Ease of Lathering: Easy. I have never had any issues lathering any of the soaps in this line. Whoever oversees these lines, it seems that one of their primary concerns is to make sure that the soaps create a lather. That’s just me making a theory. I have no idea. In any case, another good job by the RR guys here.

Protection: I find it interesting that Razorock produces so many different formulations of soap. They are all more similar than different, but there are subtle alterations to the formula that I don’t fully understand. In this case, The Stallion is a tallow version of their soap. It features aloe, but not argan oil, so it’s not exactly the “super tallow” formula that they have been putting in some of their most recent soaps. It is, I suppose, half way between the original tallow version, such as what you’d get in the classic XXX soap, and the newest version. All that put aside, this soap has very nice protection, producing an excellent lather that takes care of your face with plenty of cushion. No issues here to complain about.

Residual Slickness: With the tallow added to an already good soap, this stuff has a very nice slickness. I don’t believe that anyone taking part in standard shaving behaviors should have any problem. If you need more slickness than this, you may be pretty spoiled. Are there slicker soaps? Yes. At this price? Not that I am aware of.

Scent: Many shavers have indicated that this is one of their favorites in the RR stable. To be clear, this is a far more potent scent than the other Razorock soaps. It may be one of the most potently scented soaps I’ve used. What is the scent of Oud, after all? Well, going into the review, I didn’t know. I only knew that it had been considered to be quite something by some of those “in the know”. My feeling? I do like the woody, smokey smell, but it’s a little bit intense for me. I suppose I may have found my upper limit for scent comfort here. To give you an idea, the washcloth that I used to wipe off my face gave a blast of oud smell a few days later when I got it wet again. That might be more than I need, scent-wise. On the whole, the potency of the smell ended up being detrimental to my enjoyment of this product. Again, this will not be an issue if you, on the whole, tend to wish for greater scent power in your soaps. If you prefer a fairly mild scent, you’d be best served looking elsewhere.

Production/Value: As I’m almost getting tired of saying, Razorock/Italian Barber is awesome in terms of providing great value for the money. For ten bucks or less per tub, they’re killing it.

Notes: Because the scent is so intense, and the soap quality is, in essence, about the same as several other soaps that make up the same product line, I’m forced to come to grips with the fact that it will probably not be one of my high rotation soaps. Because I often shower after the shave, the scent power could be mitigated and not cause me any issues going forward, it could still be fine. That said, I’ve discovered that oud is probably not the note I appreciate most in my soaps. My qualms for this product, however, are limited to just the scent. Everything else is excellent.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!

Here, we have another keyboard featuring the Outemu blue switches. This time, the maker is Eagletec. I believe that the same keyboard may also be available from a brand called Mechanical Eagle, though I could be wrong.

This is a non-backlit 104 key ‘board, with a low profile aluminum top. This is not quite as “compact” on the desktop as some of the other options, but is is not a gigantic ‘board, either. I would say that it is about normal in that regard.

The Eagletec keyboards in this model can also be had with fixed rainbow LEDs, blue LEDs, and RGB LEDs. Because I had several keyboards already that featured a backlight, I decided to safe a few dollars and go with the non-lit version this time around. The spread is less than $20 between the least and most expensive.

I actually purchased two of these ‘boards. One in black and one in silver. They are otherwise identical. My plan was this: I would install a set of “typewriter” key caps on one of them, then use some of the existing, alternate color keys to fill in the other. That’s what I’ve done, with the silver one enjoying the variety of some of the black keys I pulled. The black ‘board has received the typewriter-style, round keys in white and chrome. I’ll cover my impression of the typewriter keys in another review. Suffice it to say that they work and are not as difficult to adapt to as you might imagine.

Unboxing:

These keyboards are altogether standard in their packaging. Nothing comes with the ‘boards, and no extra money has been spent to make the box “glitzy”. They don’t even open in the standard, clam’s shell fashion, but simply ask you to pull the ‘board out the side.

Nothing good or bad so far.

The black ‘board is finished without flaw, though the logo plate caem askew on the silver one. I attempted to peel the logo plaque off, but it proved to be impossibe, without damaging it. Hmm. Oh, well. I’ve been quite lucky with these cheap keyboard thus far. Something has to give, and I imagine that quality assurance has to be one of them.

The Eagletec is a reasonably sturdy board in terms of structural rigidity. It’s light, but the curves in the aluminum top plate allow a fairly thin material to act stiffer than it otherwise would. When looking at the underside, the cost-cutting measures do show out. Primarily, this is in the elevator feet at the back. These are the most vestigial sort of feet. They don’t provide much lift, and they are the type you often find on the lowest common denominator keyboards. That said, they’re probably sufficient to the purpose. Just keep in mind that they are not nearly as robust as on some other designs.

The USB cable is not detactchable, though I believe that this isn’t much of a concern in a full sized keyboard. The cord is also not braided. It does feature a hook and latch tab to allow you to manage extra cable length, if needed.

I find that the overall design is good looking. The floating key design makes no bones about what it is. Especially with the tall typewriter keys on, this is a very “guts on the outside” keyboard.

Everything worked just fine, and other than the misaligned logo, everything looked as it should have. This is the sub $40 range of keyboards, so that meets, if not exceeds, expectations.

In Use:

With the Outemu blue switch, this keyboard is a typing tool. A loud machine that has somewhat above average key resistance, good tactility, and plenty of the crunchy goodness most people are after when they get a mechanical. Bad for noise-averse work spots, good for maximum feedback when you’re clacking along.

Key caps are reasonably sturdy ABS with business-like logos on them (for the non-backlit version). I believe that the backlit versions come with double-shot key caps, but these are not thusly manufactured. i believe that they are pad printed, but it is possible that they are laser-ablated. My bet would be on pad printing. The key feel is just fine out of the box. About what you would expect from ABS keys. The key shape is what I’d call the average conical, square shape you’ll find on most mechanicals. it’s a good, easy-to-use shape, and should not provide any mechanical impediments to typing. Legibility is a little better than the average see-through doubleshot, and there is not “gamer style” applied to this keyboard.

Typing experience is what you’d expect. That is, quick and responsive to touch, plenty of feel. Like all the other Outemu blue keyboards I’ve tried. It should be said that it’s more and more common to find the 87 key layout at these low prices. Not so much with the full size ‘boards. Thus, if you’ve got to have that number pad, this is going to be a nice option for you.

Usage Case:

If you just need a full size, no frills typing keyboard, this might be one of the best deals out there. Getting into that for less than $40 is pretty awesome. The clean looks of the ‘board make it a good candidate for hot rodding, as well. Any kind of technicolor rainbow would look fine on either the silver or the black. My slight issue with the silver version does give me some pause, as do the cheesy elevator feet.

Overall, I think that this keyboard can give you anything a more expensive ‘board, like the Azio, can give, in terms of the pure typing experience and visual interest.

Final Thoughts:

For someone just breaking into mechanicals, or who just doesn’t have a lot of cash to throw at the problem, this is a pretty sweet deal. How likely are you to get a lemon? I don’t know. I also don’t know if the durability of these inexpensive keyboards is going to be as high as something two or three times the price. If it’s not? Shrug. Get another one or upgrade when the time comes.

For the seasoned mechanical keyboardist, this might be great fun as a tinkering platform, or as a loaner you can hand a friend who is interested in checking a mechanical out.

All in all, most of these inexpensive keyboards have more similarities than differences. Your best choice simply depends upon what form factor works for you, and what your visual aesthetics demand. Thus far, I’ve never had one fail to work, and all of them have provided me with a quality typing experience. If the quality and price of mechanicals have ever allowed a broad cross-section of the populace to try them out, it’s today. Good times.

Cheers, and happy typing.

Peanut Butter is good. (If you’re not allergic, of course.)

The thing about peanut butter, though, is that it needs a little help from its friends. Much like Ringo Starr that way, peanut butter is.

Okay, let’s not get too far afield. We’re talking today about the idea of superlathers when shaving. What, exactly, is a superlather? Well, it’s basically using more than one type of shaving soap to create an amalgamated lather. Often, this is done because one soap is running out, and another one gets subbed in to get you through. That, or one soap isn’t quite doing the trick, so a stalwart like Arko or Palmolive gets used to save the day.

If we’re honest, we all end up with a few soaps that have some drawbacks in terms of scent or performance. Why not use them in a combination with another product that could shore up those drawbacks?

The two soaps in question are good quality products. I mean no indictment of them, but, for certain reasons, they aren’t my favorites.

  1. Mitchell’s Wool Fat – Super slick, but I have a hard time getting great, lasting lather.
  2. Derby Limon Cream – A great, inexpensive shave cream. It’s just a little shy on the slickness and face feel, as a lot of creams of this ilk are.

Looking at the two, they seemed prefect for a superlather combination. How did I do it?

Step One: Use the Mitchell’s like a shave stick

With a wet face, you rub the Mitchell’s soap puck against the grain of stubble. This coats the skin and hair follicles with the super slick tallow and lanolin, providing a base for the lather.

Step Two: Face lather with the Derby cream

Squeeze a moderate amount of cream (about nickle sized) onto the damp bristles of the shaving brush. From there, lather on the face as normal. You may need to work in a bit more soap, as you’ll be working with a bit more soap than you’re used to.

How did it work?

In a word, fantastic. I used this technique several times, and it yields performance on par with anything out there. With the slick tallow combining with the voluminous glycerin cream, you get the best of both. You take a classic soap that can be a bit tough to work with and a cheap mass-market cream, and they combine to make a lather that exceeds what they can accomplish by themselves. To some degree, you’re almost using MWF as a pre-shave lather booster, like Musgo Real or the like. I used Derby, but other creams would work just as well. I did also try it with Lucky Tiger, and results were exemplary. A great thing about Mitchell’s is that it has almost no scent of its own, so it won’t clash with your other soap, should it have a fragrance.

Highly recommended.

Cheers, and Happy Shaving!

 

As I’ve already reviewed the basics of the Magicforce 68 in an earlier article, I won’t go into great detail about the basic design. It’s a minimalist ‘board without going too far outside the realm of sanity. Light but solid, it is suited to taking along with you.

The big draw here is the switch, to be honest. Unless, of course, the backlight looms large in terms of your requirements.

The Magicforce line is one of the few that come in multiple different switch types, but the same chassis. The least expensive of the Magicforce ‘boards feature Outemu switches. These are in the $40 range (Spring 2017 for all prices quoted here). I found that the brown-switch equipped board of this type performed well. It felt just a little rough, and had a few squeaky keys, but was otherwise fine. It didn’t feature backlighting, but this didn’t prove to be a large concern for me.

For just a hair over $60, the same ‘board is available with Gateron backlit switches. For something like seven or eight dollars more than that, you can get the actual Cherry MX switches.

I had plenty of Cherry-switch ‘boards, but had not used any Gateron switches. Thus, I purchased the keyboard being reviewed today. The feeling around the ‘Net is that Gateron may well have outdone Cherry with their duplicates of said switch type. Some maintain that the Gaterons are smoother than the Cherry equivalent.

We shall see if that can be determined. We shall use Great Science to do so. Gird up thy loins, readers. Just sayin’.

Packaging:

The Gateron version of the Magicforce comes in the same box as the less expensive version. Two differences:

1) There is a key puller included.
2) There is a USB – B to Micro USB adapter, so you can plug your ‘board into stuff like tablets and phones. That is, in all actuality, a pretty cool value-added feature.

