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I Am The Voice Of Never-Neverland - 92%

Twisted_Psychology, April 6th, 2013

Is it me or is Nightwish essentially trying to one-up themselves on every album they put out now? Century Child saw the recruitment of Finnish metal legend Marco Hietala as bassist/vocalist, Once brought in the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Dark Passion Play had a dramatic lead singer switch with Anette Olzon coming aboard and brought them greater recognition here in the States. Now four years later, Nightwish has come back with what may be their most ambitious effort to date: a concept album about a dying writer falling back into childhood with its own tie-in film! But while the band does have its eyes set on some pretty big heights, the reality may be a little more comfortable than one might think.

Like the last couple albums that Nightwish has put out, Imaginaerum could best be described as a collection of symphonic pop metal songs with a few genre-bending moments and an overall conceptual feel. Of course, the narrative is emphasized more than usual with there being an atmospheric opener (“Taikatalvi”), an exotic instrumental interlude (“Arabesque”), and a nifty closing medley. This album also seems to continue the trope of the band members themselves offering rather mixed prominences with their performances. On one hand, the guitars and drums are still relegated to rather basic patterns outside of the more aggressive songs. On the other hand, the keyboards are strong in the face of the orchestra and the bass is surprisingly quite driving.

But in a rather surprising twist for a Tarja supporter like me, I think Anette’s performance may be the most enjoyable thing on here. She was pretty good on Dark Passion Play, but she sounds much more at home on here. She’s playful, seductive, generous with vibrato, and even hams it up on the enjoyably goofy “Scaretale.” Unfortunately, Marco’s vocals aren’t as strong though he does get some fun moments and sweet harmonizing in here and there. And like the last few albums, the orchestra and symphonic elements are as omnipresent as ever. They fit in pretty well overall though there are some instances that would’ve been best if executed in a more subtle fashion. The choral elements may sound great on tracks like the “O Fortuna” inspired “Last Ride Of The Day,” but seriously guys, was the children’s choir on “Ghost River” really that necessary?

At any rate, the extensive variety in the songwriting is what ultimately makes this album worth looking into. The more upbeat songs are probably the most entertaining though even these differ in several ways from one another. “Storytime” was an incredibly wise choice for lead single thanks to its infectious vocal lines and grandiose chorus while “I Want My Tears Back” has the folk feel that made “Last Of The Wilds” such a fun listen. The album also has a melodic side that also manages to work quite well. While the bombarding “Rest Calm” is largely driven by chugging verses, its sweeping chorus does have a feel similar to that of “Amaranth.” The unusually titled “Turn Loose The Mermaids” and “The Crow, The Owl, And The Dove” are also noteworthy ballads that avoid stereotypical structures in favor of a more subdued outlook.

As several others have pointed out, “Slow, Love, Slow” is easily the album’s biggest surprise. Serving as an atmospheric jazz ballad, it features a very sly Anette crooning with a sweet piano backing and smooth brushes of percussion standing out. Not a bad experiment for a group of musicians that had no previous experience with jazz whatsoever!

Unfortunately, the album does have one underwhelming track in the form of the thirteen-and-a-half minute long “Song Of Myself.” Nightwish has had an amazing track record with lengthy suites in the past but this one seems to fall flat. It still has some good moments in the first half but the spoken segments during the second half really overstay their welcome. The monologues themselves are interesting in terms of what is being said but there’s no way you can have seven minutes of spoken material in a piece without having it come off as padding…

Ultimately, this album isn’t too far removed from the band’s last few albums. At this point in time, I think Dark Passion Play may be a stronger album in terms of songwriting but the more conceptual feel and the more comfortable band dynamic may be enough for this to eventually be seen as a superior release. Of course, even if Anette’s vocals are better than they were this time around, this release probably won’t be enough to end the lead singer debate that has surged over the last few years. Cynical buggers like me will still yearn for the days when Nightwish had more instrumental complexity and Tarja’s operatic delivery, but this is a pretty decent album for what it is. Think the movie will be any good?

Current Highlights:
“Storytime”
“Slow, Love, Slow”
“I Want My Tears Back”
“The Crow, The Owl, And The Dove”
“Last Ride Of The Day”

It's not Oceanborn, but it doesn't have to be - 80%

EspadaNegra, March 21st, 2013

The last album with singer Anette Olzon marks, ironically, the fine-tuning of the sound the band has been developing since she joined the band in 2007 (probably even since Once, Tarja's last album with the band). And this is not necessarily a bad thing, regardless of my feelings about her vocal styles and the band's musical direction. However, those feelings simply cannot hide the fact that I really liked this album, that I find it to be a coherent and enjoyable experience. I can't deny it, even if the core Nightwish sound has over the years been mixed with other rock and pop elements. Not even the fact that Tuomas Holopainen cites Tim Burton films (which I hate) as inspiration can make me not be fair with the merits of this album (although, he also cited Salvador Dali and Neil Gaiman as inspiration, so I guess whatever came from those influences is what I like).

The album opens with a song entirely in finnish, and serves as intro to the album. It's called "Taikatalvi", which means “magic winter” in finnish and represents some elements of the album itself and the movie (which I have not seen and so will not discuss here). However, it's not your common intro in a metal album, not only because of it being a song with lyrics, but because it truly introduces musical aspects that you will be finding across the album. Not only its melodic softness, but also the sense of magic and fantasy that the album throws out.

There is something to be said about these themes in the album. The fantasy undertones in the music contrast with aspects of the songwriting, but this contrast is deliberate and goes with the themes of the album. While it is not a story or continuous narrative, the songs still seem to be as if sung by the same “narrator”. Overall, it is an album about life itself, the loss of innocence, lost love and opportunities, regrets, but also hope and enlightenment. From what I gather from what I have read about it, and the lyrics themselves, it seems to be like the lyrics are the reflections of somebody at the end of their life, so memory becomes a central subject of many songs. It is like a carnival of memories and lived experiences, so you definitely get the album cover design seeing it this way. At the end of the line, it is an album about life itself, and a celebration of it.

As diverse as the experiences themselves, so is the music. Here Nightwish delivers a package far more musically interesting than their previous attempt with vocalist Anette Olzon, Dark Passion Play. While that album had, for me, few standout tracks, Imaginaerum comes as a heavier and more diverse album, and good for being so. While purists still lament the band's speedier style of the past (with singer Tarja Turunen), this should not be a factor in gauging an album's merits. That being said, if you absolutely hated Dark Passion Play, there is a big chance you will not like this either.

Compared to that album, as I have said, this is heavier and more diverse, but if you are expecting a throwback to the opera/speed metal of the past, then you will not like this. Both albums share the orchestral element, although it was far more abused in Dark Passion Play (even in Once). But come on, even if we are metalheads, we don't listen to metal exclusively. As for myself, I listen to a lot of things, classical guitar music, orchestra music and film scores, jazz and fusion, blues, salsa, punk, even some hip-hop (usually the more politically conscious variety). So diversity in a metal album, for me, is not an issue just for that fact. So in this respect, I must really congratulate Nightwish for bringing different styles together in a coherent album, from the heavier rock/metal songs like “I Want My Tears Back”, “Ghost River” and the epic “Song Of Myself”, to its more experimental side with a nod to melo-death in the intro of “Rest Calm”, the folky parts of “Scaretale” and the jazzy tunes of “Slow, Love Slow”.

Keeping with this subject, the album has 3 slow, soft songs, and while that may be a lot to purists, these songs are really well done and add a great touch to the album as a whole. My favorite of these is “The Crow, the Owl and the Dove”, which is written by the great Marco Hietala, the band's bassist and figure of finnish heavy metal. This diversity makes the album shine, and I define it as an experience in itself, which is a solid criteria of any concept album (and I consider this to be a concept album, even if some people are used to that meaning a “story album”). It is gratifying, and I definitely appreciate that.

The compositions themselves have personality and have a memorable factor (like the song “Scaretale”, which goes from grand and epic to quirky and weird). The diversity is coherent in the whole, and the mental images the music itself brings out play a role in this. Dark colors, a shining moon and black waters, all these are motives in the lyrics and artwork, and one can surely feel this in the music itself. The band shows they are great musicians, no matter the style they decide to go to, and that is all that matters in the end.

As for gripes, Song Of Myself is one of the heaviest and most accomplished songs in the album, but it is ruined by its ending, which is the album's ending so that definitely affects the score I will give it. I think the forgettable aspect of the album is the ending. Song Of Myself runs for about seven minutes of rocking goodness, and then there is this 8 minute long monologue of various people talking about various things, which is interesting the first listen, but you really get no incentive to just finish listening to the album once Song Of Myself reaches the seven minute mark. The instrumental Imaginaerum is certainly interesting, and it incorporates in orchestral form many musical motives you heard on the rest of the songs. However, it just feels...somewhat strange that after such a powerful song, the album just ends with no climax. So, in that regard, it's great sex that inexplicably falls flat at the orgasm.

As for the vocals, I don't like Anette's voice (it"s too cute), although I like her in this album much more than in Dark Passion Play. I think she really comes into her own with the band's more rock and pop sound in ways she didn't in that other album. She has highlights in this, screams her lungs out here and there, so that was an improvement.

And for closing, I just got to say that after listening to this album and seeing Nightwish live (with Floor Jansen taking over vocals, adding a deeper layer to the vocals of the songs from this album), I just have to mention the brilliant performance of Troy Donockley in the uilleann pipes, both in the studio and on stage. A metal hail to you!

If I want to listen to Oceanborn, I just listen to it (and I still do, it's my favorite Nightwish album), but that album's greatness does not diminish the fact that Imaginaerum is a good listen.

Favorite songs: I Want My Tears Back, Ghost River, The Crow The Owl the Dove, Song Of Myself

Honorable mentions: Last Ride Of The Day, Scaretale, Rest Calm

Originally reviewed for METALURGIA (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Metalurgia-Radio-Huelga/213957288624946?fref=ts)

Another masterpiece from the symphonic metal giant - 100%

Argus_Eye, November 12th, 2012

Four years has passed since the release of their previous album Dark Passion Play which continued the change that had been in progress ever since Century Child, the movement to a more theatrical, more symphonic Nightwish. Imaginaerum continues that trend and takes it to a whole new level backed by The Looking Glass Orchestra (The London Philharmonic Orchestra) creating Nightwishs most orchestral and epic album yet.

The musical style of the songs on the album are diverse but the album never feels sprawling, they blend together in an exceptional way making the listening feel fresh during the entire duration of the album (74 minutes). It is strong, incredibly strong, every track, except for the maybe the a little bit redundant instrumental Imaginaerum, feels like they contribute with something on the album and every single song stands out, there is not two songs that sounds alike, they are remarkably well crafted and clear evidence of the mastermind Tuomas Holopainens ability to compose music.

The album tells us a story of an old composer lying on his deathbed thinking back on his life and starts off with the first pure intro ever on a Nightwish record, the beautiful Taikatalvi building up to explode into the poppy first single Storytime. Ghost River kicks off with one of the most distinct hard rock riffs I have ever heard from Nightwish and continues over to the smooth jazzy Slow, love, slow that gives the listener an interesting pause to then go blasting into the traditional Nightwish song I want my tears back complete with folk melodies and a refrain that immediately stick in your mind. Scaretale is the most theatrical piece Nightwish has ever written where Anette Olzon, giving her best vocal performance to date, during the song goes from singing to screaming like a witch and back to singing again. Arabesque is an instrumental track with some oriental influences that becomes like a crescendo for the first part of the album.

Following that discharge the tempo is lowered a bit in the calm and beautiful ballad Turn loose the Mermaids and continuing over to the mid tempo, and heavy Rest Calm. Then we have the only song that’s not written by Tuomas Holopainen, The Crow, The Owl and The Dove (written by Marco Hietala) it’s a semi-acoustic ballad with a catchy refrain. After that comes the only real power metal track of the album, Last Ride Of the Day it is symphonic and displays a Nightwish I thought where gone. And so it comes, the 13 minutes long epic Song of Myself, saying it’s a thirteen minutes long song is not entirely correct as it’s only about half the song that consists of music, the remaining 6-7 minutes are spoken words, at first this was quite shocking, but it grew on me and I would not consider listening only to the music-part, the word-part must be in there too, it’s too good not to be there. At last is the title track, an orchestral piece consisting of melodies from several of the songs on the album, but I have to say it is quite bland.

To sum it up; this album is one of the most well-crafted musical pieces I have ever heard. It displays the reason for why Nightwish is The Giant within the symphonic metal genre. They are simply so much better than anything else, the band is so tight and this set-up composes fantastic music no matter who sings in Nightwish, it may be Tarja Turunen, it may be Anette Olzon, the music holds a so high level of craftsmanship that it turns golden independently of the singer.

This is at least on the same level as Wishmaster, outshining every other album, but are you of the opinion that Nightwish post Tarja is shit, well probalby you are not going to like it.

Favourite tracks:
Song of Myself, Turn Loose the Mermaids and Rest Calm

Least favourite tracks:
Imaginaerum

Great expectations oft evoke great disappointment - 66%

MetalGuard, September 5th, 2012

Nightwish, what a band. Who would have thought that from the humble beginnings with "Angels Fall First" back in 1997, there would one day emerge one of the hottest melodic metal acts in the world. Today, the guys and girl from Finland are arguably the most successful melodic metal act that has managed to achieve this level of success while (or: despite) always staying true to their roots. Sure, they've always had their singles like "Nemo" and "Amaranth", but for every purportedly simple track, they've also always had their ten minute epics like "Dark Passion Play" or the nigh-unfathomable "Ghost Love Score", which to this day still seems their best song to me. At the end of the day, there is little doubt that Nightwish are one of the bands of the hour when it comes to melodic metal, and all the more interesting it is when they finally release a new album.

However, when I first heard their 2011 output "Imaginaerum", something was amiss. Something just didn't quite click. And I couldn't say why. Because the elements where all there, the necessary parts all in place. There were the big choirs, the intricate orchestration, the touching melodies, the sombre lyrics. Also the vocal work of Anette Olzon (who I am not a big fan of in the live situation) is decent on the studio recording. But still, something seems to be missing. And I can't help but feel that it's simply the "heart" that's gone missing here.

Over the stretch of the entire album, most of the songs just seem as though they were conceived purely by composer Tuomas Holopainen "going through the motions". Somehow it seems as though he just wrote several "parts that sound like Nightwish sounds", and then he put them together, seemingly at random. What that gets you at the end of the day is by no means a bad album, as Tuomas Holopainen knows exactly what he's doing, but it also doesn't give you a great album. You don't get an "Oceanborn". You don't get a "Once". You just get a watered-down version of "Dark Passion Play", delivered rather listlessly at times, devoid of much of the magic that would capture a listener on the more commanding records such as Nightwish's opus magnum, "Once".

Now make no mistake - "Imaginaerum" is by no means a bad album. If any other band had released this record, they would probably be hailed as the new saviours of melodic metal. But this is Nightwish we are talking about here, and they have raised the bar so very high for themselves, it will be nigh impossible for them to truly deliver a masterpiece that will ever meet all the expectations. "Imaginaerum" falls short of that on several accounts: For where the single "Storytime" still fits nicely in the tradition of earlier singles such as the aforementioned "Nemo" and "Amaranth", the overlong track "Song of Myself" is nowhere near the league of "Ghost Love Score", "FantasMic" or "Dark Passion Play"; the tedious narration towards its end may reflect a very personal side of Tuomas, but, simply put, it's just completely uninteresting to the listener.

Of course Nightwish manage to deliver some great songs and nice melodies on this album as well: "I want my Tears back" is reminiscent of the pounding "Wish I Had An Angel", "Scaretale" features some of the best vocal work from singer Anette to date, and "Last Ride of the Day", arguably the best song of the album, has developed into the new final encore at Nightwish's live shows. On the other hand, we get tracks like the slow and jazzy "Slow, Love, Slow" that seems out of place, the slightly annoying "Ghost River" with it's "Ain't talkin' bout Love"-like Riff, the already mentioned unlucky attempt of an epic in "Song of Myself" and a rather bland slower tack in "Rest Calm". Sure, Nightwish try here - but maybe they try too hard. Maybe they want to do something differently too badly, or maybe they just do what's expected of them too much at other times; at the end of the day, "Imaginaerum" just doesn't work well all the way through. Parts are great, as was to be expected, and the production is top notch - but it just doesn't touch the grandeur of "Once" or "Dark Passion Play" at any moment. It's a nice album for Nightwish, but nothing more. Fans will certainly enjoy it, and there are definitely less appealing records out there; but it didn't end up the ingenious masterstroke many of us were expecting. Maybe the material will work better in the context of the movie it was meant as a soundtrack for, but this still remains to be seen. As a stand-alone album, it doesn't let Nightwish live up to their full potential.

Not quite what we (Night)wished for... - 60%

Mark Ashby, March 2nd, 2012

It’s very rare that a writer approaches a review with trepidation, but it must be admitted (because we’re an honest bunch here at MA), this was one of those occasions. After all, Nightwish’s seventh album is so epic in scope that it comes in about a million different formats – and its own movie, ferchrissake! When the massive, double CD deluxe box set hit the doormat, the reaction was instantaneous – “holy shit, Batman, I’m either gonna love this or hate this”. Yes, it was definitely going to be one of those reviews with no middle ground, no room for prevarication, no dithering neutrality. It’s come down on one side or the other. Maybe. Possibly.

To be honest, there is one word which fairly describes and sums up the opus: EPIC! This is symphonic metal on the grandest scale, with huge riffs, huge subjects, huge orchestras, huge choirs...huge everything. Imagine Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam directing and Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Clive Barker collaborating to adapt Lewis Carroll and Brothers Grimm, with Salvador Dali designing the sets, Rob Zombie in charge of casting, and Richard Wagner scoring the apocalyptic soundtrack and you come somewhere close to taking just a small part in this conversation on the edge of insanity.

The album sucks you in slowly. Opener ‘Taikitalvi’ (or ‘Enchanted Winter’, thanks to the nice people at www.lyricstranslate.com for that) is a Finnish poem recited over subtle keyboards and pipes before ‘Storytime’ hits with a crushing riff that is somehow redolent of Rammstein in its power, against which Anette Olzon’s vocals sound childish and out of place, but maybe that’s the intention as it’s certainly the singer’s only weak performance on the album.

From here, the opus twists and turns its way through its surreal story, from the smoky torch song of ‘Slow Love Slow’ with its brushed snare and earthy vocals from Olzon (who drops her voice very effectively a couple of octaves) to the heavy metal jig of ‘I Want My Tears Back’, complete with Uilleann pipes and reeling fiddles to the appropriately titled ‘Scaretale’, where things really do start to get decidedly weird as Anne Rice and Frank Zappa rewrite ‘Alice In Wonderland’ against the backdrop of an acidhouse circus sideshow with the heavy orchestration and crunching melodies topped by Olzon’s particularly twisted and evil vocal writhings, which is a stunning performance in itself!

‘Turn Loose The Mermaids’ provides a folksy interlude that feels somewhat out of place, especially with Olzon’s wistful vocal (although it is a good song in its own right), and ‘Rest Calm’ and ‘The Crow The Owl And The Dove’ are equally iffy, the former starting unpromisingly, gathering momentum slowly only to be turned on its head and then finish strongly, the latter pure meaningless filler. ‘Last Ride Of The Day’, however, restores the balance with its choral symphony and lures you back into the magical freakshow with power and passion.

The centerpiece is the four-part ‘Song Of Myself’, a bold and dangerous piece clocking in at almost a quarter of an hour, it’s a mini-opera the second half of which is taken up by a spoken poem recited by the individual band members, their families, and various other cast members, making a daring yet strangely effective piece.

Yes, it’s grand and it’s epic, but without the coupling of the accompanying movie, ultimately unfulfilling. There are standout moments like ‘Storytime’, ‘Slow Love Slow’, ‘Last Ride Of The Day’, and the second and third movements of ‘Song Of Myself', which on their own are powerful proof that Nightwish make great gothic rock, but overall it’s sort of like watching a silent movie with your eyes closed and just listening to the soundtrack.

(This review was originally published on www.uberrock.co.uk)

Bad Music (TM). - 37%

Empyreal, March 1st, 2012

Okay, let me get something out of the way first: in recent months I have had something of a re-evaluation of Nightwish, and while I never used to like them, these days my taste accommodates their older, and I must stress BETTER records quite well. Oceanborn and Century Child are absolutely wonderful slabs of pop-sensible metal that transcends the boundaries of either genre for quite a riveting experience. However…this album is complete donkey testicles from beginning to end.

There seems to be a recurring trend in power metal albums lately, such as the magnificent latest Edguy album and the polarizing Days of Grays from Sonata Arctica, in which bands just take every idea they have and cram it into an hour-long variety show experience of sorts. Nightwish did that on here, as every song is different from the last and the album showcases quite a lot of variety and eclecticism, but that alone isn’t enough. If you’re going to make different music…at least make it GOOD. I shouldn’t even have to say that; that should be frigging obvious to anyone. But I guess I shouldn’t ever assume that again, based on the ass-numbingly long list of things wrong with Imaginaerum.

It’s hard to pin down what the worst thing about this is, because the band has crafted so many different and unique ways of annoying the ever-loving shit out of me that I can’t decide what to even mention first. Tuomas’s ego finally seems to have devoured the entire band this time around, as the songs have no flow or cohesion from one to the next. Instead of crafting memorable moments, his songwriting decision seems to have been based around the question “what can I cram in next to show how eclectic and different I can be?” This kind of flip-flopping comes off as incredibly silly and immature, almost like a musical version of a really bad fanfiction for a popular TV show or cartoon – a downright caricature of a once respectable band. The band spreads themselves in so many different directions on this album that they seem to have forgotten what made them good to begin with.

There are moments of grandeur on here, but the band never builds them into entire songs of might and majesty, never seems to connect the dots to create something memorable or truly powerful. On old albums Nightwish effortlessly fused classical symphonic work with jagged metal riffing and pop-sensible choruses – where is that seamlessness here? Here, we just get “Ghost River,” which is an asinine song full of awful yapping from the usually sublime Marco Hietala – what kind of direction was he given on here? In fact I don’t even want to know…and some truly over-wrought dramatic moments that come off as really embarrassing in how over the top they are. I know this band was never the most subtle in the world, but they at least had some kind of restraint in the past. Here it’s just like OOOOOH, LOOK AT HOW THEATRICAL WE ARE! WE ARE THESPIAN GODS! Pff, no you’re not, you’re hack metal musicians from a country that spawned Children of Bodom. Don’t make yourself out to be anything you’re not.

Annette’s vocals are plain and unexciting. I liked her well enough on the last one, but here she sounds cold and flat, and most of her vocal lines are just dull. Marco, as I mentioned, is just weak on here and doesn’t have any really great moments like on previous albums. The rest of the band is dialed down and subdued so that Tuomas’s keyboards and the orchestrations can take the front and center! Yay for ego!

