Since 1996, Tuomas Holopainen and his band, Nightwish, have collectively been an authority in the European symphonic metal game. Hailing from Kitee, Finland, Nightwish have already toured the globe many times over, released seven full length albums, one EP, a few DVDs and several singles. Their most recent accomplishment, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, is their eighth full length studio effort and will be released in the United States on March 31, 2015. The album introduces Floor Jansen (After Forever) on vocals and brings back Troy Donockley (formerly a session musician for tours) on pipes, flutes and whistles. Kai Hahto (Wintersun) has also stepped in as a fill-in drummer on this record, as Jukka Nevalainen was forced to temporarily step aside due to chronic insomnia.
Now, as far as this album is concerned, Nightwish fans may be forced to ask themselves a tough question- Which era of Nightwish is better? Those of you who long to be reunited with original vocalist, Tarja Turunen, along with the simpler song structures that were without the help of the London Symphony Orchestra, might be disappointed. Endless Forms Most Beautiful (a title hailing the naturalist, Charles Darwin), is a huge, busy, dark, heavy, ridiculously powerful symphonic metal album. In fact, the only song that disappointed me was the first single, “Elan” not that it’s even that bad a tune. But any fan of Nightwish knows that this band is notorious for choosing simple, “safe” songs to be their singles.
Here’s my take, from start to finish, track by track:
The opening track, “Shudder Before the Beautiful”, introduces a fast tempo, melodic heaviness right from the beginning. Instantly, Floor’s vocals fit perfectly with the overall sound of the new lineup. Certain notes and techniques reminiscent of Tarja take hold, but Floor also brings some unique qualities to the table, which only add to the intricate but very catchy riffing. There’s a back and forth guitar and synth solo section in this song that might remind the listener of how Children of Bodom might approach a part like that.
“Weak Fantasy”, gravitates towards the big booming movie soundtrack end of the Nightwish spectrum. It’s powerful, captivating and introduces a soaring vocal dynamic between Floor and bassist, Marco Hietala (Tarot). The two produce melodies that gel so well, it’s hard to imagine the band without either of them at times.
“Elan”, the current single, is a small and safe song with very few surprises. It’s catchy and has a solid balance between the six members. However, most fans might agree that if every Nightwish song went in this direction, they might be a pretty easy band to write off.
“Yours Is An Empty Hope”, is the loudest, fastest song so far. It’s also the epitome of symphonic metal. Huge choirs give you goosebumps throughout the track and are accompanied by a series of well-timed explosions.
“Our Decades In the Sun” settles things down quite a bit. It’s mostly piano and vocals, until Emppu finally appears on guitar much later in the track. It had me thinking, “Sleeping Sun” the entire time.
“My Walden” is very happy and folky. Troy Donockley shines on this track. There are some pop rock elements as well, which completely contradict the first five tracks, however they don’t take away from the band’s overall sound. If you liked “Last of the Wilds” or even an earlier upbeat instrumental like “Moondance”, you’ll be fine with this song.
“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is once again, very simple and safe for being the title track. It’s a good song and probably a great choice to keep the crowd motivated for the live show, but nothing really extraordinary happens here. I wouldn’t call it filler, but I also wouldn’t call it a statement. I felt it was too bland to be impressive, but too sophisticated to be written off. It’s a Nightwish song.
“Edema Ruh” is a very hoppy song with a solid clash of symphonic and folk elements. Marco and Floor split this song evenly in the vocal department and there’s a real feeling of youthful revelry here.
“Alpenglow” might be your biggest disappointment on this album, but only because it’s the second filler track of sorts and you’re itching to get through it, because you know the bone crushing, monumental conclusion is coming.
“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is an intro for the last track, or at least that’s the impression that I got. It’s primarily an instrumental, aside from a youthful choir singing quietly in the background.
“The Greatest Show On Earth” is 24 minutes long. No, I’m not kidding. There’s a calm atmosphere slowly building up to full on vocals, guitars and drums for the first few minutes, but once the first climax is reached, they keep on coming. Each time a new mountain is climbed, the terrain changes completely, allowing for a new ascent up a whole new structure of musicianship. Fans of longer epic Nightwish tracks like “Ghost Love Score” or “The Poet and the Pendulum” will appreciate this. At one point, Richard Dawkins comes in as narrator and fills your head with thoughts of the beginning of the end of the world, just before a massive explosion slams into your ear drums. This explosion paves the way for the heaviest, most cinematic sounding piece of metal music I have ever heard. The way the six elements of this band come together with the orchestra in this section is uncanny and Tuomas’s composing skills really shine here.
I suppose I’d recommend this album to any fan of metal, just because of the musicianship and layering present on it. Nightwish purists will most likely be disappointed, but my advice to them is to forget that it’s Nightwish for a little while and hear some interesting stuff. At the very least, it’ll make you want to watch a Peter Jackson Tolkien film.
In other great local news, Nightwish will be performing at Buffalo NY’s Town Ballroom on April 16, 2015.
Key tracks: Shudder Before the Beautiful, Yours Is An Empty Hope, The Greatest Show On Earth