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Tarja's firing was a movement that was mired in controversy. Her operatic voice was clearly being used less since Century Child, and although at the time I thought that it was just a consequence of adding Marco to the vocals, their album "Once" made it clear that Tuomas no longer wanted her extremely high notes in at least most of his songs.
Once, however, gave us all reasons to believe that Nightwish was witnessing its twilight. The vocals were somehow influenced by pop music, the songwriting was clearly not as good as on their previous albums, and Tuomas tried to work with London's Philharmonic Orchestra to compensate it. Even the lyrics suffered: although Tuomas wrote some interesting ones (like Creek Mary's Blood), the overall quality was clearly worse than their previous works.
Of course, this is not a review about Once. The point is that when Tarja was fired, most fans thought that Nightwish would never make quality music again. I was one of these fans, and I admit that I bought the album thinking that it would be the last Nightwish album I would buy. Thankfully, I was badly mistaken.
Surprisingly enough, Dark Passion Play is a very solid album. It is not as great as their early masterpieces (Wishmaster and Oceanborn), but it was much more than I expected, and I am sure Nightwish has yet to reach it's peak. The album itself is very diverse: we get to see ballads (Eva, Meadows of Heaven), folk (The Islander, Last of the Wilds), and even pop garbage such as Amaranth and For the Heart I Once Had.
The album starts with the longest song Nightwish has ever recorded. Running for almost 14 minutes, “The Poet And The Pendulum” pretty much shows how good Tuomas can be in terms of harmonizing different timbres and summarizes the kind of album Dark Passion Play is. I would give thumbs up for the album just because of this song, which uses Anette's mezzo-soprano vocals, Marco's harsh, almost thrash metal voice, and Tuomas' creativity at the keyboard perfectly. The only problem about this song is surely the lyrics: Tuomas doesn't seem to feel that he is getting enough credit, and tried to praise himself as much as he could. I mean, come on, he actually inserted his name on the lyrics! I feel sorry for Annete, she shouldn't have had to sing such stupidity.
The second song (Bye Bye Beautiful) is probably the song that I liked the least if we exclude the true garbage (Amaranth and For the Heart I Once Had). Anette's limitations become clear here, and I felt like I just wasn't listening to Nightwish anymore. The third and fourth songs are pure pop garbage, which is bad for metal listeners but good for Nightwish as a whole: they were even praised by mainstream media, which is definitely not common for a metal band. I tend to see them as a resource that Tuomas found in order to increase the income, which is completely valid as long as he continues to please his true fans.
"Sahara", "The Islander", "Seven Days to the Wolves" and "Whoever Brings The Night" are probably the best songs here. "Seven Days to the Wolves" and "The Islander" show that female/male duets still do great in Nightwish, while "Sahara" and "Whoever Brings The Night" show that Empuu and Jukka aren't in the band just for the sake of having guitars and drums, being the latter an outcast in this recording, as it is the only song that focuses on Empuu's exceptional riffs. "The Islander" is also one of the most atmospheric songs that Nightwish has ever recorded: the folk nature of the song, allied with the relaxed vocals and the acoustic instruments easily makes you imagine the isolated old man that the lyrics talk about living alone in his island.
The main problems that exist in this album are Anette's limited vocals (which are actually terrible live, but I am not reviewing a concert), and the limited credit given to Empuu and Jukka, who were almost forgotten in all but two songs. Tuomas should remember that he has more than London's Philharmonic Orchestra to work with. Also, the gospel-like ending that Tuomas gave to Meadows of Heaven ruined a song that could be undeniably great.
This is not a perfect album, but it's definitely good. It is very different from anything that Nightwish has released up to now, and some old fans tend to not like it very much, but it is still very solid. We believed Nightwish would become something unacceptably crappy, but Tuomas proved us wrong.