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WINTERSUN – Awoken From The Dark Slumber
Anthony Morgan
July 2017

Wintersun (l-r): Teemu Mäntysaari, Jari Mäenpää, Jukka Koskinen and Kai Hahto

July 2017 affair The Forest Seasons – the third full-length studio album from Helsinki, Finland-based epic metal outfit Wintersun – wasn’t originally planned. The composition ‘The Forest That Weeps’ was penned by mainman Jari Mäenpää as a bonus track for a round of crowdfunding Wintersun had launched, but said track would spawn the authorship of further, related tunes. “Jari got so inspired by that first track that he was working on – ‘The Forest That Weeps’, the summer song of the album – that he started writing more riffs and songs in a similar style,” remembers Teemu Mäntysaari, guitarist of Wintersun. “Then he kind of realised ‘Okay, these songs would fit together,’ and then the forest theme kind of came about like that as well.

“The recording process itself was pretty raw you could say, though. We didn’t use any third-party studios. This time, the original idea was to make music and make an album that we could do with our current resources, meaning not as big a production as the Time albums for example, and a more raw and more primitive production. So, that was influencing how the music was starting to sound as well. Basically, the whole production was done in Jari’s small apartment flat; pretty much everything from the guitars and bass and programming and so forth, except for the vocals which Jari did at my work’s place – at Sonic Pump Studios.

“I have a work room there where I teach and do recording stuff, so he used my room during night times. He went there and sang during the night time when there was nobody else around. Also, we did these choir sessions at Sonic Pump Studios. That was kind of a special thing for this album as well. Like we did already on Time I (October 2012), we gathered a group of friends and people from bands that we know, and asked them to come to Sonic Pump Studios and record some choir vocals for ‘The Forest That Weeps’. That was a pretty cool experience.

“The recording process was really different than what bands usually do, though. They go into the studio, and then they record the album, and then they mix it and they master it. This time what we did was actually production-wise kind of backwards, because even before Jari started working on the first song, he kind of had this sound idea in his head. He wanted to create certain types of sounds, and so he actually prepared all of the guitar sounds and all of the samples in his Cubase Pro, even before writing the song. He kind of had the mix already there with the sounds before there was an actual song, and then with those sounds that he had imagined in his head, he started creating the songs. It was bit of a backward process, in that way. The album was actually kind of mixed before it was recorded. The sounds were made first, and then the songs.”

The writing of ‘The Forest That Weeps’ dates back to early 2015. “I think it started somewhere in early 2015 because by the 2015 tour, we were already playing that song,” the axeman notes. “It was not totally finished yet, but we were already playing that as a teaser on the 2015 tour.”

The Forest Seasons consists of four compositions encompassing the four seasons. “Each song has a different feel, relating to the season theme of course,” Teemu opines. “‘The Forest That Weeps’, that’s the summer song, but maybe it’s not the kind of image of summer that maybe at first comes to mind. It still has kind of summer vibes and some bold melodies though, and kind of the majestic feel of summer maybe more than the going on the beach kind of summer.

Wintersun (l-r): Teemu Mäntysaari, Jari Mäenpää, Jukka Koskinen and Kai Hahto

“‘Eternal Darkness’ is the autumn track, and is probably the darkest track that Jari has ever written. It has a lot of these black metal types of influences, while being black metal and still being pretty melodic at times. The chorus in that one is pretty interesting, because it’s partly written from death’s perspective – how death sees life. It’s a really dark track both lyrically and musically, and also, I think it has really cool, melodic moments. It’s really crazy, and has a Wintersun-style guitar solo as well.

“Then ‘Loneliness’, the winter track, is kind of opposite to ‘Eternal Darkness’. It’s one of the most beautiful and kind of calm tracks that Jari has written, with mostly clean vocals. And yeah, it’s kind of describing this feeling of being in this place between when you’re dying but you’re not dead yet, and walking through endless snow fields. It’s kind of an empty, lonely feeling, but also at the same time a very beautiful and kind of melancholic feeling.

“Then we have ‘Awaken From The Dark Slumber’ for the spring track, which starts with nature and the forest being in sleep. That has a kind of early spring feel, and still sleeping after the winter. The first part of the song is kind of dark, the awakening part. Then it goes to this majestic spring feel full of energy, which is very kind of powerful and melodic. The majestic feel is maybe a reminder of some of the older stuff that Jari has done on the first Wintersun album.”