There are three passable songs on here – “Storytime,” “I Want My Tears Back” and “Last Ride of the Day.” Now, all of these songs are pretty weak themselves, being really pro-tooled and plastic power metal without any real energy or drive, but at least they are somewhat memorable and have actually catchy hooks.

Can’t say that for much else on here. The rest of this album is full of boring crap like “Slow, Love, Slow,” which is a lounge-jazz experiment that could have been great if it was two minutes rather than six, the pointless “Turn Loose the Mermaids,” the directionless “Rest Calm,” which literally drags on forever, and the worst song Tim Burton never put in his movies “Scaretale.” This song is seven minutes of ridiculously silly theatrics that try to play off like they’re supposed to be taken seriously, with really irritating vocals and virtually nothing good about it. Just listening to this hyperactive ADD-infested garbage makes my eyes glaze over. What’s up with those goofy male vocals halfway through? He sounds like an inbred circus clown. His vocals are worthlessly over-emoted and too silly to be anything but downright shameful. They do sound like they belong in the song, but then, that’s the entirety of the problem.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the title track yet, probably because on most of the times I played this album I got so bored and annoyed with the rest of the ridiculous shit on here that I couldn’t even muster the stamina to listen to it! It’s 13 minutes long, but only six or seven are actual music (albeit really dull and unremarkable music) – the other half is six or seven more minutes of pissing on Walt Whitman’s grave as Tuomas has a bunch of sections of “Song of Myself,” his famous poem, read aloud in stupid voices and garbled up so bad you can barely even make it out unless you turn up the volume all the way. I literally don’t know how this could be any worse. You can’t fuck up an album this bad by accident – this kind of monumental heinousness takes actual effort.

So if you like awful attempts at being dramatic and theatrical and silly ‘atmospheric’ ballads that do nothing but lie there and wither, and if you hate Walt Whitman, then this is the album for you. If you like Nightwish, skip it.

Another bombastic and creative CD from Nightwish - 70%

TrooperOfSteel, February 13th, 2012

It’s been four long years since Finnish symphonic power metal band Nightwish released the solid ‘Dark Passion Play’, an album that took the genre to new heights. Those fond of the band knew where Nightwish were going in the metal world, in particular, founder and chief song-writer Tuomas Holopainen, the need to create an extravagant piece of musical art. To write a wondrous and spectacular production that would rival and even crush most movie scores of today. So it’s to no surprise that Nightwish’s latest album, ‘Imaginaerum’ has gone beyond, musically, where ‘Dark Passion Play’ ended.

Fans are still getting used to current vocalist Anette Olzon, who filled the large shoes left by Tarja Turunen back in 2007. Two very different vocalists, Anette can lack in passion and power at times, however she shines bright like the sun during moving ballads and other songs where the music is not quite as bellowing and heavy. But after one album and four years with Anette, we do expect that she has improved and is able to step out of Tarja’s shadow.

‘Imaginaerum’ overall has gone above and beyond your typical symphonic power metal sound; to the extent that one would beckon Tuomas may have taken his creative ideas possibly just that little bit too far. Extravagant choirs (both adults and children) and orchestras used on the album may sound larger than life and impressive at the same time, but I feel that Tuomas is spending more time creating enormous theatricals to accompany the written songs rather than concentrating on what made Nightwish so cool in the first place. It almost seems like he’s actually trying to out-do himself with every album, like the previous one wasn’t good enough. So it begs the question, where does it all end?

I’ve really enjoyed the addition of bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala, ever since he joined the band in 2001. His raspy and aggressive vocals added another dimension to the band’s sound and were a nice yang to Tarja’s and now Anette’s yin. His vocals on tracks like “Slaying the Dreamer”, “Planet Hell” and “Master Passion Greed” was fantastic, but on the track “Ghost River” it just feels out of place. Marco’s raspy vocals just don’t work on this track and kind of ruins the song in the process, as well as drowning out Anette at the same time. Musically, the constant tempo changes disrupt the flow of the track and in the end it’s just downright frustrating to listen to.

Another track on the album that feels out of place is the peculiar “Slow, Love, Slow”. Now, despite being very original, intriguing and unique (with kudos to Tuomas’ creativity), this track is a slow jazzy number that just seems out of sorts on a symphonic power metal disc. It disrupts the musical flow of ‘Imaginaerum’, and would feel more at home if Tuomas were to produce a solo album that contained this and other non-metal tracks, so he is able to keep his creative juices flowing.

My final gripe or frustration (whatever you wanna call it) of ‘Imaginaerum’, is the 13 minute “Song of Myself”. Seeing it in the track-listing before hearing the album, I was quietly excited, hoping for another epic track in the same vein as “The Poet and the Pendulum” from ‘DPP’. The first six minutes of the song is bombastic and brilliant, but then the final 7 minutes of the long track is just spoken word with the orchestra playing softly in the background for audio affect. I understand the purpose of the spoken word in relation to the meaning of the song, but seriously, do you expect fans to sit through seven minutes of this and not get bored or annoyed? If anyone can, then you are far more patient than I am.

Don’t worry; there are plenty of positives to come from this album, such as the upcoming film of the same name (written by Tuomas) that is to be released in 2012. This album is supposed to be the “soundtrack” to the film and once released should give the fans more incite to the inner-workings of this CD. So that is something definitely to look forward to.

As for the better songs on ‘Imaginaerum’, we have to start with the opening track (after the intro) and first single, “Storytime”. An energetic and upbeat track “Storytime” is quite bombastic and epic in sound and feel. With swift guitar riffs from Emppu Vuorinen and the orchestra making a big impact, Anette’s voice is actually very good here and adds another element to the song. “I Want My Tears Back” is also a very good and catchy song, with folkish elements that will make you dance like Michael Flatley. Reminiscent of “Amaranth” and “Bye Bye Beautiful” from the previous album, the track features both Anette and Marco sharing the vocal duties which does work well on this occasion.

The shining jewel on this album is the quirky, abstract and unusual “Scaretale”. Again quite bombastic and epic thanks to the orchestral arrangements, it’s also heavy with thundering drums and bass, and plenty of hooks and power chords from Emppu. It’s in the middle though where the track becomes quirky, when the music changes to a traditional tune of an old-fashioned gypsy travelling circus; decked out with the ringmaster and all the bells and whistles. The song being different alone is enough to make it a standout track on the album.

Other songs that will appeal to the fans include the excellent ballad “The Crow, The Owl and the Dove”, which is very catchy and memorable, with beautiful singing from both Anette and Marco; and also the powerful “Last Ride of the Day”. With a speedy melody and catchy tunes, “Last Ride of the Day” has soaring vocals, heavy riffs and atmospheric orchestras and choirs; in my opinion the next best track after “Scaretale”.

When you sum it all up, ‘Imaginaerum’ is still a good Nightwish album, however a tad inconsistent and about a notch below ‘Dark Passion Play’. There are a few songs on the disc that could annoy and/or frustrate fans and listeners alike, but overall the majority of the tracks should keep the avid Nightwish fan and symphonic/gothic metal fans happy. It may take a few extra spins to warm to it than with previous albums, but if you enjoyed ‘DPP’, then ‘Imaginaerum’ is along similar lines; albeit with one or two less killer tracks.

Originally written for www.themetalforge.com

Better than expected - 75%

NovembersDirge, December 30th, 2011

To be frank with you, I wasn’t sure whether to look forward to this one or not. On the one hand, Nightwish has a hype about them that I’ve never really quite understood. While they’re a good band that has produced some good albums (this Angry Metal Guy, for example, really enjoyed Once quite a bit), the rabidity of their fanbase and the standard to which they are held has always been very surprising to me. I have literally met people who don’t listen to anything else. Apparently their songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen has fans that are so hardcore about him, that they send letters to his mother to tell her that they disapprove of whom he’s dating. But honestly, I’ve never thought of the band as anything other than a pretty good, female fronted symphonic power metal band. And, well, after Dark Passion Play, I wasn’t very excited anyway. Because let’s face it, that was not a good record. So when I heard that they were releasing a movie (especially given that Tuomas is already in the movies) and a soundtrack to it, I was not excited. But Imaginaerum managed to win me over.

Really, it starts out in a way that I don’t think I would have ever expected and started drawing me in slowly. “Taikatalvi” features Tarot vocalist Marco on a soft track that apparently translates into “Magical Winter” in English. This song—with no female vocals, some piano, a music box sound and an orchestra—sets the stage for the whole record perfectly by both building up the feeling and taking you by surprise. The surprise is important, because despite being a Nightwish record, it varies a lot more than you would expect. While it does launch into a standard record opener (in the first single from the record “Storytime”), it lets you know that this album will be a little on the unpredictable side. And surprisingly from this pop metal act—it is.

Though, don’t get me wrong. This is obviously a Nightwish record and if you’re not a fan of the style, you probably won’t like it. Though, what’s not to like? The songs are snappy, with sharpened hooks that have you singing them for days in spite of yourself. The arrangements are actually interesting and smart, the orchestrations are huuuuuge, bombastic and beautiful and the production is very good (but wow is this record LOUD—too loud, as it peaks in my speakers). And what’s good about it is that the band never settles into one thing really specifically. The songs don’t really fade into each other as can happen with certain types of records. Instead you’ve got title track pop rockers (like the aforementioned ”Storytime” and “I Want My Tears Back”), followed by mid-paced creepers like “Ghost River” and “Scaretale.” You’ve got a musical number called “Arabesque” and a kind of noir, smooth jazz(esque) track in “Slow, Love, Slow” which Anette acquits in a way that La Prima Donna never could have. Hell, you even have Celtic folk bits that sound like they should be on a Loreena McKennitt record (while breaking into a Morricone/The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly sounding whistling at the end), not a Nightwish one.

Honestly, I only have a few complaints about this record. I guess, firstly, I think Anette is kind of a weak vocalist. This is not to ignite any kind of “they should have kept Tarja” debate—because frankly, they shouldn’t have. It just seems like she only really hits her stride in the poppy choruses of these songs and sometimes she brings down songs on the softer side (Tarja was the same). Her accent gets a tad cartoonish at times (“At the end of the reeever!”), but mostly I just think she doesn’t have the same grace as someone like Helena Haaparanta, who is just such a much more dynamic and powerful performer. But this is offset by the fact that Marco and choirs are used very wisely, and Anette feels more like a part of an ensemble than La Diva. My second complaint is that the last 12 minutes are completely wasted on citing lines from the movie and then recapping the whole album as an overture (the title track “Imaginaerum”). So a record that could have ended with a bang, makes me just want to shut it off before it’s done. That’s a shame. Finally, sometimes I feel like Tuomas is quoting himself a bit much. I actually twice went back to check older records to see if “Storytime” and “Last Ride of the Day” were using similar riffs or melodies from previous records. They never did it, as far as I can tell, but they got really, really close a couple of times.

Still, Imaginaerum is a huge step above the previous record and makes it feel like Nightwish really is on top of the world again. Hell, they even have a song on here that impressed me poetically (“The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove”)—something I never thought possible. The lyrics on that track are actually bordering on really good and the performances are outstanding. On top of that, the record plays well like an original sound track and is everything you expect from Finland’s biggest pop sensation. It’s simultaneously beautiful, while introducing some heavier elements that work well and taking the orchestral presence to a new level. It’s good that these guys got the chance for a do over after the last one because it’s heads and shoulders above it.

Well played, pirate boy, well played.

