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Making a definate judgement on this album has proved impossible for me, even after the months of listening to [at least some of] it on a daily basis.
To begin with, I'm one of the people who would give their grandmother to have Tarja back. That doesn't mean that Anette is a bad singer, nor does she seem like a bad person. What I don't understand is that out of the thousands of women who auditioned, why in the world would they choose someone so mediocre? They could have gotten one of the best vocalists in the world, had they so chosen. But yet we have Anette; a pop singer with no classical training, a very small range, and so little expression in her voice. She simply does not have the power to bring Tuomas's lyrics to life the way Tarja could, nor does her voice blend with the music with that same perfection. Plus, I can't help being annoyed with the fact that the first quality mentioned when describing what Nightwish wanted for their new singer was good looks. Well, they got that...and if Anette makes a better friend and band member than Tarja, that's all well and good too. But when this is the woman that the one of the most popular bands in Finland chooses to replace the greatest talent in female-fronted metal, you know there's a lot more than producing good music that they're worried about.
That brings me to my main problem with the album: commercialism. I don't consider this a sell-out album, but it's creation was obviously geared toward lining the pockets of the band and the record label. The passion and inspiration found in the previous releases is gone, save for in The Poet and the Pendulum, which was written back in 2005. The other tracks, for the most part, feel so forced. And as for commercialism, playing the worst songs on the album, "Bye Bye Beautiful" and "Amaranth", on Euro MTV every hour shows how hard they're trying to make it more accessible to the alternative rock and popular music scenes. And it's working, if you look around at all the new fans: trendy teenagers in Slipknot shirts. Tuomas once said that without Tarja, there would be no Nightwish. He also makes it clear by the progression of their sound and lyrics, what was happening. Tarja got married with the recording of Century Child, the most angry and emotional album. Once was full of sorrow and beauty, but the passion was already being lost. ["Tired, but unable to give up, since I am responsible for the lives I saved" -Dead Gardens]. Now, with the calculated Dark Passion Play, it seems that the main reason for keeping the band alive is to make money. Despite anything else, that factor alone causes this album to lose a lot of my respect.
Instrumentally, Nightwish is harder and more complex than ever, and, while it's different, what of their albums hasn't been a drastic change on the one before? Still, while I love the symphonic aspect, the orchestra drives this album and overpowers all else. Once pushed the boundaries on the use of orchestra; Dark Passion Play ran right through them. Nevertheless, the music is wonderful in a lot of ways, with the best guitar riffs thus far and even more of a progressive sound. I wish the album didn't carry that same tone all the way through, though...film scores get kind of old, and the songs are not nearly varied enough. This is exactly where I'm torn - this could easily be called both their instrumental best or worst creation.
Lyrically, I'm also undecided. The subject matter is more varied, and it certainly can't be called bad by any means, but the heartfelt poetry of Once would now more accurately just be called 'lyrics'. The album art, too, bothers me...overly computerized images like the front pendulum are a mark of laziness, in my opinion.
As I and almost every other reviewer here has mentioned, the 14-minute opener, The Poet and the Pendulum, is undoubtedly the best song on the album and an immediate Nightwish classic. It encompasses perhaps the greatest fury and sweetest sorrow of all Tuomas has written in just one song. The orchestra, chior, harsh vocals, boy sopranos, and the band itself are all put to great use here. I know this is a worthwhile Nightwish song because, like my other favorites, it made me cry upon first hearing it. This song is a masterpiece of symphonic metal.
Everything after that...not so much. "Bye Bye Beautiful" is reminiscent of the ever-annoying "Wish I Had An Angel", and, like "Master Passion Greed", is lacking in class and modesty by its blatant insults toward Tarja and Marcello. "Amaranth" is something of a dance tune and would have been much better as a bonus track rather than the first single, and "Eva", while relaxing and pretty, gets boring very quickly. "Whoever Brings the Night" is an interesting song, at the very least, and this, along with the powerful, churning rockers "Sahara" and "7 Days to the Wolves", make the album worth the purchase. "Meadows of Heaven" bores me, but I do appreciate it for the unexpected gospel chior and gorgeous piano.
Overall, I'm disappointed in my favorite band. And yet, I'm glad that they did make this album and do enjoy listening to it, if not to the same extent as their older work. For serious Nightwish fans, even those who despise Anette, I recommend that you buy this album. Nightwish's trademarks are still present, and it will grow on you if you give it the chance. Buy it, too, if you're a symphonic rock/metal fan who hasn't really gotten into old Nightwish yet. Be prepared to hear what Tuomas Holopainen can really do when you do get around to listening to Oceanborn and Wishmaster, though. You'll find that so much of what once filled those notes is now gone.