Review Summary: Nightwish release their best record to date, one that is bound to be a classic for many years to come.
Nightwish were up for a challenge after their old vocalist managed to get herself fired. The band were due a new album this year, and how they would cope with the new vocalist was a mystery (and how they pulled it off the way they did is still a mystery). Rumours were the band went more poppy. They would go louder. They would go more orchestral. They would suck with the new vocalist. They would rule with the new vocalist. Well, 28th of September was due and my pre-order came in the mail. I don't think I've ever been more excited for a new record (perhaps because it's Nightwish? I don't know...)
And I don't think there is a single album that compares to this one this year. It is quite simply the most astonishing, exhilarating, eradicating slab of music I have heard since, well, probably Nightwish's last album. It's got everything a Nightwish fan wants, and more. It's almost everything the hype said it would be (except bad.) It is indeed more experimental (with a couple of tracks ranking among the most un-Nightwish songs Nightwish have ever done.) It is also indeed more poppy, with a couple of choruses that make me jizz my pants everytime I hear them.
First of all, the musicianship, especially Tuomas', is unparallelled and unrivaled. What they lost apparently in vocal skill, is more than made up for by orchestral arrangements that are so grandiose at times I thought I was listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. The Poet and the Pendulum, the album's opening track and epic, is an absolute winner, with the orchestral intro being one of the many highlights on the album. Anette even does some *gasp* operatic vocals at the start. The choirs, the epic storytelling, it all fits and I don't think Tuomas could have written anything better even if he tried.
However, Tuomas is not the only one who completely rules on this album. The big surprise for me this time around is Emppu Vuorinen, the guitarist. I swear I haven't heard riffs that completely baffle me since I've listened to Reign in Blood. Master Passion Greed's intro is an absolutely exterminating piece of music, crashing out of your speakers with such insane intensity it gives Morbid Angel a run for their money. Emppu also gets a moment of the limelight on Whoever Brings the Night, a nice Arabian-themed mid-paced metal monster with another dose of thrash/power-infused riffing and a chorus that rings through my ears every time.
Second, the variety and experimental nature shown on the album is far beyond Nightwish have ever tried on other levels. The Islander is a genuine Irish folk song, written by Marco, and it just completely kills. Especially the vocal duet at the end is a marvel to behold. It also shows another side of Marco's singing, who proves that he can do more than just yell like a madman: he is actually a skilled vocalist, moreso than anyone had previously anticipated.
Another folk element is Last of the Wilds, another riveting track. It could be best described as Flogging Molly meets Celtic traditional meets Ensiferum. It is one big orgasm of celtic instruments with a bodhran, a whistle, a violin, and a melody that is to die for. And it's not even spoiled by bad grunting vocals, because it's an instrumental! Oh, and did I mention it completely kicks the absolute living daylights of Moondance? It's just that intense.
The ballads are not forgotten, though. Whereas Eva is just the modern day cousin of Sleeping Sun, well-executed but not something the band hasn't ventured into before, Meadows of Heaven is one of the best tracks on the album. The gospel choirs at the end are a marvel to behold and the soulful singing Anette does at the end proves that she may not be the operatic mistress like Tarja was, but she has a lot more variety in her voice and pulls off a lot of different styles well. (Check out the Arabian chants at the end of Sahara!)
And then there's still a catchy element to the band as well. Amaranth features one of the best choruses I've heard in many years, sticking in your head like glue. Cadence of Her Last Breath is indeed a little too reminiscent of Evanescence, but without the silly vocals and another burning riff from Emppu. Bye Bye Beautiful just completely stomps, with a kind of techno beat that reminds me of I Wish I Had an Angel, the way it was meant to sound. Last but not least there is For The Heart I Once Had sounds like the upgrade of Nemo, a mid-paced rocker with a good use of orchestral choirs and yet another melody that leaves me stunned as to how the band thinks up all these winners.
Then there are Sahara and 7 Days to the Wolves, two songs that remind us of the symphonic nature of Nightwish. Sahara combines the symphonic element with powerful riffing, another beast of a chorus, and a really captivating Middle Eastern melody line. 7 Days to the Wolves is probably the least interesting track on the album, but again, the chorus has some lovely vocal harmonizing and Tuomas' orchestral arrangements are grand.
There is no doubt that this album will be called overly pompous because of all the different styles and the use of a full orchestra. Indeed, Nightwish falls into a sense of bombastic pretentiousness only all too often on this album. The miraculous thing is, every line they have written for this album is good enough to make up for it. Despite all the album's different sides, musically and emotionally, it all feels like one coherent piece and I can hear the Nightwish signature style on every song. Fans can rest assured: this is the album we've all been waiting for the band to make. It comes at exactly the right time in the band's career, after a period of great turmoil, and I can't wait to see the band perform their new compositions live. I have serious doubts about any better albums coming out this year (especially since so many good ones have been released already!), this is probably going to top my best-of list and for a good reason. Nightwish, I salute you once again.