Other than that, it’s a solid, no frills box. No extra cash went into making it wrap-around printed or otherwise blinged out. That’s fine.

Unboxing:

Everything arrived in good condition. The keyboard is in good shape and all the keys work. I don’t seen any difference, qualitatively, with regard to the chassis. Same format, same feel. That is what I expected, but sometimes, a higher member of the “line” will have some subtle things going on. More chamfered edges. Something. It appears that we’re just paying for the more expensive switches in this case.

First Impressions:

The key caps on this keyboard may be just a hair thicker than the ones on the less expensive version. They are double-shot ABS, such that the legend on each key is illuminated by the backlight. This type of key tends to be more expensive. The double-shot process ensures that you’ll never wear the letters off the keytops, no matter how much you use them. It’s another piece of plastic, used to fill in the void in the white ABS of the primary component.

The font of the legend is that somewhat gamer-style block lettering that you’ll see all around. My suspicion is that there are only a handful of companies making the key caps, and that most of these Chinese-made ‘boards are using the same subcontractor. That’s okay. Economies of scale. I get it.

With the LED off, the legend is a sort of gray-on-white affair. It is legible enough and has decent contrast. There is but one color of LED here. That’s white. In this case, the white is fairly true to that spectru, with perhaps just a hint of blue. There are nine brightness values, from subtle to somewhat dazzling. I prefer two clicks up from “off” myself.

The typing dynamics, in a general way, are similar to the other Magicforce 68 that I have. All the keys are in the same location. The general force required to activate them is the same. I can’t directly compare them in certain ways, since one has a brown switch, while the other has red. Brown switches are tactile, whereas reds are linear.

That said, what does the early tale say? The red switches feel smoother. Smoother by a good bit. This is not surprising, as even Cherry MX Brown switches tend to have just a bit of friction to their movement. It appears to be a component of the switch design.

The noise the ‘board makes? Quite quiet, as you might expect a red switch ‘board to be. The chassis of this ‘board isn’t resonant, so it’s just the low clack of the keys as they hit the top plate. About the same sound as the brown switch model. Perhaps just slightly quieter. Certianly quieter than the red-switch model from Drevo. Actually, a whole different sound.

Unlike the less expensive version of this keyboard, I’m not sensing any “ping” or resonance when striking any of the keys. While that was not particularly loud in the other version, it was noticable with some of the keys around the right-center of the ‘board. I don’t have any real clues as to what that means. It could be that the sound is an element of that particular ‘board, because I don’t notice any structural differences from the outside. It could be a slight inconsisntency in the the bottom tray…something else. Without buying up a whole bunch of them, there’s no way to know. I can tell you that the brown-switch version did need a bit of lubrication on the stabilized keys to quiet down, and the Gateron-equipped version did not.

I find that I’m able to type well enough with this keyboard, without any real acclimation time. I don’t believe it’s any faster than the brown-equipped version. Time will tell. Does it feel like a red-switch ‘board? Yes. Does it work? Yes. More than that, I will only be able to determine after further study.

More on key feel:

The Gateron red switches are right on the verge of being too light. I have to really alter my typing a good bit to work with them. I find that I’m more likely to make a whole string of random key presses if I have some kind of technique breakdown. They are very smooth and buttery, but boy, you have to ease up in order for them to really work to their best effect.

After a bit of research, I realized why there is a significant differnce in the way this ‘board feels, when compared with the Drevo, also a red switch mechanical. Here’s the skinny: Outemu switches, like in the Drevo, are all heavier in resistance than Cherry MX switches, right across the board. Red switches from Outemu operate at 55 grams of force, which is significantly more than what I’m seeing here. With the combination of a super-smooth switch and one that is very light, I have to really take it easy with the Gaterons.

If I have been typing on a higher-effort ‘board, this one takes more than a little mental recalibration. Even after I’ve typed hundreds of words on the ‘board, I find that I’m more likely to make accidental key presses or the like.

For me, the resistance with the Outemu reds is dead-on for me, while these are so light that I have to be pretty careful. If you’re a fan of very light resistance, or you’re concerned that the volume of typing you do on a given day puts you into a spiral of fatigue and pain, this might be just the thing.

One final thing is that the repeats on the keys is set very fast by default. If left at this setting, using the backspace or delete key to make larger scale corrections is going to be challenging at best. As a gaming ‘board, I suppose this high cyclic rate could provide great advantages, but not so much for typists. The stock setting is up at 60 characters per second, which is very, very fast. There is a 40 and 20 character per second setting, which is instituted with the FN key, plus W, E, or R. (R being the highest setting). 20 characters per second appears to be what a normal keyboard would call for. Turning it down eliminated the confounding problem that I initially felt was a major drawback of this ‘board. What did I learn? Read the instructions, or at least try and intuit the feature set before belly aching.

Is it worth it?

That is more than a little debatable. A gaming usage case may find that tings like the adjustable repeat rate on keys would serve them well. The light keys may also help you in WASD games and the like. In the realm of gaming keyboards, this is still very inexpensive, and the form factor is really very cool.

The version of this keyboard that features Outemu keys and no backlight is a significant amount cheaper. A little more than $20. Again, that’s not a lot in the scheme of things, but the percentages between a $40 and $62 keyboard are fairly big.

 

I wrote the bulk of this review months ago, and my initial conclusion was that I wasn’t sure that the Gateron Red version of this ‘board was worth it. I had reservations, primarily about the typing feel. With the stock caps, I still have vague concerns in this regard, but there’s a second story here.

The Rest of the Story: 

I recapped this keyboard with Kannanic (also called Bossi) PBT key caps. They made a world of difference. Likely the largest difference I’ve ever experienced. Far better sound, far better feel. Yes, we’re now looking at a keyboard of significant cost, nearly a hundred bucks (I used two sets for a purple and gray color scheme). Even with this additional cost, totally worth it.

Recommendation: 

This, when capped with a nice set of PBT key caps, is my go-to, primo travel/small form factor keyboard. It’s the jam. If you need something small that will slip right into a backpack to take along, this here is your E-ticket ride.

Cheers, and Happy Typing.

I’ve done multiple reviews on Taylor cream. It’s good stuff, and is basically my reference for what a lathering shave cream is supposed to do. Thus, let’s get right down to the only difference between this one and the various others I’ve spoken about in the past. That being, of course, the scent.

Much has been said about the Taylor’s sandalwood. Many have gone on the record saying that it is their favorite sandalwood scent. For many people, their first “real” shaving gear tends to include this cream. It is heavily recommended by Amazon, and that probably has a lot to do with it. While I did go with a sandalwood soap as my first, I went with the Proraso Red. I am a fan of sandalwood. Woody sandalwood. My favorite versions of the scent are fairly forthright, without much in the way of cologne side scents to get it by. My favorite, to date, is the Captain’s Choice aftershave, which is basically sandalwood over the top of bay rum, with a strong woody element. Proraso sandalwood, with the strong primary scent, then some powdery barbershop scents over the top, also right up there.

You may feel that I’m not getting right to the point. This is true. I’m not. Why? Probably because, for me, this, the vaunted TOBS sandalwood just doesn’t do it for me. It is way too subtle, not nearly woody enough, and I get almost nothing once it’s lathered. It may as well not have a scent component at all, once it’s on the face. I was shocked and momentarily without any good idea of how to articulate this when I was doing my demo shave. I suppose that it is possible that I somehow got a batch that, for one reason or another, just didn’t have the full punch that it should. Mine is a sample. That said, every other sample I’ve tried has been at full power, and exhibited all the normal elements that the soap would do in a full container.

So, then, without wishing to, or wanting to, I have to say that my own findings are greatly at odds with the opinions I’ve heard about this soap. In my trip through the world of Taylor’s scents, it’s my least favorite to date. As is often said, scent is altogether subjective, so you may go along with the crowd on this one, and love it right to death.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

I’d like to correct and clarify a few things about the review I recently wrote about Wintersun’s “The Forest Seasons.” At the time of the review, I didn’t know some crucial details. I’ll share these with you now:

This was not, as such, a Wintersun band project. Essentially everything you hear on the record, short of the chorus and backing vocals, were written and performed by Jari. This includes the drums.

Yes, that’s right. It’s all Jari, musically. He plays all the guitars, all the bass, and created all the orchestration.

This was not a fact that was well establish during the marketing of the album. We knew, Jari being Jari, that he did a lot of the stuff on his own, but I was under the impression that the other members came in and laid down their tracks in some form or fashion.

Because of the history of the band, it being essentially a one-man operation initially, we know that he’s capable. Traditionally, though, musical projects of this sort find themselves in need of, at the least, a drummer (provided that the major musical force doesn’t play the drums).

Apparently, due to the lack of time and space in a studio, Jari elected to skip this step, and use synthetic drums.

Yes, that’s right. Kai didn’t play on the album, and the drums are programmed. Mind=blown. I was totally fooled. The drums sound great. The programming and fidelity Jari managed kind of knocks me for a loop. That being said, from hearing a live version of the first track with Timo Hakkinen playing the drums, these tunes will rock a little harder in the live setting.

Does this revelation take away from my enjoyment of the album? No. I’m sad that the rest of the guys aren’t heard on the album, but it is what it is. My level of respect for Jari’s production chops has moved up a notch. One can detract, saying that programmed drums are not in the spirit metal, of course. Remember, though, that Jari had to write all of the drum parts, and contrive to create them. He did a good enough job to fool me, even after a lot of listens. There are some very intricate drum parts on The Forest Seasons. The drums DO NOT let the record down, in my mind.

In any case, as a correction, I have to let you know that the bass, the guitars, everything is Jari here.

 

(It isn’t my intention to make music reviews a feature on this site, but this is way, way too long to stick into a review at a retail page, and so here it lands, in among the soup of shaving and archery and the occasional hoisting of heavy objects.)

Edit: There are some factual inaccuracies in this review. I stand by the spirit of them, but please also read This Correction to get the full story.

When approaching the prospect of creating a piece of art, there are many different ways to go about it. For art, music in specific, that attempts to cater to a “popular” aesthetic, one of the primary target points has always been to be instantly relatable.

There is a magic to a piece of music that, upon first hearing it, almost feels like you’ve always known it. Rather than discovering the piece, it’s almost as if you’re simply being reminded of it. After listening once or twice, most people can hum along to the melody and probably sing along to the chorus. Simplicity and graceful economy are their watch-words. Rock and Roll and other popular musical forms try for this. Short songs, good beats, sensible chord changes, and not too many of those. Nothing that requires a recalibration of your sensor array.

Wintersun…doesn’t write music that way. At all.

They are, if anything, all about extreme, almost absurd detail. Sometimes, you can have been listening to their albums for years, and still be hearing little details you hadn’t noticed. They are obviously influenced by classical music, and want to imbue their music with the complexity, grandeur, and reward for the careful listener.

In light of this, rushing to judgement with a new Wintersun record is, in the end, a tactical blunder. I had some preliminary thoughts after the first few listens. A good half of those thoughts have proven to be ill-considered already. I’ve listened to The Forest Seasons a good fifteen times or so times now, and I’m still getting to grips with it, still learning a lot of things. I’m not changing my mind about it, but I’m beginning to ask better questions, and come to more refined answers.