Such comments suggest The Forest Seasons is dark in lyrical subject matter. “It has some dark vibes to it, but not only dark,” the axe-slinger describes. “There are many metaphors as well with the forest and nature, so it’s a kind of down to earth type of album. Not so big maybe as the Time lyrics about space and the universe and all this. Of course it has some universal stuff as well, but this is a more kind of down to earth type of feel I would say. Some of the lyrics are more personal to Jari than ever before. I think he’s developed a lot as a lyricist and is able to bore deeper within himself, like about his feelings. For example, there’s ‘Eternal Darkness’, talking a lot about death; I think they were lyrics influenced by his father’s death, who also died during the autumn time. So, they are very personal lyrics.”

The Forest Seasons is perhaps Wintersun’s most varied album to date. “I would probably say so,” Teemu muses. “The first album was kind of maybe bit of a continuation from the Ensiferum times and still had some of that Ensiferum feel, but was still taking it to a different level with different styles and adding different things like synths. Then Time I kind of made it more epic and bigger with the orchestrations, and now this one kind of maybe goes between the two. This one has orchestrations and cool synth tracks, but not as big a production as the Time albums. Still the riffs are partly like the riffs off of the first album – simple and catchy guitar riffs – and then partly also the more kind of progressive stuff that we started more on the Time I album. So, I would say that this one is the most varied album.”

The gaps between Wintersun studio outings are arguably great in length, five years separating Time I and The Forest Seasons, for example. “We’ve had pretty length periods, now,” the performer admits. “The first album came out in 2004, and the Time album had been in the works for a long time. Time I came out in 2012, and then we are still working on Time II and have been for a while before putting it on the shelf and starting work on this latest album. There have been a lot of things happening; we’ve been touring in-between, and of course Jari writes music all the time.

“It kind of keeps evolving I think naturally all the time, depending on whatever gets you inspired in life. Jari has this kind of thought that he doesn’t want to do the same thing all over again though, so even if he could write multiple albums of the same kind of stuff, he’s got so many different kinds of visions of what he wants to do with music. He’s so creative with different kinds of stuff that he also likes to challenge himself that every album is a bit different in concept, and maybe also musically. He’s always trying to search for new ideas rather than just repeating similar types of ideas.”

Various factors determine the length between Wintersun albums. “With Time I, we started the recording process in 2006,” Teemu notes. “When the first album came out in 2004, then it took a bit of time to get the band together. The first album was just Jari and Kai (Hahto) on drums, and then they recruited Jukka (Koskinen) on bass and me on the guitar. Then we started playing live shows in 2005, and then there was some touring and festivals before we even started thinking about the Time albums. Then in 2006 we recorded a lot of the basic tracks for Time I, and then there were a lot of difficulties with the production. Now thinking back about it, I think that was also our own fault in a way. We thought that we could make it with the resources that we had. Jari had this huge vision for the Time albums; he wanted to make these big orchestrations and all of that stuff, but he didn’t really have the computer power at the time.

“We’re talking about 2006, 2007. Trying to mix hundreds of tracks at that time wasn’t easy, and still isn’t that easy. There was also a lot of stuff that Jari had to learn by himself because he had the vision, but wasn’t always sure how to make it work with the equipment that he had. He had to learn how to orchestrate and those kinds of things, and how to make the sounds that he heard in his head a reality, so that was also one reason why the Time albums took longer than they were originally planned. So yeah, I think there was also a lot of bad luck along the way as well like computers crashing, hard discs crashing, and all that. The bigger the projects got, it was maybe harder to let go.

“Then finally in 2011, 2012 when we decided that ‘Okay, the Time albums are going to be split into two,’ with Time I and Time II, then Jari had to make this compromise that ‘Okay, we have to let go of Time I. Then we will get back on the road, and finish Time II as soon as possible.’ When that was released in 2012 though, then we had to do some touring. It took a bit of time to kind of do the touring again, and get back to the production of Time II. When we got there, then it took Jari a while to realise that he still couldn’t complete the vision with the resources that he had, even though the computers had been getting much better. Still though, this time he wasn’t ready to compromise on the vision like he kind of did with Time I.

“That’s why we started thinking about maybe doing something else in-between before releasing Time II, and then came this idea for crowdfunding and trying to get better production possibilities for the band for future albums. That’s how the idea of The Forest Seasons album was borne, but then of course time passed between those moments. The main thing why The Forest Seasons has taken so long is planning the crowdfunding. That took a while. Also, because we wanted to do it ourselves, we had to learn a lot of things along the way about photography, making videos and of course composing the stuff. That’s why it took about three years from the point where we decided ‘Okay, we’re gonna do crowdfunding’ and then succeeded with the crowdfunding, and finally having the album out.”

