With the exception of solo projects, rarely in metal is reviewing an album considered reviewing the artist behind it, but with Jari Mäenpää this is definitely the case. In 2004 Jari released the debut album of his pet project Wintersun and made bold claims about spearheading a sub-genre called “symphonic melodic death metal”. When artists claim to be spearheading a new genre they're usually met with harsh criticism, but Wintersun was good; so good many describe it as one of the best metal albums ever released. The followup was presumed to be a masterpiece and Jari spent 8 years fueling that hype, even announcing that it was so lengthy that it had to be broken into two albums. Thus Time I came and went. Mediocre, it left fans praying Time II would be the masterpiece they expected. But Time II never came; in fact all fans got was drama, untruths, and growing hype fueled by Mr. Mäenpää. Ultimately this culminated in a scandal concerning Jari crowdfunding a new album that his label, Nuclear Blast, already paid for; thus ending the relationship between the two. Jari and the band he staked his reputation on became a running internet joke. However Jari pressed on creating his next proclaimed masterpiece and after 5 years "it" was done. He somehow managed to convince Nuclear Blast to take him back. Now after all the drama and waiting "it" has arrived.
The Forest Seasons is an even more confusing and an even more mediocre album than Time I turned out to be. With each track being labeled for a season, Jari must have had some sort of Vivaldi-esk concept album in mind or maybe it was just some after thought he slapped on near the end of production; it's difficult to tell since none of the tracks appear to have any seasonal relevance. In fact the ever present concept of death in his past two winter themed albums isn't even presented in the winter track for The Forest Seasons. With that cleared up, it is fair to say each track is different. Sometimes the tracks are so different it feels as if they don't even belong on the same album. In track one alone we are met with a taste of Nightwish inspired symphonics, Jari-Ensiferum "Jarisiferum" throwback to his roots, and then some weird combination of Time I and their debut album. I understand Jari fancies himself some sort of composer for a new age and describes each track in parts, but it just comes out feeling jarred and discontinuous. The upside to this cluster-fuck comes at the end of track 2, track 3, and track 4 when it almost seems like Jari is attempting to reintroduce the sound of his debut album. Unfortunately it comes off as being stillborn; either he couldn't remember how to make those sounds or decided he only wanted a touch of what people actually like/liked about his music. The album isn't terrible overall, it just isn't nearly as good as it should be. Coming from an artist who constantly over-hypes his work and feeds on social media buzz, it makes it difficult to say positive things about The Forest Seasons. The album just feels like a demo from a very skilled band that can't decide what genre and style they want to roll with. The performance is good and I actually feel bad for the band members who have to suffer the drama of Jari Mäenpää. The only areas that appear to be significantly lacking in real skill are the mixing and lyrics. I've complained about the mixing in Time I because it was so complex that it ultimately fell flat. The Forest Seasons is not as complex but it falls even more flat. Much of the middle tracks feel like an undifferentiated mass of drums and guitars; and not in the good raw/lofi way. What happened to the real music from the debut album, is it even still there buried under layers of synth or is it gone? It really feels like somebody needs to take Jari's computer away then lock him in a room with a guitar and notepad to make music; but then there's the lyrics. He has always been known for making poetic abstract lyrics, but with this album they're too abstract and not very poetic. I'm left feeling like I read a fantasy novel with every-other page missing. There was something about death riders coming for the universe, grey mountains, cosmic war, and following the coast. Maybe he sat in the woods and wrote a novel about the seasons, but whatever happened between his inspiration and the final lyrics is a mystery. The vocals are done well enough, albeit in varying styles and somewhat inconsistently. With the lyrics being what they are and the vocals not being perfect then maybe the two disk digipak is worth considering; seeing as the second disk is entirely instrumentals of the tracks on the first. Time for the real question, is this an album worth buying? Most likely no. It ultimately depends on how big of a Wintersun fan you are or if you’re really curious what all the hype is about. Ultimately this is a very forgettable release. The great skill displayed is ruined by poor mixing and bad lyrics. The album as a whole suffers from a lack of identity that leaves the listener wondering if Jari is even still trying or if this is a premature attempt to return to the forgotten sound of his debut album. Clearly a power metal album targeting the youngest generation of metalheads immersed in internet culture. Normally I’d say if the artist likes what he produces then its acceptable; but this album has been blown so far out of proportion for what Jari has actually delivered. It’s disappointing to see such skill wasted, but this album solidifies this as the norm and not the exception for Wintersun.
Incase it wasn't clear, this article is written to be ironic by poking at Jari’s own whiny and overly dramatic social media history. If you’re a masochist and want more past Wintersun drama, here’s a few painful links: