Review Summary: Universal Music Presents: My Assassin's Creed
2005 saw the departure of soprano singer Tarja Turunen from Nightwish, one of the most well known bands in the gothic/symphonic metal scene. Since then, both artists have struggled, with Tarja releasing a Christmas album soon after the split and Nightwish bringing in singer Annette Olzon for their 2007 effort, Dark Passion Play, neither of which was terribly good. At the end of this year, Tarja Turunen released My Winter Storm, an album entirely of original material. Turns out she should have stuck with covers...
Although the cover is one of the most laughable things I’ve seen (Tarja meets Assassin’s Creed), it’s sadly the best part of the album. At least it brings the laughs. The rest of Tarja’s sophomore release is filled with music that would barely cut it in the pop world. The main problem with the album is it falls into this area of limbo between metal music and pop music. There aren’t enough hooks in the music to make pop fans enjoy it, yet it also lacks any sense of musicality or originality that many metalheads look for in their music. As such, nobody would really want to listen to it.
I’m not sure who wrote most of the songs, but whether it be Tarja, her backing band, or some bigwig producer, somebody ***ed up. Tarja’s voice is good enough...it’s certainly not up to the level it was in Nightwish, but she gets the job done The band does not get to shine in any way, however; they’re stuck playing power chords, root notes, and basic rock beats while the keyboardist presses buttons to cue up the orchestra backing loops. Most of the songs are awkwardly written, with many parts that just seemed jammed in without any regards for flow. For somebody on Universal Records too, the band could use much better production...in particular, the guitars don’t pop out enough like they should on a real metal record.
The beginning of the record isn’t actually too terrible, however. The first actual track, I Walk Alone
, is one of the better tracks to grace the album. I guess this actually is a pop record; put most of your budget into your single, and it’s bound to be good. So good, in fact, that 3 different versions have to appear on the album. Regardless, the hook is quite catchy, the simplicity of the music works in the song’s favor, and somebody did a decent job composing backing orchestra parts.
Things take a dive on Lost Northern Star
, with Tarja trying to pull out a darker atmosphere that ends up sounding something that wouldn’t even be good enough to put on a Within Temptation album. Honestly, if Tarja just decided to embrace the fact that she is a pop star now, and start tailoring her music to that genre, the music would be much better. However, her insistence on sticking to her metal background pulls down the quality of the music.
For a while after that track, the album actually tricks you into thinking it’s a good album. Even though the 50 second interludes between certain tracks are total overkill and serve no purpose, the tracks they lead up to are well composed. The Reign
is an orchestral track, which doesn’t have crappy band riffs bring down the quality of the music, and lets Tarja show off her voice a little bit. It’s well written and complements her voice quite well. My Little Phoenix
and Die Alive
are both hints at heavier music, albeit much better attempts than Lost Northern Star
. My Little Phoenix
is a slower tune with soaring orchestral arrangements, while Die Alive
is much faster and has an intense, driving feel to it. Both are quite catchy...they’re not the greatest songs in the world, but they do their job.
The album crashes and burns after this point. The rest of the album is filled with uninspired ballad tunes that try to rip off Nightwish’s formula (Boy and the Ghost, Minor Heaven
), goth-pop disasters (Damned and Divine
), an extremely awkward thrash tune (Ciaran’s Well
), and a few Tarja/orchestral pieces that have decent choruses but ultimately fail to achieve anything. Sing For Me
comes closest to being a good song, but the verses are too awkward a transition from the great chorus for it to really be anything good. The closing song is better than the middle of the album, with just Tarja and some acoustic guitar, but it’s too little too late to save the album.
One song I want to touch on in detail is Poison
. This track is by far the worst attempt at a cover song I’ve heard. Originally by Alice Cooper, Tarja’s version reeks of terrible power pop. The song is so laughably bad that things come full circle and I found myself enjoying the song. Tarja’s delivery of the lines “I hear you calling and it’s needles and pins/I wanna hurt you just to hear you screaming my name” were a particular source of entertainment. For a while, I thought that she had written the lyrics, which would explain why she never wrote them for Nightwish.
The last 3 songs on the album are redone versions of album tracks, including 2 more versions of the single. Damned Vampires and Gothic Divine
is a longer, heavier version of Damned and Divine
, which actually fares better than its album counterpart. Tarja’s version of I Walk Alone
is essentially the same thing as the single version, with different sounds and some irritating string arpeggios in the chorus, while the In Extremo mix seems to make heavy use of an accordion. Both versions pale in comparison to the single...in particular, I wish the In Extremo remix focused more on making the track sound like a trip-hoppish tune instead of rehashing the heavy guitars in the chorus.
Tarja’s “first” solo album hints at a few decent ideas, but is all together overcome by confused songwriting ideas and poor performances on all fronts. For me, at least, it stands as one of the poorest albums of 2007. I guess this album explains Tarja’s contributions to Nightwish: she sang, and that was that. When she tries to write her own music, her ideas are not good enough to carry an album. Both groups need to come to their senses and realize that they were the best when they were together.