Nightwish continue their mesh of symphonic and gothic metal, but this time with more bagpipes. Oh, and a new singer.
Okay, I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way now. When a new Nightwish review hits the interwebs, the first attached comment will always be one of two options:
1. Old Nightwish good, new Nightwish bad.
2. Tarja good, new singer bad.
So, I’m gonna play the part of the father in Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Lancelot skit. Let’s not argue about who killed who and worry about the output currently before us. After a four year stint of touring, Nightwish finally released their eighth studio album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful. It is a bombastic collaboration of punchy, melodic metal songs and beautiful ballads, flavored with new influences here and there. And that means featured vocalist, Floor Jansen, whose voice is a growing entity in the metal community. With the range, power of Tarja Turunen and playfulness of Anette Olsen, Jansen fits well into the Nightwish machine. If you need proof, just watch her rendition of “Ghost Love Score” during their set at Wacken Open Air, 2013. Can you say goosebumps?
After twenty years, Tuomas Holopainen continues to show his songwriting chops, and although he’s facing a wall in regards to progression, the catchiness and darkness that is Nightwish continues in Endless. The album is everything a Nightwish fan can expect, from symphonic passages and chugging riffs, to just that epic fucking explosion of sound, so I’m sure that demographic is pleased with the release. Well, besides the spammers I just called out, of course.
Now, since the music is everything that is expected, that unfortunately means Endless Forms inherits familiarity with little regard to direction. More of the same. Tuomas Holopainen shows he still has his Disney-inspired bombast — see the epic “The Greatest Show on Earth” — but strays into his back catalogue for inspiration, often rehashing melodies and riffs.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying the songwriting has become lazy, but the album, like Imaginaerium and Dark Passion Play, sounds like Once. He’s comfortable. Every leading songwriter faces that moment, where “using what works” leads his or her direction over past ambition. And, who’s to blame Tuomas? During the late 90’s, Oceanborn, Wishmaster, and Century Child redefined power and gothic metal, and Once brought the band into the mainstream as a full form symphonic metal outfit. With that formula, they became one of Finland’s most successful bands. Their current sound works. But brassy, Zimmer-like blaaams here, derivative chugging there, and random, folky tunes get tiring after the hearing them for the fourth and fifth time.
“Shudder Before the Beautiful,” although rehashing riffs and melodies from “Dark Chest of Wonders,” is a by-the-books Nightwish opener. Scientist Richard Dawkins leads a voice over — pretension aside, a solid choice by the band — before the song explodes in true Nightwish form. Moving melodies, Floor’s powerful, belting voice, choirs, you name it. Not the most refreshing piece of music. Yet, the track introduces the album’s approach and style like a good opener should, thus succeeding. I didn’t think I’d notice Jukka’s absence that much. There is a distinct sound difference with Kai Hahto (Wintersun) behind the kit. Whereas Jukka pounded away, Kai tends to rely on simplistic measures. I mean, sure, Nightwish isn’t exactly known for its complex drum patterns, but Jukka added flair and power to the band’s sound. Maybe it’s Endless’ mixing, with the drums muddled deeper in the master track, rather than Kai’s ability. He holds his own, but fails to capture Nightwish’s classic barrage.
“Elan,” the band’s leading single is taken straight out of Dark Passion Play[‘s] playbook. On this track, Floor adopts Annette’s more poppy register, leading the melody forward. At this point, I started to realize how underused her voice is on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Like Annette’s Passion Play, this album stands as a “getting the hang of it” experience for the new singer. You get one warm up, Floor, and then it’s game time! I want to hear the climax of “Ghost Love Score,” not the safe territories of “Alpenglow.” That’s not to say she stays under the radar. Not at all. Her voice shines on “Edema Ruh,” and the album’s closer, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” but is mostly restrained where it could be brought out to the forefront. For some reason, when Floor reaches out, her voice falls deeper into the mix, overshadowed by classical composition or bagpipes. Ugh, the bagpipes. Even bassist Marco Heitala seems restrained, the duality of the male-female trope all but an afterthought. Shit, the whole band sounds restrained on this album, come to think of it.
I’m not going to sit here and talk shit about Nightwish’s 2015 LP the whole time. “The Greatest Show on Earth” is an astonishing piece of Disney-style, smack-your-ears-and-make-you-cry songwriting, and is one of Tuomas Holopainen’s best productions, with its soaring melodies, genre bending epicness, and wonderful vocal performance by Floor. There’s even a weird safari passage, which successfully immerses the listener by creating paranoia. This paranoia is then punctuated by a well-timed barrage of riffs and symphonic goodness. Meanwhile, “My Walden” features a tasteful — notice I said tasteful — folk direction, thanks to the band’s rhythm section and guitarist Empuu Vuorinen’s creative riffing. Immersive, that’s what I enjoy about Nightwish’s patented sound. Each song fits together. Yes, the album sounds like its predecessors, but like those predecessors, the album feels like a complete experience, or more to the point, a film soundtrack.
This is an album for prog heads and power metal enthusiasts. But, for someone who has followed the Nightwish for years, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by its self-derivative nature. Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a solid continuation of their symphonic sound, however hindered by stagnant songwriting and iffy production values.
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