomp and grandiose scope while injecting the technical gregariousness of Children of Bodom. The end result is a superb, twiddle heavy, synth laden and epic endeavor which even with its thick layer of typically Finnish cheese is a sheer joy to listen to.

Not afraid to show his musical chops, Maenpaa often steamrolls into songs with brash, overwrought guitar flourishes that would have Alexi Laiho blushing, but when balanced out with a very slight Viking/Folk sheen (especially vocally) and enough moments of mesmerizing self restraint, the album comes together in a perfect semblance of Finnish power/death metal not unlike Maenpaa’s former band. After a galloping yet tantalizingly short intro track, “Before the Dark Sun,” Maenpaa rips into the stunning opening salvo of “Winter Madness” with its perfectly placed synths and blazing pace. It also shows hints of Maenpaa’s former bands vocal propensity with a slight beer hall lean. The pace is drastically reigned in for the hypnotic yet graceful “Sleeping Stars” that shows off the variety Maenpaa can create with his sweeping instrumentation. The same controlled pace appears for the slightly lethargic “Death and Healing” as well as the ambitious and vast album closer “Sadness and Hate.” But I’ll admit, as much as enjoyed the slower, calmer, almost cosmic ambience of Maenpaa’s slower moments, nothing compares to the galloping grandeur of “Starchild,” “Beautiful Death� and standout track �Battle Against Time�- which fully embraces a Viking vocal delivery amid the backdrop of seething tremolo picking and epic as all hell keyboards. Truly rousing stuff indeed.

As with most albums of this style of pomp laden Finnish metal, the material has a familiar feel throughout; it�s just here it�s separated between slow stuff and fast stuff, but it�s no less dynamic or enjoyable as M�enp�� crafts some truly memorable moments, even if they do resurface in a slightly different guise throughout the album. Lyrically M�enp�� seems to intentionally avoid the direct swords and chain mail approach of Ensiferum, instead adopting a more cerebral, cosmic theme, but truthfully, the end result is still nape tingling, cheesy and grin inducing. The Finnvox production/mastering is as expected, typically Finnish sounding rendering the guitars pristinely and the drums with a punchy clarity, but it does sound a little too typical.

At times Wintersun is breathtakingly epic, and at times it wanders a little too much, looking for intentional Ensiferum breaking identity, but still manages a wistful look over its shoulder at its obvious parentage.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
September 13th, 2004


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