Review Summary: Not quite as raw as you'd imagine.
We're now at a point where Tarja's solo career has lasted longer than her time with Nightwish. It's probable that the Finnish vocalist looks back on her exit from Nightwish as a blessing in disguise more than anything, considering her solo back catalogue has explored a lot of different musical styles. Some albums have garnered moderate success (What Lies Beneath
), others have been forgotten over time (My Winter Storm
), but generally Tarja Turunen has progressively (re)built her reputation as one of the more reserved voices in the Symphonic metal world. That is to say, she writes and performs music for her own gratification rather than a quick stab at former glories.
Latest album In the Raw
certainly lives up to the impression given by its title-at least for the first three songs anyway. Featuring nothing more than straightforward, mostly metallic grooves, opener “Dead Promises” and the following two songs demonstrate Tarja at her most predictable and echo 2004-era Nightwish, only with a lot less memorable hooks and certainly less inspiration. The first three songs of this album focus on essentially pulling you into Tarja's heavier, more accessible side, but in doing that distinctive symphonic charm has been lost. Sure, the choruses are decent enough, but it's hard to get into songs that last almost six minutes and don't give you enough to get stuck into other than pop-metal sensibility. At least “Tears in Rain” turns out to be a heavy barnstormer with an aggressive mid-section, even if it doesn't have anything else going for it.
Fortunately, things get a whole lot better and more interesting from this point onwards. “Railroads” was chosen as another album preview but is the first one to actually give Tarja's operatic soprano more room to breathe. Whereas on previous songs she simply sang with too much of a one-dimensional voice, this time she gives you a full range of what she's capable of. Sure, it's little more than a ballad but its serene, gentle prowess manages to lull the listener into a more comfortable, suitable musical field and by the end Tarja seems to have regained full control of her own songwriting. The album's second half indulges in the more epic side of what Tarja has to offer. Forgettable Disney-esque multi-parter “The Golden Chamber” aside, there's more to get stuck into. “Silent Masquerade” is a progressive nuance focused on narrative elements and dives deep into a more complex musical background, doomy guitar work echoing earlier Epica and featuring arguably one of the strongest vocal performances from Tarja yet. Similarly, “Spirits of the Sea” also has more complex songwriting in its favour. Demonstrating a folk-tinged style to begin with, the song opens into an epic albeit soothing performance, and goes on to provide one of the heaviest instrumental sections Tarja has been involved in.
Essentially, Tarja has given us an album that is bottom-heavy if anything. In spite of the first few songs aiming for a heavier, accessible finish and not quite hitting the peak, the rest of the album allows Tarja to give you a taste (but not quite a full scope) of how versatile her songwriting can get when she decides to do so. People will still be comparing her solo material to whatever her peers have been doing, but treating In the Raw
as a generally well-rounded solo effort is better than wishing it was a continuation of 2002's Century Child