Review Summary: "Ever seen the Lord smile?" After listening to this there is nothing else to do but smile.
For fifteen years Nightwish has entertained audiences throughout the world with their brand of music. With this longevity came changes of band members and musical direction. Their debut Angels Fall First saw a raw combination of folk and power metal music with operatic vocals. Oceanborn and Wishmaster polished up all of Angels Fall First’s faults and in turn made the band create two of the best power metal records ever recorded. On the verge of a near split in 2001, Tuomas Holopainen decided to change the direction of the band. With newly added bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala, the music switched from pure power metal into more of symphonic metal with Century Child. Once in 2004 brought the band to new mainstream heights and resulted in the first real foray into pop to add to the already existing elements. After a highly publicized and covered break up in 2005 with former vocalist Tarja Turnen, the band recruited singer Anette Olzen and started anew with Dark Passion Play. That album took symphonic metal to a place it had hardly ever reached and indulged the genre with it’s over the top and bombastic nature.
Now we are here in 2011 and the band has not only been recording new material for an album, but filming a movie as well. Being called a pseudo movie soundtrack of the same name, Imaginaerum
takes every single aspect of music that Tuomas Holopainen has written these past fifteen years and crams all into one album. We get the folk artist that the band was originally supposed to be. We get the power metal that turned them into legends of the genre. We get the symphonic material, that while has always been apart of the music, has both alienated and garnered fans. Add all of those qualities to some new ambitious one, and the music world is shown an album on a scale that some may not realize in grandiosity.
“Taikatalvi” is the perfect way to start off an album of this caliber. Combining original Nightwish with the current one, the song uses Marco’s incredible soft vocals with Tuomas’ arrangements to create one of the strongest tracks; add the song being sung in native Suomi and the band may have just inadvertently made one of their most heartfelt songs. Imaginaerum is not limited to “Taikatalvi” when it comes to the slower paced songs. “Turn Loose the Mermaids” returns to 1996-1997 Nightwish with a band whose vulnerability and rawness helped propel them into what they became today. However, this song needed to just be the five piece band and not use the entire orchestra because for once, the orchestra turned a song that works so well on its own for the first couple minute into an over the top bombast that should not have been. “The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove” makes a strong case to be the second best track on this album. Marco and Anette’s duet it nothing short of remarkable and the poppy folk feel to the song makes it one of the band’s most accessible songs. Every aspect of this song works.
Unfortunately Nightwish has been perceived as a band that has “sold out” over the past eight or so years. This term has irritated me more than anything when critics speak of the band. While Once and Dark Passion Play were somewhat filled with “pop” metal songs, Imaginaerum has one song, “Storytime” that can fill this category. If anything Imaginaerum tries to attempt a return to the power metal of old Nightwish. “Ghost River” is a power metal song, nothing else. Emmpu dusts off his ESP guitar and gives a riff that belongs on Oceanborn or Wishmaster, not a 2011 Nightwish album. The orchestral elements of the song essentially are the rhythm guitar; take them out, throw a real guitar in and it’s a straightforward power metal song. “I Want My Tears Back” also feels like a throwback with Troy Donockley’s gorgeous playing of the uilleann pipes. Add the middle solo between Troy, Emppu, and Tuomas and we have a musical cross between Stargazers, Moondance, and Sacrament of Wildnerness all in one song.
Finally there are the “epics” of the album. Yes there are more than one epic on this album. First off is the appropriately titled “Scaretale.” There are not enough adjectives to describe this monster of a tune. If you took Danny Elfman’s music and combined it with Enter Sandman’s lyrics interpreted by Tuomas with some sprinkle of Pantara riffage and a circus leader that looks and sounds like a viking, you would get a little bit of what makes “Scaretale.” It is one of those quirky and fun songs that Nightwish have previously lacked while maintaining the Nightwish sound. “Rest Calm” is quite interesting. There are the obvious influences of doom metal bands My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, but the song has such a gorgeous and melodic chorus that adds another dimension to the song. For those who have said the song does not get out of hand at the end, they clearly do not hear the amount of musical layers the end goes through. There is so much clashing going on musically in the final minute.
One song on this album reinsures my beliefs of Nightwish being the best band in the world: the Walt Whitman inspired Song of Myself. The song starts off mostly like every other song on the album with strings and overuse of the choir but shines when Anette starts singing. The first two parts of the song From a Dusty Bookshelf and All That Great Heart Lying Still may end up going down as the band’s greatest musical achievement. From the verses, to the sing along chorus, and the amazing musical bliss that is the violins during the chorus, Tuomas outdid himself once more. For being a thirteen minute song though, the song kind of dwindles down around the seven minute mark. However, the six minute poem written by Tuomas (and not a recital of the Whitman one) and spoken by various people is quite remarkable once one can sit down and really listen to the words being said.
is nothing short of epic and over the top. Tuomas has combined every aspect that he has written and been inspired by over the past fifteen years. Add some new influences
like the jazzy song (which I still can’t decide if I like) “Slow, Love, Slow” plus the maturation of Anette’s vocals, and the band has easily created their most ambitious album. There will be complainers saying the band still sucks because they don’t have Tarja or they aren’t writing any inspirational songs and are boring, but those people are so far away from the truth. While Imaginaerum
is set to be an album to support the film, it is able to stand alone. This is undoubtedly a Nightwish album and for 75 minutes Jukka, Emppu, Anette, Marco, and Tuomas took me to a place filled with fantasy, harlequins, roller coasters, mermaids, and self.