The musician wasn’t responsible for all of The Forest Seasons’ guitar parts. “This album is almost all of Jari’s guitar work,” he credits. “He’s basically responsible for 99.9% of all Wintersun stuff. Where I did my parts was mostly with the acoustic arrangements, and recording acoustic guitars with Jari for the acoustic version of ‘Loneliness’.”

Different artists designed cover artworks for The Forest Seasons and The Forest Package, respectively. “We had a couple of different guys in mind,” Teemu shares. “In the end though, we ended up with this Hungarian guy called Gyula Havancsák, who I think did a great job. He worked on the cover with Jari; Jari had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted, and then we went back and forth with different versions. Finally, I think we got a really good cover for the album. Then we also had another artist who did the Time I cover as well – Cameron Gray from Australia – who this time did the cover for The Forest Package that we were having for sale on the crowdfunding. So, basically two different covers with similar types of ideas. The Forest Seasons of course represents the album, and The Forest Package represents more of the whole thing with all of the extras that came with The Forest Package.”

The addition of Asim Searah as a second guitarist for live purposes was revealed on April 13th, 2017. “Originally the idea came from Jari, that he wanted to step aside from playing guitar live to be able to concentrate more on vocals live,” the axeman reasons. “He felt that it was always a bit of a compromise for him to play and sing at the same time. He always loved to play separately and sing separately, but when combining the two, he felt like he could only give 50% to playing and 50% to vocals. He wanted to then get another guitar player for live shows, so we decided to do this open audition kind of thing.

“We announced on Facebook that we were looking for a second guitarist, and we then decided on parts from different songs which showed different techniques that we wanted people to record on video and send their audition tapes to us. Some people put their auditions on YouTube, and some people just sent them straight to us. Asim was actually the first one who sent all the clips required; I think he came with all of the clips in like a week or two weeks, whereas he had four weeks time in total. A lot of the applicants actually sent their material on the last day or so.

Wintersun (l-r): Kai Hahto, Asim Searah, Jukka Koskinen, Jari Mäenpää and
Teemu Mäntysaari

“We got altogether like… I think it was maybe 50 guys, so quite many videos and some really good players. We were mainly looking for a guy from Finland, or somewhere near. Yeah, there were a lot of people from different countries and some really great players as well, but we wanted somebody who was close by just for logistic reasons. It’s easier that way. I think we kind of knew Asim from a while back; I’ve personally known him for ten years or so, and everybody in the band has seen him around. Not everybody in the band knew about his playing so much, because he’s been more prolific in being a great vocalist in multiple bands. But yeah, we were kind of surprised at how well he played on the audition tapes.

“Yeah, we were going back and forth. We had ten; we chose a few guys who we then invited for a live audition at Sonic Pump Studios to play; to basically just come meet us, and show us their playing. Then in the end, we had a couple of guys who we gave at least one full song without guitars and a deadline to learn it, and then coming back to Sonic Pump Studios and recording it live – like a live audition. Asim pretty much nailed it, and we were really happy to have him onboard.”

A perennial question on the lips of Wintersun fanatics is as to the status of Time II. “At the moment, Time II is on the shelf until we can really get the facilities and possibilities to complete the production as it’s envisioned, but that’s the whole purpose of this crowdfunding – to be able to do not only Time II, but all of the future albums with the big productions as well,” Teemu discloses. “What is happening now is that we have completed the first crowdfunding, and it was a great success. We’re so grateful for all of the people that supported us there, and now we’re gonna be touring for a bit more than a year from now, doing festivals and then different tours until about next autumn. Then that’s the time when we’re gonna see about starting to write the next album, and start the next crowdfunding.

Time II is not going to be the next album; as we announced in crowdfunding, the idea is that each of these crowdfundings is going to have a totally new Wintersun album in them. It is possible that if the crowdfunding goes as well as the first one, then maybe after a second round of crowdfunding, we have the possibility to start going into the studio right away.

“As soon as we have a chance to work in the studio, then I think Time II is going to be completed probably pretty fast from that point on. At the moment it’s too early to say when it’s going to be happening, though. The next round of crowdfunding is probably going to take a while to prepare and do everything else, so it’s too early to say or estimate any specific time yet. The good thing is that Time II is kind of more maybe timeless stuff you could say, though. I think even if it stays on the shelf for a while, I think people are still gonna be liking it when it comes out. Of course, it would be great for us to get Time II out of our system and be able to concentrate totally on new things. We’re definitely looking forward to that as well, to be able to complete Time II as soon as possible.”

The Forest Seasons was released on July 21st, 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records.

Interview published in July 2017. All promotional photographs by Onni Wiljami Kinnunen.

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