Has Wintersun sold out? Not exactly, but in a bold maneuver, they've managed to acquire Tarja Turunen into the ranks, whose career has steadily taken a slide into the shitter after her split with black metal mavens Nightwish. It seems at first like it could be a natural fit, since both bands are regularly featured on Christmas Hits compilations and those exclusive radio playlists used in shopping mall verandas, in Finland and beyond. But this brings an end to the focus on Jari's vocals and synthesizer work, moving the focus of the band into a new, cringe inducing operatic realm which would make Diamanda Galas take her own life with a shotgun if she hadn't already worked out a few dozen other ways to do it.
This new sound manifests itself most clearly in the opening track "Crash of the Sugarplum", in which Tarja tells the tale of a heroin addicted Russian fey who must eke out a new living as a prostitute for the Brownies who use and abuse her worse than her own veins. Gone are the frantic, Dragonforce-meets-Children of Bodom explosions of prowess that dominated the debut album, replaced here with moody 'gothic' four-chord rock reminiscent of Green Day and Lacuna Coil. I'd like to think this was an anomaly, but before I can resolve that, the band surges into their next song, a 12-bar, 12-step interlude called "Winter Gheyness" in which the Joss Stone guest vocals are used more as a narrative to lead into the crushing ballad "I Left My Wallet at Hot Topic", which in an ironic twist, ends with an extended sample of Turunen counting her money aloud...
I swear I won’t tease youThe nerve of this fucking band! And yet, for all my disappointment, I would have forgiven them if they would simply include a few fucking metal songs. "Starchild II: O Cum All Ye Faithful" is yet another droopy gothic ballad built for the airwaves, but with "Harry Potter and the One That Got Away", you can finally here an eruption of half-plagiarized Sonata Arctica riffing. It's not much, but at least you can thrash your girly locks out here. And the rest of the album hesitantly continues this pattern of ballad to rocker ratios, rounded out with such sadly forgettable fare as "Attention Deficit Dreamer", "I'm Too Sexy For My Chain Mail", and what is probably my favorite on the album, and the only GOOD song here, the closing epic "Victory Song from Afar (Since You Been Gone)", which ends with a mug-swilling folk swagger the likes of which Korpiklaani couldn't compose in their wettest dreams.
Won’t tell you no lies
I don’t need no bible
Just look in my eyes
I’ve waited so long baby
Now that we’re friends
Every man’s got his patience
And here’s where mine ends
After six years of hanging by the suicide hotline, I was very relieved to see that the band hadn't given up their dreams of pursuing fame and glory and possibly even the European leg of the next Gigantour, but fans are very likely to be disappointed by the shift from uninspired, insulin starved virtuosity to a more radio friendly fare courtesy of new co-vocalist Tarja. Did Wintersun really need two chick singers? I'm not sure. The album has top of the line production, of course, you can nary hear a single cricket or untoward breath in the microphone, and the ballads here will probably see some rotation, but they've got nothing on "Silent Lucidity". But with Turunen locked into a 5-year contract and the band headed for the next season of American Idol as the backing musicians, it seems that you'll either have to accept this new direction or quit being a poseur already and listen to Darkthrone.
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Verdict: Epic Tailfeathers [2/10] (Yes, Captain Gray Matter. It was an April Fool's Joke.)