Anyone that's become a browser of the now massive Metal Memes Sub-Reddit on the big old internet will have come to learn over the past few months that one of the most long awaited and anticipated releases of the year has been Time I the first part of a planned concept album and the first material from the band since their highly acclaimed self-titled debut album from 2004. Of course, it's been so long since an album's been released from them, that I've really started to go off of the brand of symphonic heavy power metal that they deal in, as bands like Rhapsody and Kamelot start to turn into bands that just come off sounding cheesy when they're meant to be taken seriously. Yet in spite of this, not even I in my cynical-to-this-style-of-metal state can be prevented from being blown away from what the first part of this concept has on offer.
And that's quite a powerful statement on the quality of this album because in terms of overtly cheesy power metal ingredients, Time I has it all. I believe the term "Disney metal" has been devised by some cynics to sum up the cheesy symphonic backdrops and constant sense of triumph and glory packed into these music and certainly as you sit through the four minute intro track When Time Fades Away it does sound like you're sitting through the intro of a well animated film set in historic times where you may learn about your morals through battling or something. Obviously, some people will listen to this, take joy in the symphonic elements and describe it as "epic!" and it's probably the reaction of these people alone why I take much more joy in listening to hardcore and stoner rock bands.
There isn't a second in this album where you won't hear the shrill of some kind of classical instrument but when the band actually choose to pick their own instruments up and play above the symphonic backdrops things sometimes change for the more intense. Former Ensiferum guitarist Jari Mäenpää takes on a commanding frontman role once more programming any further keyboard elements and cooking up a storm of riffage and massive guitar solos alongside Teemu Mäntysaari as the pair unleash a rapid fire attack of guitar madness on Sons of Winter and Stars that still sounds cheesy amongst the symphonies but also has it's own sense of extremity and intensity, which continues across the album whether it's the big grooves of Land of Snow and Sorrow or the frequent beatdowns of the album's title track, aided effervescently by former Rotten Sound drummer Kai Hahto.
But to go back to the matter of Mäenpää's frontman performance, the most impressive part is the contrasting dynamics of his vocal performance that constantly shifts from the kind of operatic bellowing that gives the cheesy nature of this band a name for itself, with it essentially sounding like the lead role in a classic Disney sing along. But the frequent shift from such melodic power to the traditionally cackling vocals of proper black metal that shows a certain skill and variation of power which is always an impressive feat, when you consider the fact that Immortal probably couldn't sing properly to save themselves. Actually I've never checked if the can, and probably never will. Either way, it puts little doubt into Mäenpää's frontman ability.
It's with these elements all wonderfully weaved together that makes Time I one of the year's best works in extreme symphonic metal. Wintersun make an album featuring that gives fans of extreme power metal all that they're looking for in setting up backdrops with big orchestral passages and using operatic vocals mixed with the blackened screaming to create something that is truly grand. And if that style of music is your cup of the then this album clearly is a recklessly essential buy. Which is why it's difficult for me to come to a final verdict since unlike the Metal Memes community, this isn't my scene at all. While being unashamedly impressive and accepting a certain cheesiness in all it does, there's no way I would spend money on this album or put it in as part of my music collection so unlike certain names in power metal Wintersun aren't a band that can find it's way into the hands of metal fans everywhere. And maybe there's something in the fact that the best that a genre has to offer should be kept for those that care the most. And that will surely go on to make Time I and II the power metal albums for power metal fans. And no one else.
Wintersun's Time I is out now via Nuclear Blast.