Wintersun

Wintersun

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At first glance, a Finnish heavy metal band named Wintersun, whose album cover shows a fallen warrior lying face down in the snow, might elicit thoughts of simplistic black metal infused with pagan or anti-Christian messages, but it doesn't take long for this eponymous debut to prove that first impressions can be deceiving. In fact, the new project of former Ensiferum and Arthemesia vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jari Mäenpäa merges the hyper-fast precision of Yngwie Malmsteen-like guitar playing (witness the speedy "Beyond the Dark Sun") with the melodic sensibilities of post-Helloween power metal (see the more diverse "Winter Madness") and a homegrown passion for folk-styled songwriting descended straight from trailblazing compatriots Amorphis. If there is any sign of black metal songwriting to be found here, it's in the majestic symphonic backdrops draped all over the ever more ambitious offerings that follow: "Sleeping Stars" flirts with doom via its slow-creeping riffs, "Death and the Healing" alternates clean and rough vocals with a jaw-dropping display of pyrotechnic guitar heroics, and "Beautiful Death" comprises a stunning (if quite morbid) black metal tour de force in terms of both words and musical attack. Curiously, each subsequent track runs longer than the last here -- as if Wintersun is consciously using the song lengths themselves as means of upping the compositional ante. And when they arrive at the ten-minute colossus "Sadness and Hate," which brings the album to a final, fittingly progressive close, one realizes that, amazingly, the ploy works! Therefore, although these unexpected twists and turns can't stop their formula from becoming predictable at times, Wintersun's superb musicianship (props to drum machine man Kai Hahto, as well) helps them win out against their evident influences in the end, making this a recommended release for lovers of relatively accessible extreme metal.

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