Europe: Home of some of the greatest metal and, indeed, greatest SYMPHONIC metal bands known to mankind. One of the most well-known bands in this genre is Finland’s Nightwish.
Their flair for story-telling knows no limits and, it’s quite clear, that keyboardist/songwriter Tuomas Holopainen has no shortage of ideas in his mind when it comes to creating a new aural journey for Nightwish fans. This band has gone through a few line-up changes, most notably with singers… so let’s start there. Originally, we had the breathtaking, dark and angelic Tarja Turunen. She made knees weak, mountains crumble and hearts soar with her memorable operatic voice and is responsible for one of the most eras in the band’s career, creating 5 mammoth albums before the band sent her on her departure in 2005.
A bittersweet feeling swept over fans when her replacement, Annette Olzon, was introduced via (what I refer to) as “Tarja’s official send off song” because, in essence, that’s exactly what it was. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll find yourself agreeing. We all grew to love, and even accept, Olzon with the release of 2011’s “Imaginaerum,” which later saw a full-length film created for it (go out and buy it… trust me!). This was only the beginning of the blossoming story-telling ability the band had developed over the years… and so, naturally, it had to get better, right?
It was announced in October of 2012 that she, too, would be departing the band… but fans never feared for a second. They had grown fond of the band’s ability to pick suitable vocalists and it was apparent.
Floor Jansen, the group’s current vocalist, joined just over a year later along with Troy Donockley who, prior to being announced as a full-time member, played various instruments on both “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginaerum“… making the band a sextet for the first time ever.
Last week, the band released their 8th studio album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” which shows that the group is in their most powerful form with the current line-up. Jansen brings together both the operatic elements that we loved about Olzon that, let’s face it, weren’t there during her tenure. Along with that, she’s able to bring soft-spoken verses to life in the most beautiful way, colliding perfectly with the music… to create a side of Nightwish that has yet to be seen. But how does the album itself fair against the rest of their career?
I’m proud to announce to you that this is one of the few albums I’ve ever reviewed that won’t have “key tracks” — that is, tracks to focus on. This epic was meant to be listened to as a whole and no song feels quite complete with the others.
One of the best parts of a symphonic metal album, especially a Nightwish album, is the ability for the music to go from extremely light and airy, straight to a full-on metal assault. Such as the transition from “My Walden” to the title track “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.”
I believe they did a great job in choosing their first single in “Elan” because it represents the overall idea of the album very well while, at the same time, leaves you begging for more. It’s quite mysterious and, some might say sounds a bit playful, but the track unmasks such beauty that you feel your heart soaring right along with it.
Of course, we couldn’t have a Nightwish album without songs that sound like they could be put into music box form, right? They’ve got you covered with “Edema Ruh“, the 8th track on the album, just 3 songs before the 23-minute long epic closing track “The Greatest Show on Earth“, but we’ll get to that later.
As each song progresses, you feel yourself more entranced, almost hypnotized by the music… led along by Jansen’s breathtaking voice. It doesn’t matter what emotion you’re meant to be felt, if it can be conveyed through music… Nightwish can make it happen, without fail, every time. Honestly, there’s not a single song on this album that I don’t find myself connecting with on some level.
So… if you ask me my favorite track? My answer will be, for the first time ever… “I don’t have one.”
This is one of those albums truly deserving of the praise it will receive, and my next portion of this review will give you a good idea why. As the haunting 10th track, “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” comes to a close, the chills slowly subside… but, what you don’t know, is you’ve still got a 23-minute long soundscape entitled “The Greatest Show On Earth” to come… and you only THOUGHT you were enjoying the album.
There are few bands in existence who can keep a listener completely attentive for the duration of a track this long… Nightwish is one of those bands. This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted something like this. But, it’s the longest song of the band’s 19 year career, so it has a lot of hype to live up to. Starting with thundering drums, coupled with symphonic backings and Holopainen’s magical keyboard skills is a good way to go, though, because it immediately sucks you in, and you know you’re in for the long haul. A couple minutes in, a dark air begins to surround the track and a female choir led by Jansen enters, adding that oh-so-mystifying vibe to it. This is the first track where you truly begin to hear the operatic nature of Jansen’s voice, building up and then letting off before dropping back into an instrumental piano session.
Suddenly, our narrator comes in — starting a story of how beautiful the world around us can be — before the full band finally joins in. Mind you, this little bit is only 6 minutes in, and the track suddenly takes shape into a beast… is it beautiful or horrible? That depends on your outlook because, before you can decide, it begins to take flight — spreading the most beautiful wings — led on by Jansen’s beautiful voice. It takes flight and lands several times before taking on another form…. one of terror. This new, demonic form has the head of the beloved Marco Hietala, who has brought nightmares to many a Nightwish fan with his ability to bring the darker nature of Nightwish to life.
When we get to the end of the track, we find out the true nature of this album — being reborn, truly living life because you’ve opened your eyes to the beauty surrounding you, even in the darkest of odds. It is an exact personification of everything that Nightwish, as a collective, have been through in their 19 years of being a band. That’s the end, curtain call — on to the next performance — which is sure to be a knockout, as always!
I’ve been a fan of Nightwish since the release of “Oceanborn” so, to say that I enjoy this newest album more than anything they’ve ever done is TRULY saying something. This album is everything that Nightwish has been working towards in their many years of being a band. They are truly a dynamic, ever-changing, ever-growing… and evolving to such mammoth proportions that fans can only wait with bated breath to see what will come next.
“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is not just a new album, it’s a rebirth of the band… a re-imagining if you will… a chance to show the world what they’re made of! That is why I have awarded “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” my first nomination for Album of the Year of 2015. A little early, you say? Go pick up your copy, out on Nuclear Blast Records today, and see if you don’t find yourself thinking the same thing!
Buy “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”
“Elan” (Official Music Video):
Floor Jansen – vocals
Tuomas Holopainen – keyboards
Marco Hietala – bass & vocals
Emppu Vuorinen – guitars
Jukka Nevalainen – drums
Troy Donockley – Pipes, flutes & whistles
Barrett Stephens is a Kansas-based freelance writer and music lover. Follow him on Twitter at @.
Promotional photos © Ville Akseli Juurikkala