Originally posted at: http://www.angrymetalguy.com/nightwish-imaginaerum-review/

Progressively worse with each release - 10%

rcr12013, December 27th, 2011

Just when we thought things couldn't get worse than Dark Passion Play, we now get this thrown at us.

First off, let me start by saying Anette Olzon's vocals have improved, but her voice still does not really fit this kind of music. Her old band, which was an 80s cover band, is the perfect musical setting for her. She's not a bad singer at all, just a bad metal singer. She sounds good (maybe a little boring) on the ballads, but on the harder songs she sounds like a squirrel in labor.

While on the subject of vocals, it must be mentioned that Marco Hietala sounds quite bad on this record. Is this the same guy who sang Dead to the World? The Islander? Is this Tarot's singer? I would advise him to back off of the cigarettes and booze because it's killing his voice. He used to be able to sound like a Viking god and then transition into one of the softest, most gentle voices in the world of metal...now he's just atrocious.

But what would any metalhead tell you is most important? THE MUSIC! So let's dive into the world of Imaginaerum! Ready set, go! THUNK! We seem to have hit the bottom. Gee, that was shallow. The guitar is at its absolute worst, and that's saying something since we've already had to suffer through it in Once and DPP (and most of Century Child). In Nightwish's first three albums, Emppu Vourinen showed a lot of potential. He was the only guitarist in a genre that usually employs two, but he managed the job well and admirably. Then with Century Child came the orchestra and Nightwish's guitar had become progressively worse with each release. Is it Vuorinen's fault? Actually, no. Tuomas Holopainen writes the music and he has decided that the orchestra is the main focus. Here's the thing, though; Holopainen does NOT write the orchestral pieces at all. Pip Williams does! So take away the orchestra, and what do you have? Not much of a song at all. A lame guitar riff and some cheesy lyrics.

Speaking of cheesy lyrics...it has gotten worse. This innocence and childhood lost theme has gotten old and as Holopainen gets older himself, it's become quite creepy. Song of Myself (which was suppose to be a 13+ minute epic, but turned out be half a song with a 6 minute spoken poem) has hilarious moments in it. It covers such topics as a naked old man getting it on with a blow up doll and riding in elevators with obese girls.

Nightwish had something great with Oceanborn and Wishmaster. They should have stuck with the power metal direction they were going in with fantasy-based lyrics. Now they're a joke. Metalheads probably won't be bothered to even finish the album as there isn't much metal in it. If you like an orchestral sound, then Pip Williams is your man as his performance outshines the actual band. If you are a 14-17 year old emo kid, then you'll love the lyrics. I give this album a 10% rating only because I don't want Williams' efforts to have gone to a complete waste.

The Road to Success - 95%

Maniac Blasphemer, December 24th, 2011

To be honest, I always was a die hard Nightwish fan. Meaning that, it has been more than 10 years since I started listening to them. Yes, I even got to hear them live with Tarja. It has been 6 long years since she left Nightwish (or rather, kicked out) but still some fans can't come to peace and accept that the band had to move forward with another singer.

Surely, the fact that Tarja was in the band, and the fact that Nightwish met worldwide success with her is without a doubt not a small thing. But, apparently, for Tuomas, the mastermind behind Nightwish, the one that composed most of Nightwish's music, it was more like an obstacle. He could not achieve his desires in music with her in the band. We can witness that the music style, since Anette came become much more complex and dynamic and also much more intense.

The symphonic metal elements are still there, without a doubt, they were not left aside even on Dark Passion Play. Though it was clear that with Anette as vocalist, the band will take a new direction. In my opinion, Nightwish became a new band, like a rebirth actually.

Dark Passion Play was experimental, in my opinion, it is the same like one of those bands, that has been recently formed and they just launched their debut. It attracted a lot of attention, stirred up though by the well known promotional song, Eva, but it was accepted by the audience.

Imaginaerum, on the other hand, is the album that marks the maturity of the new Nightwish. It is much more dynamic than Dark Passion Play, far more complex, much more melodic and please the ears. This album was specially made for Anette, to put her in the spotlight and somehow, I feel that Marco's role has been minimized, though his vocal acts are stunning and impressive in this album as usual.

Taikatalvi stands as a prologue for the second song of the album called Storytime. It is also the introduction, it is sung in finish by Marco. Now, what better way to promote the album than to release probably, it's most outstanding song, Storytime. A video was also made for it, with footage from the soon-to-come movie. Storytime incorporates the identity of Nightwish but it also comes with something new. Anette's voice is stunning, singing in a rather fast manner, keeping up with the rhythm of song.

Ghost River, the third track, begins with an impressive guitar solo made by Emppu. This song features Marco and Anette singing in a duo. Like in Dark Passion Play, Marco and Anette singing together is always a win. Unlike the times when Tarja was still a band member, Marco's voice was always covered by Tarja's soprano voice. I pretty much never seen a decent duet between these two, but this radically changed when Anette took the role as the main vocalist.

Other songs that in my opinion are worth listening are I want my Tears Back, Turn Loose the Mermaid, which is like a follower for The Islander, though this time Anette is the one singing and not Marco and Song of Myself, the longest track of this album which spawns for more than 13 minutes and, same like The Poet and the Pendulum from Dark Passion Play, it is divided into 4 parts.

All in all, Nightwish outrun themselves by releasing Imaginaerum. As a follow up of Dark Passion Play it stands as probably the best, most melodic, most complex and most dynamic album Nightwish ever made. Anette has definitely integrated well in the band and I think this line up will last for a long time, I truly hope so. Nightwish is the kind of band that needs time and peace in order to release good products. Imaginaerum for me was an album that I placed much expectation into, since they took their sweet time in order to produce this one. It might've been earlier released if not for the movie, but I am satisfied with the product and I think the wait was all worth it. It's time to move forward now, Nightwish is once again back in full force!

Meets and reframes my expectations of Nightwish. - 90%

dpitch40, December 15th, 2011

I fell in love with Nightwish in the summer of 2008. I was floored by their huge, bombastic sound, a blend of a full orchestra, choirs, native instruments, and metal equally able to produce beautiful ballads and towering compositions of incredible grandeur and power. Songs like "The Poet and the Pendulum", "Ghost Love Score", and "7 Days to the Wolves" became central to my definition of what "epic" music sounds like. Their 2007 album Dark Passion Play has been one of my favorite albums ever since. Now, for the first time since I got into them, Nightwish has released a new album. My burning question is, of course, how does it compare with Dark Passion Play, and more generally, how does it represent and evolve their sound as a whole?

This is their first album to feature an intro track, specifically "Taikatalvi" ("Magic Winter"). It's a nice symphonic song with all-Finnish vocals and some sound effects tying into the movie. It blends right into "Storytime", the first single of the album. Unlike "Amaranth" or "Bye Bye Beautiful" of Dark Passion Play, "Storytime" is a pretty good musical summary of the entire album with the characteristic heavy guitar riffs, epic orchestral flourishes, and a great vocals by Anette Olzon. Hearing this song for the first time, the message I got was: Nightwish is back! Rejoice!

From there "Ghost River" kicks off with an interesting guitar riff that fades into a beginning that sounds sort of similar to "Storytime"...until it takes a nightmarish turn with super-heavy chugging guitars and some great, scary-sounding harsh vocals by bassist Marco Hietala that I wish could have been mixed a bit louder. Despite the extremely dark sound it has the same kind of standard pop-rock rhythm of "Storytime". The focus on the pounding rhythm in the chorus almost reminds me of nu-metal (don't worry, it's really good). Also a random children's choir interlude that sort of works.

"Slow, Love, Slow" is a faithful tribute to '30s nightclub jazz (believe it or not), easily the biggest surprise of the album. Very mellow, with great brushed snare drumwork and a surprisingly convincing vocal performance by Anette. The fantastical atmosphere of the album is maintained by some swirling piano until the rest of the orchestra comes back towards the end along with the guitars. Very interesting song, a completely new direction for Nightwish, but it works fairly well.

At first I thought "I Want My Tears Back" recalled "Bye Bye Beautiful" in its bouncing rhythm and chugging, industrial-type guitars, but then I realized Nightwish is actually channeling fellow Finnish folk metal band Korpiklaani. Check out a sample Korpiklaani song like "Northern Fall" for comparison. I'm not saying Nightwish is ripping them off or anything, but many of the same elements are there. As Nightwish's symphonic epic-ness continues to grow, it's nice to see them keep room for traditional instruments like the uillean pipes (last heard on the Dark Passion Play instrumental "Last of the Wilds") The vocal trade-off during the chorus is also nice and has some of Marco's most melodic singing yet.

"Scaretale" is about childhood nightmares; call it Nightwish's version of "Enter Sandman". Predictably, it sounds even more nightmarish and horror-genre influenced than "Ghost River", with some kind of weird circus breakdown and "creepy" vocals that aren't like anything Anette has done before. It's very impressive and one of the more progressive songs on the album recalling a mix of Mr. Bungle and Unexpect at times, but I confess, it's not that fun to listen to. "Arabesque" is an instrumental outro to it, added to fit the movie, but overall a very enjoyable and diverse song for its length. They should do some lyrical songs like it.

"Turn Loose the Mermaids" is a tender, acoustic ballad that, like "I Want My Tears Back", focuses more on folk than symphonic instrumentation. Following it is "Rest Calm", a longer song whose intensity rises and falls like waves before building to a climactic ending similar to "7 Days to the Wolves". Much of this is the chorus line being sung repeatedly, alternately by Anette and Marco (and the children's choir at one point); luckily it's one of the most beautiful vocals on the album. It's bookended by another quieter song, "The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove", another folk-influenced ballad written by Marco. It's a beautiful duet between him and Anette (if you couldn't tell, Nightwish's two vocalists have a much better dynamic on this album, and Marco's singing and range of styles have improved, period). It does have some electric guitar and drums, which keeps it from sounding too similar to "Turn Loose the Mermaids".

And then we have "Last Ride of the Day", a song inspired by a roller coaster ride and in my opinion the strongest song of the album. Immediately we get punchy strings accentuated by drums and choral vocals telling us, this is going to be big, building excitement like climbing up the first hill. And the ride that follows does not disappoint. It's easily the fastest and most intense song on the album with the band, the orchestra, and the choir all turning their parts up to 11. And then around the 2:45 mark, it's--what's this? An honest-to-goodness shredding guitar solo! Huzzah! That metal staple that so many otherwise-great Nightwish songs have been doing without lately triumphantly returns. Man, this song is almost better than a real roller coaster.

The album's obligatory epic, placed late in the songlist this time, is "Song of Myself". It clocks in at about 30 seconds less than "The Poet and the Pendulum" and the first half is pretty comparable, with even better use of the choir than "Last Ride of the Day" to sing part of the chorus, but the second half (last ~six and a half minutes) are a recitation of part of the epic Walt Whitman poem this song is based on. The band keeps playing for most of it, but the focus is clearly on the reading, and it seems to drag on too long. With a few minutes left as I was following the lyrics, I realized, "Oh, the song isn't coming back, it's just more poem." Good for Walt Whitman fans, a bit disappointing for the rest of us.

And lastly, the title track is a symphonic medley of the rest of the album that will presumably be played over the end credits of the movie. Hearing the strings play the chorus line from "Storytime" is nice and nostalgic, and the arrangement is top-notch, but I kind of miss the band on this song.

Comparisons with Dark Passion Play aside, Imaginaerum is a great album. Nightwish shows evolution in the diversity of their style, in terms of band dynamic, songwriting, and individual ability. They keep the bombast and grandiosity that made Dark Passion Play amazing while better blending their diverse influences and exploring new musical territory. Conceptually, it's hard to fault Imaginaerum.