1) Expectations, Controversy, and Crowdfunding:
A great deal of time has gone by since Wintersun first came along. Their first and eponymous album was and still remains one of the most staggering works of guitar savagery and epic metal to be committed to a recording medium. Don’t agree? Fight me. Seriously. Like with fists. As with other artists who hit a grand slam home run on their first at-bat, this created a problem. A big one. If the album had been good, interesting, and largely ignored, Jari probably would have gone back with Ensiferum and recorded with them, doing the awesome work he put in on their first two records. With Wintersun the album being what it was, though…how you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after that?

So, the daunting and terrifying task of trying to improve upon a record that may have gone as far in that direction as Jari could go. What could he do? Sure, he could have put together another clinic on sweep picking and shredded our faces off. Many bands live by doing the same thing, catching the same lightning in the same bottle again and again. It’s not a bad way to go. Fans will shout, “Gimme more ‘o that!” all day.

Jari…wasn’t going to do that. He wanted MORE. Because how could anything but more do? Thus, it took him very close to forever to put out Time I. I won’t lie. I was a little disappointed at first. Not bummed, but Time I was a whole different kettle of fish. The density of the mix was such that much of the guitar and drum wizardry was very hard to pick out. Much of the complexity rejected a good understanding of the full picture. You had to TRY. Not just once. For a while. Like many of my favorite things, it rewarded effort and dedication. I have but few complaints, after these years have gone by. The primary one? It’s just too damned short. If you strip out some of the orchestral intros and outros, you’re looking at only about 30 minutes of actual metal. Oh, what epic metal it is, but having waited 8 years for it…dang.

Here we are, 5 years removed from Time I, and the promised second half of that album is still only a rumor and a legend. Money issues. Studio fights. Writer’s block. Insufficient recording space, gear, time, and so forth. Acrimonious words and bellyaching. Some fans gave up on Jari and his perfectionist ways.

Enter the interim goal. The do-able album. The crow bar that might get Wintersun somewhat back into the good graces of both its studio and its fans. A thing called “The Forest Seasons”. As has become somewhat common in today’s world, it came to us via a crowdfunding effort, which would correspond with the studio selling physical media. It would allow both parties to make money, and to cater to different “levels” of fans.

You may have some vauge idea of which level I’m at. Yeah. That one. The one that sees me write an absurdly long review, when I don’t make it a habit to review music, movies, or books. The one who named his parakeet Jari. So, there’s that. Bias, let me tip my hat to you now.

Much has been said about all the hullabaloo outlined above. I’m not going to add to it here. I backed the crowdfunding effort. It was an easy decision, because I had the money to spare. I was willing to wager about $52 on the promise that I’d get a new Wintersun album. I was not alone. The campaign raised about $500K, and smashed the funding goal multiple times over. Evidently, there were enough fans who still really wanted what Wintersun was selling. And what were they selling?

2) The Album in Concept:
The idea behind The Forest Seasons was that it was an album that Jari could accomplish with the tools, money, and time available to him, an album that, while painstakingly produced, was recorded in whatever way he could find, even in bedroom closets and at odd hours when his neighbors wouldn’t complain. It wasn’t Mr. Right (Time II), but it was Mr. Right Now.

In addition to being what he COULD do (in his vision), it was also a concept album of sorts. I say “of sorts” because I find it to be a bit more of an overarching theme than an actual concept. Essentially, Jari’s idea was that he could do a metal album that covered the same thematic ground as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Great, crazy, wonderful idea. The sort of madness we expect from Jari. Is it in any way a cover of that piece? No. No actual notes in common. Just the idea of a four-season epic metal symphony.

There are four parts. They’re each about the size of a movement in a symphony (although that’s not what The Four Seasons is…but let’s not go there.) In lyric content, I would have to say that, true to the name of the band, the idea of cold and dark and winter dominates here. Even in Spring and Summer, it’s mostly about the classic Wintersun themes. Musically, you can squint to see the seasonal elements, but only if you really want to do it.

All that said, the album hangs together thematically to me. I just feel like the seasonal element feels a little like a theme stuck onto the songs at the end, not really cooked deeply into them. Which is fine. It’s something I can let go of. Each song is its own thing. I don’t necessarily expect Wintersun to give me a bouncy jig. Jari carried some folk metal elements with him from Ensiferum, but not that many.

3) The Music:
There is more Black Metal influence here than any other Wintersun release. There is still the epic and grandiose element here, the dramatic swells and the hundred layer-deep complexity, but there is greater menace, darkness, and stretches of disquieting atmosphere.

It is clear that, with this record, it was not about the guitar wizardry. Precious little remained to prove after Wintersun’s debut in this regard, as that album is altogether loaded with terrifying solos and riffs that hit like steam hammers.

At the same time, it isn’t quite at the other end of the spectrum, like Time I, where it flirted with Power Metal at points. (Not that there is anything wrong with Power Metal, for me.)

The first track, “Awaken from the Dark Slumber” or “Spring”, begins with a segment that has a disinctly Dimmu Borgir vibe. With the haunting strings beneath a driving mid-tempo beat, some odd chord progressions that work to flirt with the edges of dissonance, and all harsh vocals, this very Symphonic Black Metal phase goes on until about 5:40 of the first song.

From there, a hint of an epic theme is initially stated, then is washed away a bit in a quiet transition phase of symphonic instrumental. From there, we go into the classic double-kick gallop and epic harmonies you would likely expect from Wintersun, building into the extended refrain, first stated with Jari’s high shriek and an underpinning of Jukka’s low death growls.

Much of the musical interest during this part is going to be created by the synth orchestra, with the guitars primarily sticking to rhythm and a few riffs. The solos, such as they are, don’t really amount to anything noteworthy, considering the technical facility of the guitarists in question. There’s certainly space, had Jari wished to implement them, for titanic solos. Perhaps, in the live versions, they might take advantage of these openings.

In the latter part of the song, a male chorus appears, and this may be the part of the record that most recalls Time I. It also recalls moments here and there of early Ensiferum.

As with earlier Wintersun, the individual notes of the bass guitar are low in the mix, and difficult to discern. Bass will often get buried in a crowded mix. The recording doesn’t feel thin, and visuals of Jukka playing make it clear that he’s throwing stuff down there, but you’d have to strip all the backing tracks away to really hear what is going on (more on this later).

Kai’s drumming is flawless, but you get the sense that on this track, he’s certainly within himself, not having to sweat or strain. Unlike the bass, he is front-and-center. Don’t get me wrong. Kai, even when he’s not going full tilt, still brings it. His fills and changes are all perfectly accurate, and the song only falls into that “double-kick lull” for a short period of time. What I mean by that is the steady, mid-tempo double beat that carries on without any variation. You’ll see this for long stretches in some bands.

On to the second track, “The Forest that Weeps”, or “Summer”. Beginning with an acoustic guitar and almost Japanese synth instrumentation, it kicks into a head-nodding riff and a sparse drumline that, to some extent, lets the guitars drive the song for a few minutes. We get some harsh vocals from Jari, but he soon dusts off his clean vocals and shouting vocals to give the song some variety. Shades of Time I here, again, but with a harsher, more forthright tack. The lead rhythm riff here really carries it. In between the almost rock-like basic drums that live in the early parts of the song, Kai gives us some eccentric, asymmetrical playing behind the refrain. The big chorus shows up for a second, but tails into an instrumental bridge.

That bridge is a folk/Japanese tinged variation of the theme the guitars stated earlier in the song. A snare-drum brings us into the twin-guitar part of the show. Interestingly, it isn’t really a wailing solo, but a rather measured theme and variation segment above a nice rhythm. Maybe a little disappointing, if I’m honest. This part kind of beggs for some sweep-picking wizardry. It’s good and rhythmic, but feels a little bit like wasted time.

Orchestral bombast follows, with massed choruses and the whole ten yards. You want epic? Yeah. Here it is. In the latter part of the song, Kai does some deviously complex stuff with splitting up the beat and super-controlled double kick work. He plays both the easiest and most difficult of his material in this song, and has moments where he probably has to almost try hard. Almost.

The song fades away into the sound of the sea, and we’ve found ourselves at the half-way point in the record. Nominally, spring and summer are still pretty chilly. Because the band is named Wintersun. These dudes are from Finland. What do they know about warm weather?

Track three is entitled “Eternal Darkness” or “Autumn”. It’s the darkest and most evil song Wintersun have ever put out. I hear a good measure of Emperor in the early parts of this track. A super-distorted guitar and all kinds of evil, atmospheric stuff is going on here. They let Kai actually blastbeat on the drums for a solid stretch, and Jari’s voice is at its most aggressive.

Little by little, more typical Wintersun elements creep in atop the blastbeat, but dilute the menace of the track only just a tidbit. The blast turns to a more complex and gallop-influenced beat, with the orchestral backing tracks swirling behind it all and adding all manner of weird flourishes.

Giving us a bit of a break, an instrumental segment with a bunch of pretty sweet fills by Kai and a neat melody on the guitar ensues. Jari does an almost Shagrath-like vocal inflection here and there, giving an interesting wrinkle between his higher shrieks. More drum badassery by Kai, and some really solid guitar interplay. As this segment develops, it gives us our only real, wide-open guitar solo. It gets over too fast, but it’s something.

Another bridge, this time accomplished with the acoustic guitar and its evil arpeggio, quickly building into symphonic bombast. More Dimmu Borgir sounding stuff goes on, but is drawn inexorably back to the epic nature of the band Wintersun, with the very end of the song almost giving you that perfect fusion of what record one and two were. The whole thing ends abruptly, as if the transmission were cut, and it leaves you with a moment of highly dramtic null.

The final track, “Lonliness” or “Winter”, begins slowly and with a quiet, almost harp-like intro. You’re almost brought to mind the first orchestral theme in the Harry Potter movies. Metal happens, though. Slow and stately in pace, there’s a doom metal feel to the song. Fellow Finns, the band Swallow the Sun, would probably nod at this one and say, “Yeah, that’s cool.”

The music dies back down to what, in comparison, is fairly unadorned. Jari’s clean intro vocals are some of his most heart-felt. This clean vocal is interspersed with his harsh delivery, as the song’s metal elements surge back up behind him. This song is certainly the ballad of the group. For a wonder, Jukka’s bass is actually audible in this one, and carries a bit more of the musical load, as the drums and tempo here are such that Kai is effectively taking a breather.

The final track is certainly mostly about the vocal performance. Some tasty guitar work shows up at around minute eight, and I will say that the riff they pull out catches in my head and rattles around for days. The many-layered vocals as the song gets into its final minutes are really beautifully applied, and and the soaring clean singing Jari pulls out equals anything he has shown us on earlier recordings. This is the other version of epic that Wintersun can do, where it’s not about the speed or the riff, but about the evocative and emotional element of the song.

We float away from the last song on fading chimes of music and the sound of wind before all falls quiet.

4) Lyrics and Vocal Delivery:
I’m going to go against a lot of listeners here and say that there is more variation in lyrical content here than on Time I. I think that, in the main, Jari’s written some good songs here. They may be a bit chorus heavy for some people, but there is a lot of stuff going on with the different lyrics, the different dramatic places where Jari is taking us with this one.

Jari has been working on his singing. I feel certain of this. He has a larger repertoire of tonality here than on his earlier stuff, where it was just the high shriek, the clean, and the slight break-up shout. He has found a some true deathy sounds, as well as the Shagrath-style groaning vocal, for lack of a better description. I think that he pushes his standard harsh vocal to levels of menace he hadn’t done in the past, and he’s also pulled off some really heart-wrenching cleans, too.

