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As everyone knows by now Nightwish kicked out their iconic and much adored vocalist at the height of their fame, plummeting them into mire of cynicism, childish dismissal from Tarja fans and abandonment from the press who had clamoured to interview and promote them in the Once days. Rather than disband to rest on their past laurels or try to resurrect their old glory by imitating it, they have resurfaced with an album so very different yet full of the melody, passion, creativity and emotion that has long made Nightwish so adored. The new singer Annette Olzon is certainly not Tarja Mark 2. Whilst Tarja’s voice was heartbreakingly sad, coldly distant and overwhelmingly majestic, Annette’s is warm, open and full of happiness and enthusiasm; even the ballads are never sad, instead full of hope and love. Of course not everyone will like this change, but Annette’s talent in undeniable and her range and power is unquestionable.
The most striking thing about this new album is the level of creativity and difference between the songs, in many ways it is reminiscent of the melodic side of avant-garde metal such as Arcturus and Diablo Swing Orchestra. The vast majority of metal bands with outside influences either use them so little that they’re insignificant or milk them as their only gimmick. This album does neither, taking vast amounts of very diverse influence, making excellent use of each but relying on none.
Power metal – though Nightwish’s power metal side has been in decline since Wishmaster there’s somewhat of a return to form with DPP. First of all the vocals are enthusiastic, bright, high pitched and expressive. It sounds nothing like Tarja, but a lot like a female equivalent to most male power metal singers. As well as Emppu’s perfectly composed and passionately played solos there are some wonderful power metal riffs in here, more so than any other ‘femme metal’ band around. For one example listen to 7:37 in the massive Poet and the Pendulum; I almost cried with joy. And that’s only one part of Nightwish’s longest and most sophisticated song.
Thrash metal – Marco’s impassioned old-style thrash yelps and screeches make the ‘beauty and the beast’ pseudo-death metal growlers of most bands sound pathetic. Master Passion Greed is an excellent thrash power song reminiscent of a more complex Morgana Lefay, entirely sung by Marco. The thrash influence is also evident in some excellent riffs throughout the album.
Symphony – There’s no classical and no opera: the ‘symphonic’ side of Nightwish clearly draws almost entirely on film scores, which is no bad thing, the more immediately dramatic and overwhelming sound fits with the bombast and speed of power metal perfectly. No other band blends metal with symphony so clearly, neither side ever compete with the other for space as is the case with most similar bands, the guitars and drums know when to silence to allow the orchestra to shine and there’s more than enough room for awesome riffs and solos. The utterly flawless orchestration and production is a large part of this as well as the composition. This is present throughout the album but best displayed in the vast epics Poet and the Pendulum and Seven Days to Wolves.
Folk Music – The Islander is based around a Native American sounding melody with acoustic guitar and Marco’s newly found beautiful clean voice. It creates a unique feel that I can only describe as being somewhere between serene and ‘piratey’. The instrumental Last of the Wilds is a straight up cheery Celtic piece, thankfully given a decent length unlike the paltry instrumental intros to most metal albums.
Eastern Music –Every metal album seems to have an obligatory ‘eastern sounding song’ and Sahara so obviously fitted this bracket I almost laughed when I heard it. Though the instrumental influence is present but not massive, just listen to the crazy Arabic sounding singing towards the end and tell me you don’t love Annette.
Pop music – Yep, Annette used to be in an ABBA tribute band and it’s blatantly obvious in the infectiously catchy very straightforward Amaranth. The album is full of the wonderful vocal melodies that have always been a Nightwish signature.
Musicals – The very soft ballad Eva which made a rather uninspiring single works so much better between the bombast and drama of the other songs around it. It is a song about love and devotion, not tragedy, hence makes a very different sort of song to most metal ballads. The line ‘the good in her will be my sunflower field’ is one of the most touching lines I have ever heard.
Gospel – The very end of the album, towards the close of the lengthy ballad ‘Meadows of Heaven’ explodes with a Gospel Choir in duet with Annette. Yes. It sounds like those crazy African American ladies in churches wailing their hearts out with their love for Jesus. Sounds stupid doesn’t it? Surprisingly not, it’s the most original and inspiring way to end a metal album I have ever heard.
Influences that are thankfully definitely NOT present in Dark Passion Play:
Gothic music – I doubt I was alone in fearing Nightwish would jump on a faggoth bandwagon of some sort in their future direction. This album is almost never depressive or tragic and not a moment of goth rock or even gothic metal sound is to be heard.
Industrial – This album has no ‘Wish I Had an Angel’ sound-alikes, everything is very flowing and natural with no electronic beats whatsoever.
Nu Metal – Nightwish’s huge popularity with many alt-rockers has led to accusations of being ‘mallcore’, but these are as entirely unfounded as ever, there’s not a trace of it here. Yes there are power chords, but there are power chords in every metal band. There are more 'metal' riffs here than on a ManOwaR album for example.
The lyrics sadly are not as poetic or emotional as before. Usualy they're uninteresting, occasionaly too much more of Tuomas's self-pitying silliness and twos ongs dedicated to slating Tarja and her husband. The artwork is simple but perfect, with the sense of wonder and excitement that fills the music. The digipack comes with the whole album as orchestral intrumentals. Enjoyable and worth having but not as engaging as the real thing as the gaps where the vocals are meant to fill are too obvious.
Many Tarja fans will not be won over because Annette is so different and of course people who hate bombastic, melodic, sensitive or feminine metal will still hate Nightwish. For most fans of female fronted symphonic metal, the importance of any Nightwish album is given but the absence of semi-operatic warbling, which was the ultimate in love-hate vocals, will open Nightwish up for people who didn’t enjoy Tarja’s style. The new areas this album covers; its immense diversity and increased complexity will hold a lot of appeal to people who find most symphonic and power metal too repetitive, predictable and straight forward.