The album is not, however, without some nagging problems. While Nightwish kept the good elements of Dark Passion Play, they also kept one of the bad ones, namely Emppu's tendency not to do anything interesting on the electric guitar (with the notable exception of "Last Ride of the Day" and, to a lesser extent, "Ghost River" and "I Want My Tears Back"). They also tend to lean heavily on the standard-issue rock drumbeat as heard on "Storytime", "Ghost River", "I Want My Tears Back", "Rest Calm" (considerably slower), and "Last Ride of the Day". And the two ending tracks, which I was expecting to be the standouts of the album, were both minor disappointments.

With these things in mind, I'm giving the album 90%. It's obligatory for fans of Nightwish, particularly Dark Passion Play, and a great album to introduce yourself to the band with.

Where's the wonder, where's the awe? Right here - 75%

antichrist_inside, December 13th, 2011

So after four years, Nightwish finally has a new album. Dark Passion Play was a disappointment with standout moments like "The Islander" and "Last Of The Wilds" about evenly split with bland, radio-ready, mid-tempo songs and equally mainstream-minded ballads. Given the circumstances, keyboardist and main songwriter Tuomas Holopainen goes through a number of trials in his personal life while trying to accommodate the band's new found mainstream success, all the while with an all new singer with a different style. An uneven album was really the best anyone could hope for, but four years later, Tuomas should have gotten his life together by then and plowed straight through his latent teenage angst, right? I'm supposed to say "yes" or "no" here fpr it to have an extra impact after that introductory paragraph, but if I did, why bother writing a whole review?

Imaginaerum is the sum total of everything Nightwish has done so far, plus a few new things. It's not a complete return to form, but it's their most varied album to date. There are flashes of Oceanborn and even Angels Fall First, and there are a few radio-oriented singles, too. And some songs even explore new ground with plenty of success. More importantly, this is Nightwish's first attempt at a concept album, centered around a loose theme of longing for a lost fantasy world, although Tuomas has said there's a concrete plot about an old composer who thinks he's still a little boy (does that remind you of anyone?). In either case, it looks like our favorite Finnish metal manchild has finally pulled himself together and tried to recapture the magic he once had.
The first track, "Taikatalvi", is sung entirely by Marco, in Finnish, with a soft, wintry background that builds into the lead single, "Storytime". It's not the bang that Dark Passion Play opened with in part 1 of "The Poet And The Pendulum", but it's better tailored to Imaginaerum's theme of fantasy; it wouldn't sound out of place on "Angels Fall First" (well, at least if the orchestra was replaced with cheesy '80s synth strings). On the other hand, "Storytime" itself proves to be another bland radio anthem with a catchy chorus and little else going for it. It even uses the same guitar riff as "Master Passion Greed". "Rest Calm", later down the track list, suffers further for its long and completely unnecessary outro. If DPP's "Seven Days to the Wolves" overstayed its welcome, you might want to skip this one after the first five minutes or so. But they do get the "catchy single" formula right on "Last Ride of the Day" with its bombastic but memorable intro backed up with a soaring chorus and well-executed guitar solo.

There are ballads of course, and they're a mixed bag. "The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove" coasts by with a suitably melodic chorus, but unfortunately the only other part that I ever seem to remember is the bridge, which is sung in an irritating '90s boy band style. "Turn Loose the Mermaids" is much better and is one of the album highlights, reminiscent of "Creek Mary's Blood" from Once, only without the annoying chanting. The folksy atmosphere covers every second of it, thanks largely to guest Troy Donockley's Uillean pipes that also grace "I Want My Tears Back" with a catchy intro melody worthy of an Amorphis song.

Emppu Vuorinen's guitar work has improved slightly on this album (but not much). "Ghost River" kicks off with a decent riff for a change that shows something more than downtuned chugging, and his leads over "Rest Calm" and "Last Ride Of The Day" are a bit more interesting than usual. Nightwish still isn't a band to listen to for guitar work alone, but Emppu seems to be making the most of his now-permanent position in the rhythm section. Still, his finest hour by far is the middle of "I Want My Tears Back" where he and Troy trade soaring, Celtic-influenced folk melodies for a minute straight, right out of "The Wayfarer".

It's been awhile since Tarja Turunen was fired from the band and by now most Nightwish fans have accepted, for better or for worse, that she's never coming back. The good news is that on this album, Anette seems more at home than ever. Her voice is more expressive and much less strained (no moments like the screechy ending of "Amaranth" here!). More importantly, her highs help give "I Want My Tears Back" some of the atmosphere Angels Fall First had, proving that Tuomas no longer needs to hire a guest vocalist to do that (as he did on "Eramaan Viimeinen"). And Marco Hietala makes the most of his parts with a full-throated roar that Tarot's Gravity Of Light proved to still be in tip top condition.

The lyrics don't seem to have the plot that Tuomas promised, but they work well enough just as songs. The imagery and references from their first few albums are back in full force, with "I Want My Tears Back" being dotted with nods to Alice In Wonderland. On the opposite side, "Ghost River" paints the same grim painting as "The Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean", with haunting lines like "the mills grind slow in a riverbed ghost town", or "every eye sewn shut". The contrast between Marco's harsh growls and a children's choir hearkens back to the tradeoffs back in the old days between Tarja and Tapio Wilska (or even between Tarja and Marco in "Planet Hell").
The band's little known orchestra arranger, Pip Williams (who's almost a sixth member at this point), also improved a bit for this release, but he's still the biggest thorn in Imaginaerum's side. He still doesn't seem to know how to arrange a backing track for a metal band, but instead treats them as part of an orchestra, to be drowned out in symphonic "sturm und drang" at a whim. His over the top arrangements sink "Rest Calm" and make the outro even more of an ordeal than it already is. To his credit though, the closing title track, a medley of melodies from the rest of the album arranged as a closing credits theme for a movie (more on that later), makes a fitting closer for the album.

The last real song on the album is "Song Of Myself", Imaginaerum's answer to "The Poet and the Pendulum". It's anticlimactic. By this point, Nightwish has spent so much time spamming choir hits and tense strings that when they show up in this song, they're the most mundane and least remarkable part of the album. More importantly, they're used in place of any type of creative songwriting. The heavy, memorable intro riff of "The Poet and the Pendulum" was one of its highlights - there's nothing like that here. After the second chorus, we're treated to the three minute chugging breakdown of "Piano Black", and after that things finally get at least somewhat interesting as Tuomas calls on various people for a six minute recital of a poem he wrote. The lyrics are unfocused, but the conviction of their delivery (from everyone) redeems them. And the soft, symphonic backing track makes me wonder how Pip could have listened to it after he was done and not though to himself, "Maybe I should tone things down a bit, if this is what that would sound like...".

You'll notice I took care not to mention two specific songs up until now. These two songs, "Scaretale" and "Slow Love Slow", prove how adaptable the entire band is; they took on whole new styles for these songs and did it well. "Scaretale" adds in elements of humppa and Danny Elfman scores to make exactly what you think that would make, Nightwish tackling Finntroll's sound. Jukka breaks out the double bass for a minute or so, and while (thankfully) we might never hear Anette doing black metal screams, she puts on a scorn-dripping tone that sounds kind of like the Wicked Witch of the West. The two minute break in the middle in particular sounds like it would be at home on Finntroll's latest, Nifelvind, with all of Marco's hammy, Disney-villain posturing. It's not supposed to sound evil to anyone over six years old, but it's an amusing ride nonetheless. "Slow, Love, Slow" is a jazz ballad of all things. If you've read any reviews of the album already, odds are this has been mentioned at least once, so you should be over the shock by now. Randomness aside, the whole band handles this new style admirably with Tuomas pulling out some jazzy comping, Marco playing a walking bassline, and Jukka taking lessons from Wintersun's Kai Hahto on playing drums with a brush set. Anette further proves her worth by putting on a performance for an imaginary 1930s nightclub with a sultry, smooth voice that contrasts sharply with the next two songs. Emppu even plays a bluesy, finger-picked solo to complete the mood. It's not a perfect imitation of cool jazz, still stylized a bit (which was inevitable anyway), but a well-written and enjoyable song anyway.

In a couple months, Imaginaerum will be released in a completely different form, an actual full-length movie that actual people can watch on an actual screen in actual theaters. This isn't the first time a metal band has mixed sound and visuals in a way less superficial than the obligatory performance music video, but maybe then, after another peek into Tuomas's mind, this album will make more sense. Until then, I'm treating it as a diverse, if slightly inconsistent, collection of songs and also proof that Nightwish might have finally made it out of their creative slump.

Highlights: "I Want My Tears Back", "Scaretale", "Turn Loose the Mermaids".

Once upon a good Nightwish album... - 35%

Gornot, December 6th, 2011

So here it is...finally! Some have been waiting since Anette's 2007 debut in the world of Nightwish, some even earlier, seeing as how a rather big number of fans considered the 2004 Once a big, BIG downfall for the band, including myself. "maginaerum is, I guess, supposed to be an album written with Anette's vocals in mind, considering her style, energy, passion, and capabilities of live performance, right?

Well, isn't that just too bad? Imaginaerum sounds like nothing more than a continuation of the mediocre Dark Passion Play pattern with that bitter taste of the worst moments of "Once" left in your mouth ("Dead Gardens" and that kind of bullshit). By the sheer eavesdropping at the sound of this album, you'll recognize the over-shredding guitars that cannot possibly fit into the overall (olden) sound of Nightwish. Marco's humiliating vocal performance just don't suit him ("Taikatalvi", "Ghost River") compared to some gems like "High Hopes" from the End of an Era live album and "The Phantom of the Opera" from Century Child. Then there's overall cheesy lyrics and just plain bad crossovers right in the middle of the song. There is just so many things wrong with this album.

I already noticed people praising the "folk" influences in this album, saying it's even greater than on the previous major release. Now that I've listened to this album in full, I feel like someone just Rick Rolled me! There is absolutely 0 folk influence on this album. There is not even a hint of folk metal music in the atmosphere of this far-too-long album (except a few faint seconds of a barely audible flute pattern typical in Irish folk somewhere in the background). Just having a bunch of folk-ish instruments in a song is not even close to being far-fetched in labeling it as folk. "Last of the Wilds", boring as it is (after the first two minutes), is more folk metal than this whole album together.

Imaginaerum, on a drawing board, was supposed to be an amazing idea. My first fear was that this album could perhaps end up being a bit too childish. Now I laugh at my own stupid self for even thinking that Tuomas could create something so powerful yet so emotional and still make it work when most of his time and effort is clearly wasted on the choirs and the orchestra. Well, okay, it wasn't wasted, these performances are actually pretty awesome, though are neither genius or groundbreaking, mind-blowing etc.

Cheese is the only word that keeps popping up in my mind as I listen to this disaster that dares call itself a metal album. Now that the orchestral scores are better than ever, the rest of the songwriting has been nothing but a colossal disaster, ever since "Once", actually, from the bad lyrics to the weird mash up of vocals and unimaginative guitar passages (drums, too). There's not a single song on this album that hasn't been made overly complicated and I dare not even imagine (not that I'm interested anyway) which of the songs will end up being performed live; personally, singing any song from Imaginaerum after any old song is pure blasphemy and denial of the previous amazing work this band has made.