Having Jukka (and Teemu, to a lesser extent) lend their deep bass growls to the proceedings also introduced some cool tonalities to the mix. Overall, I have no issues with the vocal performances here.

5) Production:
Many complain that the guitars are too low in the mix on this record, and that the drums and vocals are too loud. While I think that the studio mix of Time I certainly suffered from having the guitars buried too deep in the mix, I’m not sure that I totally agree with the criticism here. I think that the drums and vocals are where they need to be. The thing that is making the guitars indistinct is the presence of such large amount of synth backing tracks.

Then again, more than a few of the synths are pretty wonderful, so you have to decide what you’re looking for. If Jari wants to bury the guitar and use it as something more instinctually felt than heard, should we gainsay that choice? We certainly can, if we so choose, but again, there’s more going on here than we’ll easily be able to appreciate upon first listen. We’ll have to chase it.

I don’t think I fully appreciated the music until I listened to the instrumental version of the album, which are included with the Forest Package (the crowdfunding package).

Also, it should be said that, unlike some disks, the better your stereo is, the better this one will sound. If you’re lucky enough to have a pair of really great headphones or a pair of high resolution speakers, you’ll be able to appreciate a lot of elements of this album that would otherwise smear together like chalkmarks on a rain-soaked driveway.

Finally, if putting one of the best drummers on the planet front-and-center in the mix is a sin, I will go on record as saying that I fully endorse sin.

6) Value (CD version vs. The Forest Package)
If you chose to back the crowdfunding effort, you received what the band termed “The Forest Package.” This is an all-electronic package with no physical media, available for download at the moment of the album’s release. To my knowledge, there is no effort to replicate the package now that the crowdfunding is over. It’s possible that some or all of it will eventually find its way into some deluxe version of the album, but I don’t have any news about that. For now, you either bought in or you missed out.

Included with the package were the following perks:

1) The album itself, both in full-resolution .wav format and high quality mp3.
2) An acoustic version of “Loneliness”, the fourth track.
3) The full Forest Seasons album as an instrumental (no vocal track).
4) Isolated tracks of each of the Forest Seasons songs (two guitar tracks, bass, drums, vocal, and orchestration).
5) Re-mixes of both the first two albums.
6) The “Live at Tuska” concert from 2013.
7) A photo album and some 4K backgrounds

Provided that you have the capability to burn a disk to audio format, you can use the full .wav format to get a bit-perfect copy for playing on your audio equipment. I don’t see the lack of a material copy as a big deal, especially because it seems like it would have been unfair to Nuclear Blast to totally ace them out of the whole gamut of sales options.

The acoustic version is interesting, but I view it as more of an afterthought, really. It doesn’t add a lot of value, in my book, but is well executed, as far as it goes. I don’t envision myself listening to it that much.

Now, the instrumental version of the album…that’s a whole different story. I imagined that it might be something I’d listen to, maybe once, but I think, in this case, it’s actually a really great tool to help understand some of the musical elements. With the vocals taken off the top of the mix, a lot of the denser elements of the orchestration and the musicianship become clearer. Some of the stuff Kai is doing, particularly, becomes pretty jaw-dropping when you can hear the extent of it. Also, a lot of complexity in the synth-orchestra tracks snaps into focus. One thing you leave with is the understanding that Jari puts a lot of effort into stuff you’ll never really be able to hear. This is a feature of significant value.

The isolated tracks probably delve into nerding out a bit more than I have yet done, but they give you the chance, should you wish, to hear what Jukka’s doing on the bass, back there behind the wall of sound. If you’re trying to learn how to play the songs, I can see this as a big benefit. That, or you can re-mix the album in any way you see fit by throwing all the tracks into an audio mixing engine and balancing them as you prefer. Drums too loud? Too quiet? Jari has made most of your arguments irrelevant. If you want a lot more grit, a lot more “metal”, you can turn the guitars up and turn rest down a little. If you listen to the rhythm guitars in exclusion, the sound is a lot more like an old Dismember track than you might think. Wintersun, below all the intricate frosting, still has some metal going on. If you’re of the opinion that you want more of that, you can make it happen. It’s just a matter of knocking a few decibels off of the rest of the mix and punching up the guitars. Or, you can just shrug and never listen to any of it.

The remixes of the first two albums are punchy and sound good. I think that they help Time I feel a little bit less muddy at points, but I never had a problem with the first album. It was 10/10 already in my book. Adding the intro beforehand makes it a bit more cohesive with the later albums, but I don’t know if I’m a fan of it really. Almost feels like the weird additions and subtractions they do to the Star Wars movies. Just leave it alone. All in all, though, it gives you full .wav and high quality mp3 versions of both albums, so even without big differences in sound quality, it’s a perk.

Having a live version of a lot of the songs is cool. Because of the relative dearth of material, there’s not a lot of songs missing from this live set. In my listen, I don’t see major revelations about the band, but it’s good stuff. They pull it off live. I’d almost love to see them strip the songs back, using no backing tracks, but just having a keyboard player covering that ground when they play live. I think re-arranging the songs so that it’s all happening, all fluid and able to respond to the chemistry of the night, would be wicked. Whenever extensive backing tracks are at play, I feel like the band is a little hamstrung by that. They are on rails. The songs have to kind of go exactly as they did in the studio. Shrug. Maybe that’s just me. Still, a neat perk, and one that might have sold for full album price on its own.

Finally, the photos and computer backgrounds. These are neat, but they are the kind of things you would likely be able to download from a band’s website or from the record label. They are, at most, a small perk.

