If metal sub-genres were cheeses, you better believe symphonic power metal would be the stinkiest one of them all. That’s not to say it’s inedible, it just means that it’s grandiose pomp is an acquired taste for most. If the over the top theatricality, orchestral and operatic veins that run through its core come off campy or funny to the untrained ear, that’s either because they certainly can be, or the pallet accompanying said untrained ear just needs a little more refining.
The best way to figure out the flavor of a sub-genre that escapes your tastes, is to find the one band under that particular umbrella that speaks to you. From there you can typically have a better idea of how to approach and enjoy similar sounding bands.
For symphonic power metal, Wintersun could be your best bet for a gateway into an often lampooned sub-genre. This Finnish project’s newest effort, The Forest Seasons, is just as ambitious as their two previous full length releases. It’s another solid example of how Wintersun is able to straddle many lines and coalesce elements of other metal genres that have little to no business coexisting.
Wintersun was birthed back in 2003 as a side project away from folk metal juggernauts Ensiferum for guitarist and vocalist Jari Mäenpää. When touring conflicted with what Jari wanted to do with Wintersun, his side project eventually became his primary focus. The first, self-titled full length saw Jari manning every instrument except for the drums. Its sweeping scope of layer upon layer of instruments and vocals, emotional melodies, triumphant tones, components of death, black and folk metal all mashed together, was an eye opening and groundbreaking experience. Plus the fact that virtually all of it was produced by one man, made the record otherworldly. For Wintersun’s second effort, Time I, Jari hired himself a full band, but did nothing to water down the thickness and incredible scale of the band’s musical output.
The Forest Seasons comes right in with the same expansive breadth as it’s predecessors. The record only sports four tracks, “Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring),” “The Forest That Weeps (Summer),” “Eternal Darkness (Autumn),” and “Loneliness (Winter),” but runs just shy of 54 minutes. Much like the lengthier songs on Wintersun’s first two records, each track flows perfectly from end to end before you realize you just heard a 14 minute composition.
Jari abuses his vocal cords with harsh rasps and throat shredding screams on the “Spring” and “Autumn” tracks, but does more dramaturgic singing on “Summer” and “Winter.” “Spring” touts top-of-the-mountain, victorious melodies and choral arrangements fit for preparing for an arduous voyage. In fact, if every song on The Forest Seasons was distilled down to a simple pattern and melody a pair of minstrels with a lyre and a pan flute could handle, you could definitely imagine them echoing through a feasting hall as Vikings regaled each other with tales of epic journeys and battles won and lost.
The Forest Seasons carries the same victorious torch that Jari lit with the first two Wintersun albums. It’s a continuation of one man’s pilgrimage through the natural world, time, spirituality and heritage through some seriously epic music. His inspiration might be a lot to handle, but being afforded the opportunity to travel through it with him is chance you mustn’t pass up.