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When I knew that Alyson Avenue's former vocalist, Anette Olzon, was chosen to be Nightwish's new female vocalist, I immediately thought "Tuomas Holopainen wants to do something different and better than 'Once', he's been asking for freedom for years and now he finally has it". The change from a soprano voice to an experimented rock-style voice always brings something else with it. And in this particular case, it brought the best album of its year.
I must admit that the first single, "Eva", wasn't good enough to announce a CD like this one. The song was too slow and too "soft". The only good thing about "Eva" was that it was perfect to show Anette's voice as a member of the band.
But the greatness of the album was first presented with the release of the second single, "Amaranth". This song brought a clear proof of Nightwish's new age: the sound is clearly different, the atmosphere is more symphonic, and the combination music-vocals-choir is something only seen a few times in the past of the band. Still doubting? Well, "Amaranth" became Gold in Finland just two days after its release, and reached #1 in Finland, Spain and Hungary.
I bought "Dark Passion Play" (Spinefarm Version) two days after the European release. I heard it completely the first day, and I was completely amazed. In fact, "amazed" is almost nothing compared to what I felt then. The album includes a lot of musical influences: symphonic, gothic, Irish, Finnish, rock, gospel, etc. The music goes from a new sound to the early days of the band, from a stabilized style to an experimental one. The dreams of any symphonic-metal lover come true with this album.
The album starts with a 14-minute epic melody, maybe the greatest song in Nightwish's history: "The Poet and The Pendulum". A song dear to Tuomas and divided in 5 parts, "The Poet and The Pendulum" is a song that seemingly required a lot of inspiration, depression and musical freedom to be created with that kind of perfection.
One of the things that have turned "Dark Passion Play" into an extraordinary album is the new sound that is shown in more than the half of the tracks. "The Poet and The Pendulum", "Amaranth" (maybe the most representative song of the new sound, a pure symphonic metal song), "Cadence of Her Last Breath" (an aggressive song that includes gothic metal and alternative rock influences), "Sahara" (a strange 1001 Nights-like song that forces Anette's vocal skills like never before) and "Whoever Brings The Night" (an experimental song that has alternative rock influences and that is one of the most complex songs of the album) are songs that couldn't be expected from the band when Tarja Turunen was the female vocalist. It seems that Tarja's dismissal has released Nightwish from the chains that tied them for years, and led the band to experiment with a new symphonic-metal style.
"Meadows of Heaven" is also a very surprising song. The idea to include a gospel choir in this song (and it's the only one of the entire album that includes that kind of choir) gives it a very particular context, taking us to the place that the lyrics describe in a form that is rarely seen in music.
Another surprising point is that the other band members also participated during the composing, arrangement and mastering of the album. Marco Hietala, for example, finally had the chance to write a song by himself ("The Islander", a very beautiful acoustic Irish-like ballad where he also performs leading vocals and acoustic guitars) and to entirely sing another one ("Master Passion Greed", an aggressive trash-metal like song that is the heaviest of the album and the heaviest of the band's history).
Also, there are two more songs that must be mentioned with all these "shockers": "Last of The Wilds" and "7 Days to The Wolves". The first one, "Last of The Wilds", is the only instrumental song of the album and one of the few instrumental songs the band has ever released. Although it's a little long for an instrumental track's regular length (it's over five and a half minutes long), it's one of the best song of the album. Its Irish atmosphere, combined with the Finnish instruments, gives an awesome imaginary story that can be heard more than once without becoming boring.
And the second one, "7 Days to The Wolves", is the result of the excellent vocal arrangements made by Holopainen. A 50-50 song between Marco and Anette, with both of them being lead vocalists, with a slow beginning and a speedy end... what else can anyone ask?
Even the Japanese bonus track, "The Escapist", is interesting. As a song completely sung by Anette with great lyrics, it's not weird that it had been one of the tracks that received mostly positive reviews. Only because there wasn't enough space for it in the album the song didn't appear, otherwise it could have been seen on the regular editions of the album doubtlessly.
Of course, nothing is 100% perfect, and with this I refer to the songs that have nothing spectacular or different to show: "Bye Bye Beautiful" (a song with Marco Hietala performing lead vocals and that can be compared to "Wish I Had an Angel"), "Eva" (a soft song that is not well situated in the tracklist, because it's between the heaviest song of the album and the aggressive "Sahara" intro) and "For The Heart I Once Had" (an Anette-led song that has some rock/pop influences and that is the sweetest song of the album, it could have been a great idea to replace it with "The Escapist").
From this album, it's impossible to select the worst song, because all of them are a vital part of it, and if one or more are put apart, "Dark Passion Play" loses it delicate harmony.