But just as Once ("Planet Earth") and Dark Passion Play (the main orchestral theme of "The Poet and the Pendulum" as well as "Meadows of Heaven") had bright sides, so does this album that will at least not make you completely regret buying it (if you really, really want a shiny new CD in your collection you probably never will listen to, or because you actually may think this is as good as any pre-Once album), this being "Slow, Love, Slow". Maybe it's just because I've been listening to too much jazz in the last few months, but I dare say that this song is the only one that really grew on me quite quickly and easily. A bit too dark of an atmosphere for a jazzy tune is something that I definitely never could expect from this band, and this is the only genuine originality this band has displayed in their music for the past 7 years! The song is just very well written and performed and is definitely a song that should be heard even by those who may not be fans of the band at all. This is something that can rarely be heard in metal music. Anette's vocal performance in this son, as unfitting as it may be for some (not just because of Tarja's permanent mark in the band, but also the weary and unsettling dark atmosphere of the song), is still quite good; it's neither overpowered, nor is it trying-too-hard to impress and win the hearts of fans. "Slow, Love, Slow" is just a very, very good and very original song!

The title track, "Imaginaerum", is placed as the closing track on the album and is a medley of some of the orchestral passages written for this album, and as good as it is, it leaves you wondering how in the world everything else ended up sounding so catastrophic. If this is the song that you end up liking the most, maybe it's time you stop searching for entertainment, emotion, and impressive scores in Nightwish (and metal overall) and focus more on VGM (video game music) and/or movie soundtracks. If nothing else, we'll always have professionals such as Hans Zimmer instead of Tuomas.

A Very Pleasant Surprise - 78%

Khat57, December 6th, 2011

I was never a fan of Nightwish, I'll be honest. I thought Tarja's voice was too operatic and overbearing and then Annette stepped in, and she was the complete opposite-- bland and devoid of emotion and personality. On top of that, I started listening to Nightwish at a time when other female-fronted symphonic metal bands were popping up everywhere and topped the Nightwish formula (especially Epica), so I dismissed their music as generic, especially 2007's abysmally bland and poppy "Dark Passion Play." Yeah, the London Philharmonic Orchestra was awesome (as expected), but the writing suffered pretty bad and the performances from the band were mediocre.

Fast forward to 2011, and Nightwish announces a new album, which is their chance to regain the fanbase lost with their previous album, and a second chance to convince the naysayers like myself that Nightwish is worth a chance with their new singer. Does it succeed?

For the most part, yes. I still prefer Epica's brand of symphonic metal, but if Nightwish keeps this up, they could give the many so-called "Nightwish clones" a run for their money. When the single "Storytime" was released, I was somewhat hesitant. It was a lot more energetic and catchy than other Nightwish songs I had heard before that point, but something still seemed slightly amiss. And then I heard the album version, and I was like, "Okay, this is probably the best Nightwish song I've ever heard (second to possibly "Ghost Love Score")." So, I was intrigued to listen to more. And listen, I did.

It's still a bit of a mixed bag, but with more positive aspects than bad. There are less bullshit ballads, and more energetic mid-paced to moderately fast tracks. The jazzy, cabaret-esque ballad "Slow, Love, Slow" seems really out of place, though, with Annette belting out a few well-performed but still quirky R&B-like soulful vocalizations. But Nighwish is at their best when they make full use of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, like on "Storytime," "Scaretale," and the interlude "Arabesque."

After "Arabesque," though, the album kinda slows down with its creativity, and we get the boring ballad "Let Loose the Mermaids," the overlong "Rest Calm," ANOTHER BORING BALLAD (geez, seriously?!) entitled "The Crow, The Owl, And The Dove," but things pick back up a bit with the choir-filled "Last Ride of the Day" and the epic "Song of Myself." "The Poet and the Pendulum" from the last album was much better as far as Nightwish epics go, but "Song of Myself" still closes the album quite nicely, despite the overlong narration bit in the middle.... that goes until the end. Not even kidding, the orchestra even stops at 12-and-a-half minutes, a whole minute before the song technically ends, and these people just keep talking!

The "Imaginaerum" medley is pretty good, too, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra kicking ass like they always do in a 6-minute medley of all the songs on the album, even the boring ballads, which they turn into sweeping orchestral gems.

Annette Olzon does a pretty good job on vocals on this album. I never thought I'd give her credit after her flat monotonal performance on "Dark Passion Play," but she does a better job here than I think Tarja would have. The song "Scaretale" (another one of my favorites from the album) gets pretty dark and Tim Burton-esque in the beginning and middle, a stark contrast from the happy-go-lucky Disney-like symphonic elements of earlier albums. Annette especially steals the show on that song with a dark and sinister, almost witch-like performance and she sounds like she has more fun there than on any other song on the album.

The rhythm section, when not drowned out by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (not that I'm complaining) do a pretty adequate job and sound less phoned in than "Dark Passion Play." There are actual riffs, and even a guitar solo thrown in! The drums get the job done, speeding up, slowing down, and keeping a steady beat when necessary. Bass is unfortunately nonexistent as always.

And the London Philharmonic Orchestra get their own paragraph, cuz they're that fucking awesome. They go above and beyond the call of duty for this album! Without them, if they were replaced with a cheesy orchestra patch on a keyboard, this album would have sucked hard. Previous Nightwish albums would have been completely unbearable without them, and now they've become a part of the band, practically. The orchestral sections are bombastic without being overbearing, intricate, and multi-layered and help a lot of songs gain significant replay value, especially the aforementioned "Scaretale."

A few other things to note, this album has great versatility. It blends commercial appeal with intricate orchestral lines and song structures and also retains elements of other Nightwish releases (from what I've heard, anyway) without retreading too much already-covered ground (at least, that I'm aware of). The music works more around Annette's voice and brings out more of what she can do, as opposed to making her a Tarja clone, so the sound is a bit smoother and less forced.

So yeah, for a Nightwish album, this is quite good, dare I say Nightwish's best. But then again, I've never been a Nightwish fan. "True" Nightwish fans will still miss Tarja's vocals (I don't know why, but they will), but everyone will probably agree that it's a major step up from "Dark Passion Play." It only took a decade and a half, but there's finally a Nightwish album that I like. Nightwish, PLEASE expand more upon what you already do well, and quit doing so many weird, crappy ballads!

Profound, but not in the way they meant - 40%

GTog, December 5th, 2011

On some level I suppose that this crushing feeling of an opportunity lost is my own fault. After Dark Passion Play, introducing the phenomenal Anette Olzon, I wanted more of the same. But on the other hand, I wasn't demanding perfection, or even greatness, but just something good.

A large part of Nightwish's success has been their female lead. I never liked Tarja, but still you can't talk about Nightwish without acknowledging that the strong female vocals are 75% of their sound. We all know it. Even if you're a newish Nightwish fan, and therefore aren't really sure what's so hot about this band, you can listen to Imaginaerum and find out immediately what's not - they keep letting their fucking bass player fucking sing. Everything I found wrong about this album is pretty much summed up right there.

Storytime is a good first song (never mind Taikatalvi), but it's a tease. It sets up the album all wrong, by making us think that we're in for genuine, melodic, powerful songs that successfully feature a talented female lead. That's Storytime all the way. Understandable why it was the first single.

But the next time we're treated to that sort of writing isn't until it isn't until Last Ride of the Day, and that's track 11. Practically the whole album goes by. You can think of Storytime and LRotD as kick-ass Nightwish bookends bracing a bunch of dusty old tomes no one would ever want to read more than once.

The thing that keeps happening, or course, is Marco Heitala. Look, I understand that the guy has his uses, but jesus christ singing isn't one of them. On Dark Passion Play, his rough voice provided a useful counterpunch on tracks like Bye Bye Beautiful and The Poet and the Pendulum, but the guy has no range and an awful tone. On Imaginaerum, they tried the counterpunch trick on Ghost River, but this time it fails. He growls over Anette, and the whole things comes off as him interrupting an otherwise good song.

There are several examples of Marco doing clean vocals too, but I ask you this - Is there anyone out there who waited the four years since Dark Passion Play thinking gosh, I hope they let Marco sing more? Not I.

To make matters worse, several tracks feature Marco performing a duet with Anette. Marco is simply unqualified to duet with Anette. He could sing folk tunes around a campfire, but that's about it. His tone is such a contradiction to Anette's that he almost cancels her out, like an opposing sine wave. One of these tracks, The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove, is easily the low point of the album.

It's really hard to hear a good band ruin their own songs by overwriting them, and that's what they (Tuomas) did by writing in parts for Marco. They're almost completely unnecessary, except in the bird song, and that's not a very good track anyway. Now, I'm the farthest thing from a songwriter, but in hockey terms if your top scorer is at the net, get him the puck. Write songs for Anette. Everyone else just play and maybe offer backing vocals.

Structurally the album's got problems too. Starts folksy, gives us a bit of Nightwish, then back off with a jazz song, some mediocre/weird tracks, a couple of the aforementioned horrific Marco/Anette duets, a little Nightwish again, then when you think maybe they'll finish strong we get half a track (Song of Myself) and an overlong orchestration that serves as an outro.

A note on Song of Myself - listed as a 13:37 epic length track, it obviously makes us think of The Poet and the Pendulum. I mean, how could it not? Well, it isn't even close. It's not even really that long. The song is actually only half the length, and isn't bad as far as it goes, but the other half is just self indulgent spoken word bits. Now that is just irritating. Especially after listening to almost the entire jarringly uneven album before we get to it.

Musically, you get exactly what you expect from Nightwish. Drums, bass, and guitar are nothing special, the orchestrations are quite accomplished, and the female vocals are spectacular. If that's what you want from Nightwish, then it's here. It just isn't emphasized. Clearly, this is just a movie soundtrack, and not a new album with accompanying movie, as the buzz would have us believe.

Overall, Imaginaerum is profoundly disappointing. Half of it is not even metal. I count only four tracks that I think are pretty good, hence my score, and none that are stellar.

I can imagine something better. - 64%

hells_unicorn, December 5th, 2011

Nightwish is a keepsake of sorts for me, as they were among my early discoveries in the power metal genre (I literally discovered them at around the same time that I bought my first Helloween album in the late 90s). It is almost to the point that I hold their early works in a sacred, dogmatic sense, and with that came a less than favorable reaction to the changes that began on "Once", though the true impact on the format was a bit lost on me until just recently. My expectations, in keeping with all of this, were naturally very low when I decided to bite the bullet and advance order this album.

To put it bluntly, "Imaginaerum" is not anywhere near a return to the band's roots. It is, in fact, an outright affirmation of the premise behind the past 2 albums, distilled to a purer form and given a slightly better performance. Anette sounds like less of a pop diva than on "Dark Passion Play", the symphonic elements are a bit more in line with the flavor put forth by Epica, the guitars don't sound quite as nu-metal infused, and Marco is back to playing support on vocals rather than almost sharing the stage with Anette. But in spite of a slicker production and a more song-oriented approach, this just doesn't really do much in the excitement department, and settles somewhere between being average and being adequate.

The feel of this album is more rock than metal, at least in terms of its tempo and riff set, largely feeling content to groove along and occasionally land in a mildly triumphant spot. The apex level of things doesn't go beyond the standard set by "Dark Chest Of Wonders", and this album reaches into that well quite a few times, culminating in a number of songs that are each individually good, but sort of run together when played back to back. "Storytime" has a powerful chorus and a driving groove, "Ghost River" mixes in some duet vocal work and the guitar work is a bit Zakk Wylde influenced, "Scaretale" strikes up the creepiness factor a little bit with a mishmash of vocal elements and Danny Elfman inspired orchestral interludes, and "I Want My Tears Back" has a chunky riff set and a nice little folksy air to it, but largely these songs find themselves in the same plodding beat, unwilling to throw in a climactic speed section for even a few minutes.

