It is admirable to see bands wanting to progress and generate different means of conveying musical ideas; it gives many of us hope that people still care. What shakes this hope are bands who are clearly capable of doing great things lavishing their potential in partial attempts at profound concepts. Nobody would deny that a film and album is a good idea, but when you approach a concept of that magnitude the most important thing to lay in the foundation is any sort of flow; this will give the listener the impression of a musical story. Imaginaerum, the storyline consisting of an old composer who tries to remember his past with the help of his daughter, doesn’t even try to connect the songs aside from the convenient fact that they are all separate memories, and it’s one of the elements that drags down an album which, while far from bad, could have been so much more.
“It’s the same old dead boy’s song” Anette sings. This is one of a number of self-references across the album, and, probably unintentionally, spells out another main issue. At least half of the album relies on the same stock style of the past few Nightwish albums, which had already become too repetitive on Dark Passion Play. Taikatalvi, Storytime, Last Ride of the Day, and many parts of the rest of the songs exemplify this perfectly as these parts could easily belong on any of their other recent albums; their builds, their choruses, their chug riffs, and their predictable implementation of choir all over the place have not changed after a few albums of the same and comes off rather lazy (though Tuomas is a Hans Zimmer fan so no surprise there I suppose), not to mention Jukka has been playing the same drum beat for almost a decade. I feel that this was a perfect time for them to implement the orchestration in a new way than they have been and thus the result is a bit disappointing.
It must be accounted for, however, that there are a number of parts on here that are new for the band, with Slow, Love, Slow being the first notable example - I’m ignoring the “You Spin Me Round” tinge of the chorus of the preceding track, Ghost River, and its chaotic bits that sound unsure in context. Slow, Love, Slow is a doom jazz treat that hearkens back to the 30s or 40s (or David Lynch if you prefer) but with more piano arpeggios. This is also the first track that shows how ***ing well Anette performs on this album. One could justify the sound since it is an older man in reverie thus this is an example of how the songs can be only playfully dark or merely sort of sad within the concept, but also it is odd that Nightwish seems to be hesitant to take that any further than simply throwing new sounds here and there. The western bits of Turn Loose The Mermaids come to mind; they sound cool but it’s a bit awkward combined with the pretty, Scottish folk mood. Along the same lines, I Want My Tears Back awkwardly combines pop-metal and the Celtic folk of Last of the Wilds, and key signature aside they simply don’t blend together. That said, the folk parts of the song are terrific.
Scaretale is probably the album’s showcase, given the longer length and concentration of carnival-esque melodies, and once we get past the usual choir and string build of the intro we eventually come to harpsichord runs that show foresight of something interesting we return back to filler metal riffs. Though, the verses are especially entertaining because of Anette stepping out of her box into some ultra-hot characterizations, her range ever-growing. After that, however, Tuomas decides to take Danny Elfman’s career for a ride, and he nails him to a tee. In contrast, the other longer song, Rest Calm, takes advantage of no new elements as the supposed doom track, but it’s not doom at all yet ironically is as synthetically emotional as most doom bands, and hardly worth the time aside from Anette’s choruses, but even those get old after hearing them 12 times at the end of the track as more and more layers build up to...wait for it...nothing. Rest Calm is Nightwish going through the motions.
Back to Anette though. We saw all the hatred towards her when she joined for Dark Passion Play; she was naively blamed for its weakness. Frankly, she did well enough considering she was jumping way out of her realm to join the group, but it would be a crime to condemn her this time around. She is far more comfortable, expresses much more versatility, especially in equilibrium and attitude (see vocals in Scaretale and Scottish accent in Turn Loose The Mermaids), and her vocals make most of the repetitive bits listenable. The emotion in her voice is never matched by the melodrama that becomes of the predictable chords and key changes, and repeated listens only embed that idea.
People will undoubtedly want to see the film after listening, but at film-length, this 75-minute mammoth is quite short of the masterpiece others make it out to be. The absence of motifs, in a concept album/film score nonetheless, lets the tracks roam free on their own (with way too many child choirs), and while it may fit the loose concept neatly, it personally feels slightly aimless and showy. Tuomas can obviously write well, as seen in Arabesque and the great poem at the end of the otherwise useless Song of Myself, not to mention The Poet and the Pendulum and other classics of the band, and while the introduction of many new elements into the band was a step in the right direction, their implementation came across as unnatural more often than not and unfortunately the storyline became lost. It was a great try and worth hearing, but only the hardcore fans will adore this one.