Review Summary: Nightwish has somehow created the most and least Nightwish sounding album to date. Its peaks are triumphant yet the album is scattered with inconsistencies as well.
For the past fifteen years Nightwish has been my favorite band. If you look at my ratings of their albums you will notice that the lowest (Angels Fall First) is still a 3.5. My original name here at Sputnikmusic (PoetandthePendulum) is now a shortened version of one of their songs. Simply put this band has meant more to me than any other and I consider them unconquerable kings (and queen) or music, regardless of drummer, singer, or any other member they add or subtract to the band. Will that allow me to present a completely unbiased review of Human. :||: Nature. their newest album? Most likely not, but I plan on trying anyways. Human. :||: Nature is seventeen tracks spanning across two discs and over twenty years of a sound that the band’s main songwriter, Tuomas Holopainen, has experimented and perfected. However, each disc is rather different from one another and needs to be discussed separately, especially when it comes to the unnecessary, yet interesting, second disc.
Disc One begins with “Music.” The first half of the song is an instrumental buildup consisting of tribal chants, epic choirs, and piano; this has been the typical Nightwish sound since their album Once. Around three and a half minutes into the song, Floor comes in with beautiful soft breathy vocals before the song continues into a bombastic chorus and a rare Emppu guitar solo. For the most part, “Music” feels like a spiritual continuation of “The Greatest Show on Earth” from their previous album. It is a good song, but there are a couple of minor issues. It takes a little long to get going and would have been better if it was a five-minute song instead of seven and a half minutes. Furthermore, starting the album with this song made me feel like this was going to be Endless Forms Most Beautiful Pt. 2. I love that album, but I am hoping for something different.
Regrettably, these trends continue with “Noise,” “Harvest,” and “How’s the Heart.” The former is the typic single akin to what the band has been releasing since 2011. Again, it is not a bad song, but it’s too familiar to bring much excitement. The latter two songs are a direct result of multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley being a permanent member of the band. Ever since Dark Passion Play’s “Last of the Wilds,” each album showcases a song influenced by Celtic music. Unfortunately, the band has never recaptured the magic of that song and both “Harvest” and “How’s the Heart” end up being the two weakest songs on the album; although, Floor’s singing is definitely the highlight as she proves her softer singing voice can be as effective as her belting one.
So, at this point, how is this album a 4 if three of the songs on Disc One are nothing special and the second disc is unnecessary? Casting aside the bias I have towards this band, the five songs that have not been discussed are among the most unique and best written songs of Nightwish’s catalogue.
The first time I listened to “Shoemaker” I was floored (pun somewhat intended). It combines aspects from the band’s debut album with the over the top orchestral choruses that became a staple for the band. However, the song does not completely follow the typical verse, chorus, verse, chorus, orchestral interlude, chorus formula. An east-Asian influenced keyboard motif is present throughout while Kai Hahto’s drumming paces the song. Breaking down the song instrument by instrument reveals a typical Nightwish song, but strangely enough they have never released a song like this before. After a spoken interlude by Tuomas’ wife Johanna Kurkela, we are greeted with an ending whose style was hinted at during the beginnings of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” but hasn’t been on a Nightwish album since 2004: a full blown operatic vocal. It is beautiful, amazing, wonderful, and every other adjective that heaps praise; and when the male choir joins Floor at the end…. well words cannot describe my initial reaction for what I thought was going to be my favorite song.
Nevertheless, “Shoemaker” is not the best track on this record. That honor goes to a song that fits right at home on my favorite Nightwish album Wishmaster: “Pan.” Nightwish has always been at their best playing uplifting sounding power metal songs with lyrics to match. This style of music almost disappeared completely from the band’s catalogue. (albeit made a triumph return with “Edema Ruh” on their last album) This would have been a shame because they always did the genre justice. After a gorgeous opening piano line from Tuomas into a triumphant orchestral bit, Floor begins with her soft vocals that have been a focus on most of the album to this point. Once the chorus kicked in though, I was transported back to my 14-year-old self. The drums, bass, and guitar each have noticeable bits scattered throughout and the only thing missing is a throwback Emppu guitar solo. This hit the nostalgia emotion hard as I could not stop smiling for the rest of the song.
The band’s history of ballads has been hit or miss. They end up being one of the best songs on the album (“Dead Boy’s Poem” “The Crow the Owl the Dove” “Our Decades in the Sun”) or they drag down a potentially all-time great record (“Forever Yours” “Ocean Soul”). In this case, “Procession” is somewhere in the middle. In a recent track-by-track breakdown, Tuomas said he was musically influenced by the first season of Stranger Things and it shows because the aurora of the track gives the mid-80s vibe of that theme song. This track also has the best singing from Floor on the entire record. There is a return of the operatic vocals during the middle portion, but her tone throughout the rest of the song is phenomenal. She takes center stage for this song as everyone else plays a supplementary role.
In similar fashion to the rest of the first disc, the final two songs are influenced by previous musical facets or songs from the band. “Tribal” musically would have fit on Dark Passion Play as it combines the Middle Eastern vibe akin to “Sahara,” in conjunction with the heaviness of “Master Passion Greed.” The bridge consists of some badass animalistic tribal grunting which leads into the best drumming in the band’s career. Kai Hahto is the unsung hero of the whole record because his drumming on this song is remarkable. As for “Endlessness,” it is the prequel/sequel to “Rest Calm” from Imaginaerum both musically and lyrically. Marco finally gets his time to shine as he is the lead vocalist for this one as he showcases his duel vocal style of Broadway star and carnival leader. This is most apparent in the song’s conclusion as the pace slows to an almost methodical pace, which fits the theme of death/rebirth. Lyrically this is the most interesting song on the album and the doom-like musical influence fits to the end of the disc perfectly.
After nine songs and a fifty-minute runtime, you would think that this would be a good ending point for an album that is more reminiscent of their shorter albums such as Century Child and Once. Nope, there is another thirty-one minutes of material spanning eight additional tracks of the larger “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World" This is entirely orchestral and there are no vocals aside from spoken words by actress Geraldine James on the first and last tracks: “Vista” and “Ad Astra.” After the roller coaster ride of the first disc, the second disc is a complete disappointment. The individual songs are nice and there are some great parts, but when eight of the first ten minutes of the disc are not particularly memorable , I am disappointed. Fortunately, “Moors” and “Ad Astra” are masterpieces. “Moors” is what the Celtic/Irish successors of “Last of the Wilds” failed to achieve: a feeling of being among green fields and trees in the middle of nowhere. Nightwish should stick to instrumental Irish songs.
As for “Ad Astra,” it ends the experience of Human. :||: Nature better than any previous Nightwish album. It perfectly captivates the ups, downs, disappointments, and amazement I had while listening to these eighty minutes of music. It is far from perfect, but Nightwish took me to a place where I did not think about the uncertainties surrounding our current global landscape. Escapism is powerful and Nightwish provided that once again. Interestingly though, the final spoken words on the album, which were originally said by Carl Sagan, address our world and provide a power message as well.
“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
That’s Here…. That’s Home…. That’s Us.