Review Summary: Despite the loss of their most recognizable member, Nightwish has hardly lost any momentum.
The dismissal of front woman Tarja Turunen from the storied symphonic metal band Nightwish was and continues to be one of the most controversial events in European metal. For many listeners, dedicated or otherwise, Turunen was Nightwish. While Tuomas Holopainen has always been the true creative force, her once distinct soaring operatic vocals were always the most instantly definable elements of the Nightwish sound. In the now infamous open letter to Turunen, the band proclaimed that they expelled her from the band due to her growing arrogance and lack of dedication to the band, as well as her husband's manipulations in their internal affairs. Indeed, the band tackles the subject of Turunen's departure directly on "Bye Bye Beautiful", lamenting the loss of their good friend while imploring her to realize that they never intended anything but the best for her. While it does sound a bit condescending, they seem to be more regretful of her departure than anything else. This is hardly the case with "Master Passion Greed", in which they drop their typical use of poetic and vague language, and instead opt for an all-out attack on Turunen's husband. The sheer vitriol delivered in the song outclasses even the ripping "Slaying the Dreamer" from Century Child
But it is when Holopainen goes in depth into how the split and it's very public aftermath affected him personally on "The Poet and the Pendulum" when the band truly shines on all fronts. Transitioning from driving choruses, melancholic and tense transitions, and even a genuinely disturbing bridge, it's quite a ride. Holopainen starts by confronting his dissatisfaction with his life and mood as a whole and wishing to be taken to "dreamer's hideaway", of which the meaning is not clear at first. But after speaking of the horrors of betrayal making him unable to trust anyone around him, and even reveling in the idea of his own death and dishonor, it is clear that he called from a very desperate place. Everything in the song is nearly perfectly thought out, from Anette's melancholic voice telling his tale of regret, to the well-timed build-ups and the final, calming outro, to Marco Hietala's startling, furious screams calling for the celebration of Holopainen's death. "Pendulum" will very likely go down as Nightwish's masterwork.
Most of Dark Passion Play
is heavily dependant on the now commonplace elements from the group. Nightwish have always had a very bombastic sound, but Dark Passion Play
takes it to a whole new level. Many of the songs have many layers of orchestra lines, such that the full picture of a song's structure can only be truly perceived by close listening. The opening epic "The Poet and the Pendulum" exemplifies this trait more than any other song, driven by the strumming of the violins while allowing Holopainen's keyboard and occasional horn lines to create a very immersive experience. Just as immersive as "Pendulum" is "Sahara", which, combined with the epic orchestra and one of Nightwish's signature choppy riffs, creates a feeling not commonly heard on a metal album: mystique. "Whoever Brings the Night" starts out as a guitar-driven song, but goes for an epic approach during the excellent bridge section, while still maintaining it's eerie mood. When the orchestra is not going full-on, it can be found providing a wonderful, lush atmosphere. "Cadence of Her Last Breath" uses this to great effect, with the exception of it's lackluster chorus, and its driving bridge section.
Unfortunately, the orchestra occasionally ends up being a detriment to the album. Detractors of Nightwish frequently claim that the band uses the orchestra as a crutch, and while it seems to be a rather silly accusation, both "Amaranth" and "For the Heart I Once Had" do end up doing so. Both songs are very high on bombast, but very low on substance, standing out as the least worthy cuts on Dark Passion Play
. "Amaranth" is easily the most radio-friendly song on the record, and the only value it has comes come the admittedly catchy chorus. While ballads have always been one of Nightwish's strengths, "For the Heart I Once Had" ranks as the worst ballad they have ever done, by the simple value of lacking any sort of character besides being the obligatory song of its type.
The fact that Emppu Vuorinen takes a backseat role with guitar once again may serve as a disappointment to some, but it works well with what they've developed, and his occasional moments of prominence all prove to be at least moderately enjoyable. His thrashy riffs on "Master Passion Greed" end up making it Nightwish's heaviest song. Combined with Hietala's groovy bass line and his aggressive Dio
-esque vocals, it makes one of the standout tracks on the album. "Whoever Brings the Night" is also largely Vuorinen's turn to shine, with a very memorable and atmospheric riff, and a shredding solo. Unfortunately, his solo hardly fits in with the rest of the song, being backed by very sloppy transitions in both the beginning and end.
Besides the typical Nightwish sound of orchestral bombast and choppy riffs, Dark Passion Play
showcases a bit more folk influence that had been felt for the first time since Angels Fall First
with "Creek Mary's Blood" from Once
. "Last of the Wilds" is a loose and unrestrained dance between guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and piper Troy Donockley, and while it may be just a bit disjointed at times, it's a very fun piece. The band even forsakes their trademark sound for the Celtic ballad "The Islander", an ode to a long-forgotten Island dweller sung by Hietala. Despite being completely different then the entire rest of the album, "The Islander" ends up shining through as one of the finest cuts.
Of course, with all the controversy about Nightwish's vocalist switch, the burning question on many listeners' minds is how well Anette Olzon performs. When compared to her predecessor, it's very clear who is the superior vocalist, but this isn't entirely Olzon's fault. Most of the material was written well before auditions were completed, and Olzon occasionally demonstrates that by singing a bit too high for her own range (One thousand one nights unseen, The philosopher and the queen
). There are times where it seems that she doesn't quite have the power in her lungs to raise her voice over the massive orchestra, but, to give her credit, she does do her best. "Eva" provides the best showcase for her vocal ability, and its there and the otherwise dreary "For the Heart I Once Had" where Olzon feels most at home. In essence, she did about as good of a job as she could, and with a little time to adapt, she will likely find her place in the legacy of Nightwish.
Despite going through the major shakeup of losing their most identifiable member, little has changed for Nightwish. Even the presence of the pop-inclined Anette is unlikely to have any significant effect on their direction, as they have found a formula that they can not only rely on, but build upon as they have done with the further integration of Celtic music. While it's hardly a masterpiece, Dark Passion Play
is ultimately another solid win for Nightwish.