Things take a down turn when Tuomas and company try to mix things up even further, bringing in a slew of dry, meandering ballads and pretentious orchestral pomp that interrupts what flow this album possesses. "Slow, Love, Slow" tries at introducing some jazz elements into the mix, and comes off as utterly out of place beside the epic melancholy backdrop that this band never really pulls themselves away from. "Turn Loose The Mermaids" sounds more like an outtake from a spaghetti western with words about an unrelated subject, coasts through and doesn't go very far. The long-winded "Song Of Myself" goes quite well for the first 7 minutes and goes back into the earlier mentioned formula of a fairly energetic mid-tempo groove, only to spend the next 6 minutes bogged down in goofy voice-over narrations that sound completely out of place and a stagnant atmospheric backdrop that lingers way too long.

I've heard better, especially from this band, but it came from a time when they had a different vocalist and a radically different musical mindset. Tuomas seems more interested in orchestration and poetry than he does anything else, and the rest of the band may as well be extensions of the orchestral background, save Anette who has shown a level of improvement but is still far from a substitute for Tarja. To say that the sum was much more than the parts is well beyond an understatement, and I would argue that this band's former lead vocalist puts forth something far more interesting, albeit still removed from the grandeur that she accomplished with Nightwish, on her latest album. This isn't a total throw away, but it definitely wants for a fair amount.

The bald blogger contemplates Imaginaerum - 72%

joncheetham88, December 4th, 2011

Time was I was a big fan of Nightwish. They helped get me into metal, as it were. Come 2011, a few things are evident. Tuomas Holopainen is and always will be a nob-end who's as self-obsessed as Madonna. Anette Olzon's particular motherly brand of ditzy-ness isn't really very metal. And their high-profile, high-budget music has as many non-metalheads listening to it as it does metalheads, if not more of the former. If you can put all those things aside (and many are unable to) they don't actually sound too shabby. For one thing, this latest and long-awaited splurge is about the most ambitious thing I've heard all year, and credit is due for that alone.

The whole thing is written with an accompanying film in mind, and the music fits the idea adeptly - from the less pop-like song structures and spacious arrangements, to the challenging pacing of the record, and even to a closing title track that revisits motifs from throughout Imaginaerum in purely orchestral format.

The amount of ideas shoved in is also impressive. 'Storytime', 'I Want My Tears Back' and 'Last Ride of the Day' are fairly typical for Nightwish in execution. Then basically the whole of the reminder of the album wanders through carnivalesque amusement parks ('Ghost River', 'Scaretale'), jazzy blues ('Slow, Love, Slow'), exotic instrumental ('Arabesque'), an attempt at Swallow the Sun and My Dying Bride style doom ('Rest Calm') and concept album-ready nigh-acoustic storytelling ('Turn Loose the Mermaids', 'The Crow, The Owl and The Dove').

As an exercise in flamboyant songwriting, it very often works fantastically. The opening to 'Ghost River' is vintage '90s Nightwish, whereas the song itself is a loosely-structured opus crammed with time changes, musical-like vocal exchanges, off-kilter film soundtrack breaks and a few groovy breakdowns. 'Scaretale' shows Dani Filth isn't the only one who's been watching too much Tim Burton, with nursery rhymes, polka beats, madcap narration and children's choirs glued into a morass of tense symphony and sneering vocals.

However, at times it seems like the more straightforward pop metal they've been flogging us realizes better than some of the other ambitious stuff. The easy-on the-ears material being? 'I Want My Tears Back' seems to pile just about everything the band is famous for on the radio - Troy Donockley's pipes, the Rammstein-ish guitars, the Marco-Anette double act, a huge chorus - into about the catchiest song this band has ever recorded. This sounds like it would be a massive hit even in the American and British mainstream. And I have to say, I absolutely love it. 'Last Ride of the Day' moves at breakneck speed through its blasting chorus and big guitar solo, providing a welcome breather from the ooze of new ideas.

Breather is the word. 'Last Ride of the Day' is at track 11, and the pacing of the album and its heavy conceptual bent weigh much of it down toward its latter half, to be honest. 'Turn Loose the Mermaids' and 'The Crow, the Owl and the Dove', despite aptly '70s vocals from Anette, ever-pleasant pipes and neat story ideas (manifested through the obligatorily cheesy lyrics), don't give me too much of a Nightwish-boner and the latter in particular is just a bit dull. Speaking of dull, 'Rest Calm' doesn't quite manage its job of plagiarising various Brits' and fellow Finns' more melancholy output, coming across as a bit exhaustive and dry throughout its seven minutes. With some death growls I might go for the atmospheric chugging parts, but even Marco doesn't pull these off somehow.

Not to mention that the outfit's usual live centrepiece and album crowner of an epic song falls flat for the first time. 'Song Of Myself' lets its pretty great, intense "Nightwish-go-even-more-epic-than-usual" first seven minutes (even with what sound like '90s techno-style belting vocals from Anette) or so with a dragging lead-out crammed with British actors reciting Walt Whitman. Why they did this instead of pooping out more 10-15 minute over-the-top goodness I don't know.

I believe Hietala should be reminded of these days at all available opportunities
See, I come to Nightwish more for the film-metal goings on than the vocals these days. That's more to do with the move away from operatic vocals and further into orchestral soundscapes than with anything else, mind - there's nothing wrong with Anette, while the band features one of my favourite Finnish vikings on male vocals. Marco singing in Suomi on the intro 'Taikatalvi' is a stroke of brilliance - the fellow sounds wonderful in his native tongue, as established in various live concerts and side projects in the past. However, the man seems to hold back more on Nightwish songs these days; despite some blazing, brawny vocals from him on 'Ghost River'. Anette Olzon's best moment is on 'Slow, Love, Slow', a jazzy Nightwish blues ballad that's as bizarre in concept as it is surprisingly cool in execution. But I must say throughout she does a really good job, far stronger chops than on Dark Passion Play. 'Last Ride of the Day' is a good showcase of her mixing up soft and full-pelt singing to great effect. Overall, Marco's least impressive performance for a Nightwish album, but Anette's best. Emppu Vuorinen is doing basically nothing by now however, save a couple of folky spins here and there, he basically chugs away behind Jukka Nevelainen's competent, Kai Hahto-mixed drums and Hietala's throaty bass, or throbs along invisibly with heavily distorted rock guitars.

I can't fault them too much with it. It's a mighty impressive concept album and has at least half an hour of stuff I'll be happy to return to on the iPod. Funnily enough, these high-budget Finns, with their kitsch soundtrack metal, Viking-versus-pop vocals and love of poetry miss a few points through ambition and scale rather than by commercialising themselves. Which is what they're usually criticized for. But hearing this album I don't hear them capitulating to mainstream interests, but rather going full-on into folky, musical, progressive, symphonic and conceptual metal. Less easy to digest and radio-ready than Dark Passion Play and Once, and maybe not as tasty at the end of the day, but worth your time if you stayed on board until now.

(http://baileysmmcreamy.blogspot.com/)

The Long, Winding Roads of Recovery (An Edit) - 83%

ParabolaX, December 3rd, 2011

Nightwish and I have a very strained relationship.

It is an unhealthy one, as my love for them is like a sinusoid; peaks and troughs of fangirling and absolutely scary obsession, and indifference bordering on outright criticism. I binge and I love and I hate on Nightwish like any bad spouse does. I can't live without them; they introduced me to metal, the exact music that gives me happiness and purpose in my life. I can shit on their bad material, love their good material, even hate their good material when I binge too much. Nightwish and I have it rough.

Imaginaerum was announced at a time I went “meh” over Nightwish. They wrote good stuff, but I honestly had better things to listen to. I didn't set my expectations high for Imaginaerum, maybe expecting another Dark Passion Play I'd listen to and like and ignore for months on end. As the trough of criticism started to creep back up into my loving peak, the unleashing of Imaginaerum into the world grew closer. Samples leaked, singles released, and my hopes were still hoping for an album I could give an 80% at the least. I missed the days of giving Nightwish an 80%.

-----

While in times of criticizing Nightwish, I always like to focus on their last two efforts, Once and Dark Passion Play. I thought that was a path they were permanently on, a path of simple songs, chugging riffs, and vocals that could be anywhere from goddamn unbearable to decent but rough. While Once can only redeem itself through nostalgia and a great production job, I did enjoy Dark Passion Play, and resolved that Nightwish was forever stuck in that phase. Simple pop music, marginally metal, yet strangely comforting and nice to put in the CD player or on my iPod every now and then. As a metal neophite at the time of its release, I found it to be a great album, but I moved on to better things. Better symphonic metal had appeared on my radar, and better metal in general clouded my radar. It was not so much a hate of Dark passion Play, but an ignorance of it. I had no use for it with such good material I could savor. I could criticize it too, for Anette's passable yet limited vocal performance, for a lack of decent riffs by Emppu (save for, what, two or three songs?), and because it was just too damn safe. I felt that Tuomas wanted to really play it safe with DPP. No experimentation, nothing that could alienate the average Nightwish fan apart from a vocal shift. Traditional song structures, predictable ways, and a formula that could draw in new fans. Perhaps even an extra sell-out move, even more than Once was.

So I lost some hope for Nightwish. Two albums of bland, comforting pop metal and it seems like a move they are comfortable with. One tear rolls down my cheek, and I still wait for Imaginaerum.

Imaginaerum is unmistakably Nightwish. There is no getting around it. But it is Nightwish in a way I was not expecting. I was expecting catchiness and poppy hooks, as Nightwish have delivered since Oceanborn, but there was something very off by the time “Ghost River” started.

What is that, a real guitar riff? A skilled guitar riff? Say it ain't so, Nightwish got a decent guitar part! After a predictable yet solid single like “Storytime,” this was a shock to my system. I could barely handle it. Riffs continued throughout the song, many retaining the simplicity of Once and Dark Passion Play, but at the forefront. It was Nightwish being more than borderline metal.

A harsh delivery from Marco? A crystal-clear performance from Anette? A children's choir used correctly? A guitar at center stage? A slightly non-traditional song structure? This was too much for me. Nightwish had listened to my desires!

Indeed, experimentation is a large part of Imaginarum. The circus-like vibe of “Scaretale,” the smoky jazz ballad of “Slow Love Slow,” the poetry of “Song of Myself,” the theatrical duets and absolute brutality of “Ghost River;” it’s new ground for Nightwish. Song structures are mixed up, sometimes being absolutely chorusless such as “Scaretale,” or “Song of Myself,” sometimes just mixing it up a bit, like placing the chorus first in “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove” or just having a small amount of lines in “Slow Love Slow.” Even the more conventional is welcome, such as the folk-metal tendencies among a familiar verse-chorus structure of “I Want My Tears Back”, something I thought I wouldn’t say about folk and metal in the same song. Speaking of the folk, Troy Donockley’s near omnipresence with his uilleann pipes makes much of the album very folky. He is a master of his instrument, and its pureness brings the album far above mediocre folk metal, taking the best elements of his work on Dark Passion Play and multiplying it over the album. It’s certainly a welcome addition. Even his vocal spot on “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove” grew on me, his repeated line making for a surprisingly nice bridge.

And as I jizz over the experimentation, I do think about how disjointed this whole album is. Jazzy ballads, power metal, circus music, spoken word, folk. While the themes do carry for a whole song, which is always a plus as opposed to having multiple themes in a song, Nightwish don't have the flow that they were able to achieve on earlier albums. But hell, Dark Passion Play didn't flow well either.

