Delayed about as much as any album in recent underground history, Wintersun’s sophomore Time was held up thanks to writer’s block, computer issues, and of all things, apartment construction. Reason being, main dude Jari Mäenpää lived adjacent to land in his native Helsinki, Finland that underwent massive excavation while he was trying to compose the material intended for Time. The constant distraction of heavy machinery doing their thing was enough to derail the album even more than it should have been, prompting many to wonder if Time would ever see the light of day at all.
The album finally made landfall in November, stirring an array of reactions from those hoping for an expansion upon the band’s self-titled debut. Time’s intricate nature, merged with blinding melodic, symphonic death metal with an oriental twist (get all of that?) made it one of the year’s most polarizing albums, a lot of which revolved around the sparse 40-minute running time. Albums intended to be epic generally aren’t this short, yet Mäenpää’s obvious knack for all things grandiose is starting to reap rewards, as evidenced by a near sold-out North American run with Eluveitie and Varg this fall.
Blistering was there in Pittsburgh to catch the show, as a clearly-enthused Mäenpää smiled and jostled about the stage like a man clearly relieved of the burden that is the sophomore slump. Logistical issues prevented a face-to-face conversation with the singer/guitarist, but through the power of electronic communications, we were able to connect with Mr. Mäenpää…
Blistering.com: I have a very close friend who is a huge, HUGE Wintersun fan and has stated on numerous occasions that he wouldn’t believe Time is out until he holds it in his hands. For you, was it a similar feeling? Like, you wouldn’t be able to believe it was completed until you had the final master in your hands?
Jari Mäenpää: I always knew that someday it would be finished and I kept just closing the finish line day by day. It was of course, a wonderful feeling to finally get the master in [my] hands.
Blistering.com: Since the debut was such a success, did that put even more pressure on you to deliver?
Mäenpää: Maybe a little bit at first, but I always had a strong feeling about the new material that it would blow people away…and it has.
Blistering.com: How many revisions, changes, and alterations did the songs go through before you settled on their final versions?
Mäenpää: The basic song structures, riffs and melodies pretty much stayed the same. It was the vocals, orchestrations overdubs that gave the album a totally new dimension. I just kept building on those until I felt I reached my original vision and was just happy what I was hearing.
Blistering.com: The ramp-up to the album was impressive, as in the amount of promotional work you guys are doing is quite a bit. Do you mind this process? Is it fun to get back into it after not doing it for so long?
Mäenpää: It´s a nice change, ‘cause I was working on the album for so long. I felt like a hermit. It´s fun and exciting for now at least, but I have to admit it´s not my favorite thing to do for a long time. I´d rather get back soon just making new music. I´m not much of a salesman, so I leave that mostly to better hands: our management and our label.
Blistering.com: Clearly, the metal world is much different in 2012 than it was 2004. Have you paid much attention to what has been going on? Or, have you be locked in your studio working on the new album?
Mäenpää: Yeah, I pay attention, but for me there´s nothing that really has blown me away. I guess that´s why I don´t listen to metal that much anymore. I like some of the new "djent" stuff. Really great riffs and rhythm ideas, but I feel those bands are missing the art of writing a good song with good vocal and other arrangements, but maybe that´s just me.
Blistering.com: Over this span, you have done some live gigs. Did they play a role in shaping any of the new songs?
Mäenpää: Only few shows, especially last year when we played "The Way of the Fire,” which is going to be the first song on Time II. Didn´t really affect shaping the songs in anyway.
Blistering.com: The debut was basically you and Kai [Hahto, drums] doing the recording. Now that you have a full lineup, was it more advantageous to have them around?
Mäenpää: It was definitely helpful. Jukka [Koskinen] plays the bass better than me and have some cool bass line ideas. Teemu [Mäntysaari] was a big help recording some of the melody and acoustic guitars and also helping me a lot with other tasks. The support from the guys was definitely the most important help, ‘cause I had some hard times making this album.
Blistering.com: You have described the music on Time as being very complex. Will that pose a problem in the live arena?
Mäenpää: Not really, unless we are going to use a real orchestra. We have managed to arrange the guitars pretty well with our "stereo guitar" setup with the Axe-FX amps and changing the sounds with MIDI, so we can pretty much replicate a lot of the guitar tones and sounds live. Bass and drums are pretty straightforward of course. The orchestrations and synths are coming from the backing tracks like before and now backing vocals as well, but Teemu and Jukka are singing the backing vocals live these days, so that will bring more live feeling.
Blistering.com: Was it difficult to divide the album in half? Will there be a similar thread between Time I and Time II?
Mäenpää: It wasn´t difficult at all. There was a clear "cut" and a mood change in the middle. Only funny thing was that pretty much all the guitar solos were on the second half ha-ha. Both albums have a common thread with these oriental melodies and feeling, but all the songs are very individual. On Time II, the songs are even more different…more contrast between the songs.
Blistering.com: You’re slated to make your first trip to North America later this year. What are your hopes and expectations for this tour?
Mäenpää: I just hope that I´ll survive it and everything goes well. Situation with my lung is not the best, so tours are always a bit hard for me. But it will definitely be exciting. I´ve waited long time to go to US and Canada. I hope to get to see some sights too.
Blistering.com: After you get both installments of Time out and into the public’s hands, how relieved and/or satisfied are you to be done with this phase of Wintersun’s career?
Mäenpää: Oh, it will be a huge relief and I can´t wait to start working on new stuff, ‘cause I already have too much new stuff!
Blistering.com: Is it a safe bet to say the next album won't take eight years to complete?
Mäenpää: It just depends what I´m going to do and what resources I have to work with. If the Time albums won´t sell well, then it´s just simply impossible to do big productions like this again. I just can´t go through that hell again with insufficient resources. Then I´ll just start playing good old rock 'n' roll! But if the albums will sell and we´ll earn some money and I can build my own studio, then you are definitely going to see more amazing stuff from Wintersun…and faster!