So…was the package worth it? To me, yes. For one, it was a vote that said that I still cared and was willing to venture some cash against the fact that Wintersun would remain solvent. I’m not saying that I haven’t gotten angry and impatient with the slowness and the excuses put forward for said lack of progress. Like most “big fans”, I wanted more, faster. That said, if you’re more of a casual fan, or not inclined to nerd out about a Wintersun record, the CD or mp3 download is probably sufficient, and a lot more economically sensible. Unless you didn’t own the first two records. That seems like a weird and hard to fathom place to be, but it’s possible that a few people who found the band recently or who recently became financially secure might have been there.

I’m sure that there was a percentage of people who were disappointed in what they got with the package, but everything was outlined, there were no mysteries other than if you’d be fully satisfied with the album itself. My feeling is that you’d have been disappointed with either method of purchase, if the album didn’t do it for you. It’s kind of a yes or no proposition. I’m not in the business of telling people what to think. I can only share my experiences with the album. No buyer’s remorse. I may well get the physical CD, just because I can, and it won’t make the difference between making the rent or not.

7) Final Thoughts:

Where does The Forest Seasons stand in the pantheon of Wintersun albums? Well, it’s a little difficult to compare any of them to any others. Each one has it’s particular thing that it shoots for.

For me, the first album is and will always be dead, solid, perfect. In extreme metal, there are a few records that just do everything right. Ask a hundred metalheads, and they’ll name a lot of names in this regard. There will be acrimonious disputes, name-calling, and possibly a fist fight. Anyone, though, who even has a dog in the fight when it comes to talking about Wintersun, will nod and say, “Yeah, that first album fricken’ ruled.” Because it did. If you’ve played a guitar, and you want to humbled, go ahead. Listen and lament. Behold the solos and tremble. More than that, they integrate perfectly into the songs, never seeming tacked-on or at odds with the musical vision. Sometimes, guys run off and basically make a perfect record by doing almost everything. Kind of like what Old Man’s Child did with “Ill-Natured Spritual Invasion.” (Which I also recommend.)

Time I sacrificed the purity of purpose of the first record for an overarching dream of being as epic as humanly possible with the instruments involved. It mostly succeeds. The material that is included is, after one takes the time to decode it and let it really begin to make sense, pretty damn amazing. To my way of thinking, the Sonic Pump studio-live version of the whole album is better than the released album in every useful measure, and really shows a bit more of what Jari was hoping to do. Watch that whole “concert”, and you are almost shocked into silence. It helps you understand a lot about the music that wasn’t clear upon just listening. Jari shot for the stars and almost did all he hoped for (my thinking). The downside?

Time I is just too damn short. Also, I feel like, lyrically, the album is a little short on ideas and themes. The stuff that is there is glorius, but it feels like there is some connective tissue missing, as if it is the beginning of a tale we have not yet heard all the way through. Because, let’s face it, that’s what it is. Time II was supposed to be out in 2013. Maybe that’s not Time I’s fault, but that’s how it is. The density of the mix, too, leaves a lot of the “real” instrumentation so buried that it’s hard to tell what’s going on (something that has also become an issue with Forest Seasons). It takes a lot of listens and a really revealing stereo to get down beneath the surface and understand the bones and gristle of this disk. These concerns leave it as a 9/10. Still amazing, but not perfect.

That brings us, at last, to The Forest Seasons. I won’t kid you. It’s not a perfect album, either. It has a lot going for it, but it has some strikes against it, too. One of the primary strikes against is that…well, it’s a Wintersun album, and the bar is set very high. We know what is possible. We want to have our faces melted and our hearts frozen, then set on fire, then flown into the gray, frigid sky in the talons of an eagle. On every track. It’s a tall order. Mere joy is not enough. We demand euphoria.

The Good:

1) It’s Wintersun. It does a lot of the Wintersun things. There are glorious choruses, beautiful themes, superb musicianship, etc.
2) There is more outright darkness, more menace, than on anything they’ve released yet. There are a few parts of this record that are, for all intents and purposes, Symphonic Black Metal. This could also be a bad, if you’re reaching from Folk/Power Metal, and previous Wintersun was about as harsh as you were ready for.
3) This disk is of a reasonable running time, and feels fairly complete in itself. Some have said the songs feel over-inflated, but brevity is not necessarily what you listen to Wintersun for. No one would ever accuse them of playing Grindcore.

The Bad:

1) The mix hides a lot of the good work done with rhythm guitar, which is actually doing some fairly gnarly stuff beneath there. Feels a little like a cheat, but that was the direction that the production went.
2) Simply too few solos. These are long songs, and I like all of them. That said, there are a few glaring places that just scream, “Put the big sweep-picking badassery here,” but instead leave us with an area of the songs that feels a little like we’re waiting for something to happen. I don’t know why Jari elected to play it so conservative here, but we just don’t get that frantic payoff that you might expect. I’m not talking about turning the record into a self-indulgent vehicle for guitar masturbation, but with two players who are so damn good, it feels almost counterintuitive to have much of what they’re doing hidden, and restrict the more audible material to a lot of harmony playing that either one of them could do while windsurfing. Just sayin’.
3) The concept album kinda falls flat. If they simply hadn’t said anything about it, and left us to decide what to make of the songs, I’d have been happier.

So, the verdict? I’d probably call it 8.5/10, verging on 9/10. My big hope is that they can use the momentum of this album, the money they garnered, and the ensuing concert season they’re embarking upon to get another record out in the near future. It may be far too much to ask, but the wise course for them would be to shoot for another album within 18 months, even if it’s another crowdfunded effort that ISN’T Time II (provided that the quality is good, and they can find adequate material to entice another round of such investment).

The big dream, of course, is Time II. We know they have songs. We know that the ones they’ve played live have the type of brutal shredding that we want. They just need to record those bad boys and let us have our happiness. Or grimness, or whatever.

End of the road? Still a Wintersun fan. Still one of the faithful. Still glad that there’s more to listen to. Still hungry for more.

Cheers, and happy devil-horns.