Review Summary: An improvement upon an established sound that still stubbornly refuses to progress
There’s no denying that the songs on What Lies Beneath
are a stark contrast to the disjointed and ill-conceived tracks that comprised My Winter Storm
. As a matter of fact, the majority of the songs on Tarja Turunen’s latest solo effort are interesting enough to hold your attention for the entire running time of the album- an achievement in and of itself considering the highly repetitive and one-dimensional sound Turunen has plastered upon herself- despite the presence of a few questionable moments. The ballads shine, the guest appearances (for the most part) impress, and the aura about What Lies Beneath
is distinctly Tarja, from the high points to the low points.
When everything is running as a cohesive unit, the album rolls forth with a whole mountain of momentum behind it, and by the end of the second track “Until My Last Breath” things are looking good for the remainder of the album, despite the truly awful opener “Anteroom Of Death” in which Tarja and the vocalists from Van Canto sing together in a theater-esque piece that sticks out like a sore thumb in terms of both quality and atmosphere. However, the real beauty comes when she sticks to what she does best- use her operatic vocals to drive the atmosphere of the song, instead of using it to compliment an instrumental base. On tracks like “I Feel Immortal”, “Underneath”, and “Rivers Of Lust”, the more controlled pace comes through as crucial, fueling both emotional and harmonious vocals and backing musicianship that doesn’t try to take away anything from Turunen’s singing.
Despite this focus on what Tarja does best, the album suffers gravely from stagnation. With nine of the eleven tracks running between four and five minutes, and only two different types of songs to choose from (either slower ballads or more aggressive, guitar-driven tracks), a sense of deja vu begins to form by the heart of the album, and it doesn’t seem to fade away until the last seconds of “Crimson Deep” tick away. The guest appearances by Phil Labonte, Joe Satriani, Will Calhoun and Van Canto all work to give each track a sense of individuality, but their performances do not drive away the fact that Tarja’s style is still one-dimensional. The screams of Labonte at the tail end of “Dark Star” add a vicious bite to an album that seemed to lack such aggression, contrasting his singing earlier in the same song, and the wailing guitar solo of Satriani is nothing short of impressive, but these moments all take a back seat to the main show- Tarja giving the listener a vocal display that, to be quite frank, has never changed since she first came on the music scene with Nightwish.
In the end, What Lies Beneath
is an enjoyable album; nothing more, nothing less. It is certainly head and shoulders above My Winter Storm
, and it shows that Turunen still has a lot left in her, despite a motif that has, at this point, been spread far too thin. If, maybe, Tarja figured out a way to use her obvious vocal talent in a way that is more creative and less predictable, then she will release something worth admiring for many years to come. However, as it stands with What Lies Beneath
, the music is a cleverly disguised one-trick pony that is undeniably enjoyable to listen to, but is an album that the test of time is sure to swallow in its wake.