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Well, it's happened: after years of in-the-closet fighting, creative differences, and sloppily-handled romantic antics, Nightwish-founder Tuomas Holopainen got the rest of the band to oust their acclaimed leading lady, Tarja Turunen - a move most drastic, seeing as Mrs. Turunen not only has been the band's frontal image since its conception, but possesses probably the most celebrated voice in all of gothic metal.
All personal resentments aside, this seemingly catastrophic ejection is the direct result of a calculated mainstream appeal: the majority of the fans that have flocked around the band in recent times did so because they considered their previous album, "Once", to be the best thing in the world: pandering to western alternative rock standards, the album was a collection of pop melodies disguised by Tarja's (less-)operatic(-than-usual) vocals and an orchestral score.
Seeing as his fanbase now largely included fans of Evanesence and bands of the sort, Tuomas figured it was time to display his directive clout, and fired Tarja in exchange for the less-talented Swedish songstress Anette Olzon: classically-tuned vocals were no longer essential to the band, and what better way to appeal to the American market than to recruit a singer who actually sounds American? - after all, now Nightwish can forget about the defining aspects of their previous ventures and focus on the lovely bones that are turning them into millionaires: pop orchestra and a sexy frontwoman, who rocks and grinds in their music videos like a Playboy model!
Somewhere along the way, however, somebody in the band had the idea that in order to prove to older fans that despite turning into media sellouts, they were still the Nightwish that they still knew and loved, "Dark Passion Play" would have to be more diverse and incorporating of old musical touches that got the band initial fame.
Though this collected variety saves the album in the end, it's a sordid attempt: entice newer and incoming fans with super-catchy chart-toppers ("Amaranth", "Bye Bye Beautiful"), and keep ahold of older veterans with recycled material from their earlier albums ("The Islander" is very reminicent of "The Carpenter").
All that being written, it's still difficult to view the album as empty: sure, it's melodramatic, overhyped, and still inferior to Nightwish's better works (namely, "Oceanborn" - which the majority of new fans will not have the patience to sit through)...but goshdarnnit - it's an entertaining bit of fluff. Listening to Anette gayly trill such meant-to-be-sad lyrics like "The never-fading rain in/Your heart that chooses snow white sorrow" is the equivalent of a cheap high, as you can hardly help but sing along to a band that's supposed to be composed of head-banging rockers. You can ignore the lyrical undertones of "Bye Bye Beautiful" and "Master Passion Greed" (which attack Turunen and her Argentinian husband, respectively) for their consistencies as replacement-metal. The rest of the songs are fun, chuckle-inducing filler, with the exception of "The Poet And The Pendulum", which is easily the best song on the entire album: great composition, orchestra, and movement and diversity; if only the rest of the album had been like it...
Yes, Nightwish is quickly turning into a modern-day Poison: flashy, overhyped, catchy, and completely undermining their abilities; Tuomas Holopainen's musical ingenuity has gone out the window, guitarist Emppu is distracted enough to get involved in two other bands, and bassist Marco exists to belt lyrics in duets and to snarl at the camera during music videos (drummer Jukka remains as distant and unseeable as ever). Great stuff if you're interested in european metal for its catchiness (-insert sarcastic chuckle-), but it's hardly your older brother's Nightwish. "Dark Passion Play" is definitely worth listening to, and maybe even buying - decide for yourself on the grounds of whether or not you want to hear Britney Spears perform with Metallica.