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Let me start by saying this album should have no 'Nightwish' written in it, not because it's bad, it's actually near decent, but because this is definitely not the same band. This release has a completely different feel to it, with more epic pieces than in previous ones, though prevailing a more pop oriented style in most of the songs, mainly to fit the vocals of the new singer.
Don't expect to find ANY resemblance of the Tarja-age, to put it this way, you'll be looking fore needles in the wrong haystack. That is to say this albums is much more varied than the previous ones and overall heavier. Even the more poppish songs such as 'Amaranth' bring a 'denser' and heavier guitar usage. That power metal thing is inexistent, while the symphonic side is more explored here. The orchestra and choirs used throughout the album are great and contribute well to the sound of the album, the aforementioned epic feel. Thumbs up for Tuomas here. Which brings us to the long introducing piece, 'The Poet and the Pendulum'. About 14 minutes long, it's well built and uses both Marco's harsh vocals as well as Anette's clean vocals. No instruments disappoint here. BUT it could perfectly end at 10:00. The last part, though adding to and finalizing the lyrical stuff, is way too slow and sleepy and could be left aside. Still, being the first time we can hear the new singer's voice, the listener is not let down.
Anette shows us her pop side in 'Amaranth' and 'For the Heart I Once Had', mainly. Well, for the traditional heavy metal listener this may be rather unpleasant. The former song brings us back to a bit of power metal sound, which some might find interesting. The latter is just total crap. Another side of the new voice, a much nicer one and way better explored together with the instruments, is shown in 'Sahara'. The desert like ambience matches the singing well and the ending is great.
'The Islander' is a song apart. An accoustic ballad, who could expect this from Nightiwsh? I mean, there are no keyboards here, how could that be the same band? And, more important, who could deny this is an absolutely pleasant song?? Well, needless to say anything else about this, you simply won't be let down. A perfect (non-metal) piece.
Following there are two songs which are nice but not perfect. 'Last of the Wilds' is like a folk metal sequel of 'The Islander', It's actually pretty fine, but not that great. Then there's '7 Days to the Wolves', where Marco makes good presence alongside Anette. The only problme here is the song is a bit overlong. Closing the album is 'Meadows of Heaven'. You'll like it if you enjoy extremely melodic pieces with, and I'm not kidding, gospel choirs...It's not that bad though, it's just long, tiring and gay. Some people happen to be fond of that stuff. If the release ended on the previous it would have been better.
Just to mention, there's an odd song, which certainly doesn't fit the band neither the album. It's like a harder kind of approach, using just Marco's vocals, and, well, not very good. 'Master Passion Greed' is a challenge to sit through, with bad ideas and bad performances, which translates as overall annoyance. And also there is 'Eva', the real ballad here. Melodically, it's good, it has fine lines but is the zenith of what stains this sometimes decent genre: girliness. Put aside the pop feel, the trendy lyrical style, the simplicity of what could be generally a lot more interesting (listen to Ne Obliviscaris for a more experimental and amusing use of a lot of instruments mixed together), what really drags it down is the fact that it's gay and claims to be metal, wearing what's supposedly the metal outfit and imagery (leather pants and the horns) and making that abominable paste of gothic make-up. This song shows that in its lyrics. Who wants to hear about a child whom Santa forgot to visit in his revenge-seeking trip from coca-cola company to the vietnam rainforest? What is amazing is that, apart from that, its a good effort. Just don't pay attention to what she's singing and you wont suffer from dysentery.
This could be a good album after all, but when you look better at it, half the songs are useless crap and trendiness and gayness haunt it. The effort is though valid. Summarizing...this is not Nightwish. It's a different band, and it sounds fresh and varied. By exploring the right directions they can make something truly worthy and original. Just get rid of this pop sound, use more of Anette's nice stuff and please don't let Marco take the microphone without decent ideas. Thinking twice helps. Sells less, weighs more.
Highlight: The Islander
Personal favourite: Sahara
Shitty gay song: For the Heart I Once Had