Review Summary: Tarja Turunen's latest album The Shadow Self is her best yet. She manages to blend many different musical styles together to form a true master piece. This album surprises me on every listen.
Tarja Turunen, probably all fans of the symphonic metal genre know about her. Back in the day she was still in Nightwish Tarja was very well known for her operatic vocals. After she left the band back in 2005 she decided to move forward as a solo artist. Starting with the album My Winter Storm (not counting her classical album Henkäys ikuisuudesta) and concluding with 2013’s Colours in the Dark. All of them were quite good, but always lacked something to really become special. How is that with her latest release, The Shadow Self?
The album starts off with Innocence (which she released as a single earlier). This track contains a gorgeous Chopin inspired piano solo and the heavy metal sounds from the electric guitars and drums. These blend surprisingly well together, topping it off with some very powerful vocals. A definite highlight and a great way to open up the album. The second song Demons in You is a duet with Allisa White Gluz who provided the track with growls and ‘clean’ vocals. The song starts with a funky guitar solo that slowly transitions to a heavier hard rock sound. Then the growls from Alissa and Tarja’s vocals kick in, blending together to form an interesting but hectic track. The third track (No bitter End) is a well-known song, it features on the Brightest Void and it have been released as a single earlier. The song does come with some twists, Tarja added an interesting intro and changed the bridge. This slowed down the song a bit which works surprisingly well.
The middle of the album is my favourite part. Starting with the very strong Love to Hate, which features very well written lyrics. This song is probably about someone who’s feelings have been hurt deeply and therefore build a wall around him/herself to avoid getting hurt again. The way she sang the sentences: “Who do you think you are? I gave you the stars” and “Breaking the cage, run against the flames. Distrust and bitterness. It dies today”. Really gave me goosebumps. Combine this with the great composition and production of this song. It instantly became a personal favourite.
Next up is Muse cover Supremacy, I already enjoyed the original but Tarja really managed to drag this one to the next level. Starting with perhaps the lowest vocals she has ever done while beautifully transitioning to (probably) the highest note she has ever reached. Even though I enjoyed this track a lot there is one mistake. The guitars and drums have been mixed in front of some of Tarja’s vocals. That in itself is not much of a problem, but they have been placed in front of the highest notes I have ever heard from her. Which I found to be a huge shame. The next song is called The Living End, this is actually the only ballad on the album. Although it is by no means a bad song it struck me the least of all songs. Tarja’s vocals as well as the instrumentals sounded a bit monotone compared to the rest of the album. I simply felt like it did not really fit the record. A funny fact though, is that Tarja stated she would never use bagpipes in any of her songs in a interview, because they always sound out of tone to her. She actually ended up using them in this tune and they work quite well.
Track 8 (Diva) is probably the most interesting song on the album. It got a Caribbean feel to it, mainly because of the sound effects (sea, talking sailors, etc.) and the lyrics. Singing lines like “Sweetest mutiny, ship was sinking” and “Couldn’t stand all the rats on board”. What I particularly liked about the lines is that, while having a Caribbean feel, they contain a totally different message. Some even argued they got something to do with her departure from Nightwish. I personally think the lyrics mean something broader, they are about betrayal and eventually coming in a better situation than the traitor.
From this moment on Tarja ramps the heaviness of the album up a bit. Starting with a different version of the track Eagle Eye, which already featured on The Brightest Void. Mainly the electric guitars and the drums sound heavier. The track also features Tarja’s brother Toni Turunen who supplied the song with strong vocals. This song turned out to be an interesting Hard Rock duet between two totally different but skilled vocalists. Undertaker and Calling from the Wild sound quite similar, but Tarja proves that it is not necessarily a bad thing. The first features a well-executed cello opening transitioning to a heavier sounding combination between drums, electric guitars, keyboards, cello and of course Tarja’s vocals. The latter features a very strong intro with a gently played guitar and gorgeous vocals from Tarja. Then a cool heavy electric guitar sound kicks in, which slowly transforms into a quite bombastic track. Featuring operatic vocals with a lot of electric guitars and drums.
The last song (Too Many) is a pretty strange song. It starts of as a recognisable Tarja song, but concludes as a song that does not sound like Tarja at all. It features some incredibly heavy guitar sounds and even a techno dance piece. I am not going to tell anymore about this part, but I would suggest to keep listening when the cd stops for a couple of minutes. The first six minutes features strong lyrics about letting your fears live your live instead of you living your dreams. Although the song gets quite repetitive in the end, repeating lines like: “Many too many. Living their fears. Only few won't fade away. Not too many. Facing their tears. When sunrise outshines the grey.” Tarja still manages to keep the track interesting by making use of many instrumental shifts. Unlike some of the previous tracks on the album, the message she wants to bring does not leave much room for debate.
This album kept me hooked from start to finish. It even seems to be getting better with every listen, there simply is so much going on. There are very powerful vocals, strong lyrics (which cover many psychological subjects), experimentation (Diva, Innocence, Too Many) and a great production which ties it all together. To answer the question in the first paragraph, yes. She really did manage to offer that extra something what makes her stand out and find her own niche within the genre. I would recommend this album to everyone with an open mind towards music. If you usually do not listen to heavy music, this album is a great one to start doing so.