Disjointed flows, simple riffs, lack of bass, Jukka being a simpleton and maybe using 1/8 of his drumkit, what a collection of flaws. Oh how they refuse to totally return to form.

In spite of that, some of the form is back in Imaginaerum. And how they could get back is largely because of one lady named Annette Olzon. Anette’s main flaws in Dark Passion Play were her lack of chemistry with the band and lack of versatility. She sang in more or less the same tone on “The Poet and the Pendulum” and “Meadows of Heaven,” on “Bye Bye Beautiful” and “Eva.” While I could tell that Anette had a decent set of pipes, it was hardly anything worth writing home about. Imaginaerum is miles away from DPP in terms of vocal quality. Anette’s voice is varied, versatile, meshing perfectly with the band, whether being a sinister witch on “Scaretale” or the same sweet Nettie we all know and (maybe) love on “Turn Loose the Mermaids,” or being a sultry bar maid on “Slow Love Slow,” or showing herself to be a perfect power metal fit for “I Want My Tears Back” and “Last Ride of the Day.” Her screechy belting of Dark Passion Play is replaced by a great sense of how to hit high notes and which ones she can hit. Her belting is professionally done, never at all screechy or weak. Even her head voice peeks out at times, especially during “I Want my Tears Back.” While I personally prefer her chest voice (especially her superb lower register) and the belting, her head voice definitely shows that she has more of a vocal range than our sense originally felt.

Even Marco has markedly improved. It took him a while to develop even decent vocals for Nightwish, which is a shame, considering he sings like a metal god in Tarot. I could hardly stand him on Century Child, was further annoyed with nearly mechanical and downright silly vocals in Once, and while he had some nice moments in Dark Passion Play (especially in “The Islander” and “7 Days to the Wolves,” both written or co-written by him…), he still “graced” us with a very mechanical performance in “Bye Bye Beautiful” that sounded pretty terrible live, and a disturbing nu-metal tone in “Master Passion Greed” (though he had some nice moments there too). Here, Marco does something new; he sounds downright brutal. He reaches for his angriest snarls for “Ghost River,” his deepest growls for “Scaretale,” contrasting with his trademark weary ballad voice in “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove,” and his creepy ballad voice in “Taikatalvi.” Sure, some more normal performances on “I Want my Tears Back” and “Rest Calm” appear too, but they sound a ton more natural for him, on par with his job in Tarot. Since they used a lot of demo recordings for the vocal tracks on this album, I think that was really to his benefit, as the freshness and quality that he retains for all his other projects is present here on Imaginaerum.

Everywhere this album is an example of vast improvement. Though the buzzing, chugging, simple riffs of the last two albums still rear their ugly head, Emppu proves that he is still capable of more. The solo on “Last Ride of the Day” was amazing, showing a talent that he never even could muster up during the Oceanborn era. Leads in “Ghost River” and “I Want My Tears Back” make me cry tears of joy. Nightwish is still metal. A jazzy solo in “Slow Love Slow” shows that Emppu can also cover new ground with his instrument (though it could have carried much further). Blow me away Nightwish, these solos are actually good! No more “repeat the vocal melody of the chorus” solos that have annoyed me endlessly since even the days of Oceanborn. Even with the simple riffs, they often get the spotlight instead of being the faint static behind the orchestra, some even verging on power metal in “Rest Calm.” Dark Passion Play must be jealous.

I can hear the keys again, rendering Tuomas not so useless anymore. Piano fills the choruses of “Storytime” and “Last Ride of the Day,” a strange electronic sound breaks up the riffing of “Scaretale.” I could hardly hear anything Tuomas had done for a while now, and I’m glad he got tired of just being the songwriter and not doing anything useful performance-wise. Even Marco’s bass gets its four minutes in the sun in “Slow Love Slow.” While Jukka’s drumming is largely the same, he never changed that much from his first beats on “Angels Fall First.” But he has one moment, literally about one minute, of drumming excellence. The intro to “Scaretale,” once the guitars kick in, features some double bass. Double bass, in a post-2000 Nightwish album? I was having my doubts too. When all the members of a band have improved in one way or another on an album, it's hard to hate it.

I’m impressed with how the band can mix this with the pop sensibilities that have dominated their later material. Every song is full of hooks and catchy melodies, mostly being accessible and still with the comfort and familiarity of Dark Passion Play. The orchestral arrangements of Once (easily the best part of that album), the drama and cinematic feel of Century Child carries itself over, with the theatrical franticness of Oceanborn, the variation of Wishmaster, and the subtle folk of Angels Fall First all carries over to Imaginaerum. It is the ultimate synthesis of all of Nightwish’s discography. It synthesizes glorious, bloated bombast and pretention with the simpler elements of Nightwish’s work (acoustic guitars, folk songs, pop choruses). It blends the symphonic with the metal and the metal with the symphonic in ways they have never been able to succeed with, until today.

Nightwish are not perfect. I never believed they were perfect and they have fallen from their pedestal of quality since 2002. And Imaginaerum is a flawed album. I give it a good review because I am a fangirl over my guilty pleasure band. But even beneath all that, Imaginaerum is a good album. Nightwish might never reach the top of the pedestal again, but it seemed that Tuomas and the crew were able to hold on to some part somewhat near the top for a time. Time enough to do this album, anyways.

If this the new era, then I welcome it on its road to recovery. The reports are saying they might have been set free.

Symphonic folk...pop...metal...? Folks, it exists! - 91%

Zelkiiro, November 30th, 2011

It's safe to say I came into Imaginaerum with a strong bias, Being a long-time Nightwish fan, the poppier songs on Once were already dubious enough, but Dark Passion Play was a step further in that direction and I was not wild about it. Of course, the signs of brainless pop-metal were present and damning ever since the very beginning, but not enough to raise any real concern from me. It was songs from Once and Dark Passion Play like "For the Heart I Once Had" and "Wish I Had an Angel" that caused me to await the new album nervously, as opposed to with gleeful anticipation. And so, it was with a fearful heart that I pushed Play on Imaginaerum, but all was not as it seemed! Rather than the dreadful Rammstein-influenced trash I was expecting, I was treated, instead, to an album with a hell of a lot more folk and symphonic influences than I was led to believe. Think less “Bye Bye Beautiful”/”Master Passion Greed” and more “The Islander”/“Last of the Wilds.”

Strange and unusual for a Nightwish album, Imaginaerum boasts a healthy collection of fast-paced tunes. “Storytime” is probably the most likely to become the favorite with its infectious chorus and purposeful tempo, even if it does meander at times. “Ghost River” emerges as another upbeat keeper, boasting some soft melodies contrasted by dissonant, dark passages with shouts courtesy of our pal, Marco Hietala. The result is song that is all over the place, musically, but consistent enough to retain interest. In terms of pure energy, both songs fall far short of “Last Ride of the Day,” pushing forward at one of the fastest paces heard in a Nightwish song. That would be interesting by itself, but it also helps to have some well-written vocal lines and a solid solo as part of the deal, too.

Not all the faster songs are upbeat, though. “Scaretale” starts off with an ominous string quartet passage underlying a nursery rhyme, spoken by what I can only imagine are the twins from The Shining. After that, we get a song very much like “Planet Hell” from Once, with deep bass and melodies drenched in Tim Burton-esque darkness until halfway through, where the song suddenly becomes more like something you’d hear at the carnival from hell, complete with a ringleader. The whole song just seems like it sprang from the mind of Tim Burton, and if you’re a fan of that sort of thing (like I am), you’ll enjoy it greatly. And without missing a beat, the song leads into “Arabesque,” which uses some stereotypical Arabian-sounding melodies mixed into a pounding, war-march atmosphere. It all comes to an end, naturally, because this is Nightwish, and so there are ballads and otherwise plain ol’ slow-moving songs in the mix also.

Right at the very start, we run into “Taikatalvi,” a very folksy, Finnish-style tune opening with the soft melody of a music box and ending with kettledrums and choral arias. It’s very simplistic, but it’s well-crafted and enjoyable. “Turn Loose the Mermaids” utilizes a very similar sound, despite the fact it’s a My Dying Bride reference, building up to violin solo that closes up another great song. “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove” does not use the more overt folk elements in the other ballads, instead featuring acoustic guitar work remniscient of Dark Passion Play’s “The Islander.” Makes sense, considering Marco wrote both songs. Among the ballads, “Slow, Love, Slow” stands out as the clear oddball: Nightwish playing lounge-style cool jazz. I will repeat that: Nightwish playing lounge-style cool jazz. Ready for a bit of news even more shocking than that? It’s really well-done. Anette seems to have a voice built for this sort of thing, and Jukka sounds like a natural doing brush-work on the hi-hats, but doubtless, many will be so distracted by the notion of Nightwish performing this kind of song that it will completely fly over their heads. Pity, really—it really is a good song.

The album’s epic, “Song of Myself,” covers all the bases, both intense and serene, making full use of the choirs, heard all throughout Imaginaerum, which underscore nearly every vocal line without overwhelming us. Loosely based on the Walt Whitman poem of the same name, “Song of Myself” travels all over the spectrum—from fast and booming to soft and serene, the latter mostly during the spoken-word segments in the second half. Various speakers tell their stories, remember the people they’ve met, and share their hopes with us, culminating in the speaker stating “I am all of these,” completing the central theme of both the poem and the song in a surprisingly profound way. It may take multiple listens to fully grasp it all, but once you do, it just becomes that much more worthwhile.

I have only a few complaints; they’re called “I Want My Tears Back” and Emppu Vuorinen. “I Want My Tears Back” sounds way too much like “Bye Bye Beautiful” for comfort with its chuggy guitars and industrial-sounding drum work and overall blandness. While it’s nowhere near as awful as “Bye Bye Beautiful” (the pipes do remind me of “Last of the Wilds” at times), I would definitely mark it as the weakest song on the album. As for Emppu, well, I don’t know if it’s his fault or not, but he rarely plays anything interesting. He’ll play some power chords, do some of those start-stop riffs people get really angry about, and only occasionally rip some solid riffs or bust out a blistering solo. Maybe it’s just how things turned out, and maybe it’s because he’s limited as a musician, but he’s not really doing anything no one else can do. Some people will be turned off to the album entirely because of it, but there’s far too much good here for me to dismiss Imaginaerum entirely.

I was nervous about how this album would turn out, hoping beyond hope that my 4 years of waiting wouldn’t be in vain, but everything turned out better than expected. Much better, in fact, considering there’s really only one song I didn’t enjoy. Not since Oceanborn have I enjoyed nearly everything on a Nightwish album. Even though Imaginaerum isn’t quite on the same level as their legendary sophomore album, it certainly is a sigh of relief amidst the band’s current dubious direction. Whether or not their future endeavors will continue to avoid proverbial shark-jumping…we’ll just have to wait and see.

A step back on a high level - 80%

kluseba, November 30th, 2011

I have been looking forward for the release of this record with mixed feelings for quite a while. I really adored the band's last bombastic, diversified and impressive output "Dark Passion Play" and was intrigued by this new record, its concept and the upcoming movie in relation to this release which may come out in the beginning of the next year. On the other side, I expected a quite similar style to the last output, somewhat a copy and doubted that the band would be able to top the previous gem.

After listening to the first songs that were released from this record, I had a rather negative feeling. "Storytime" is a superficial and quite ordinary single that tries to be catchy and commercial but can’t catch up with "Amaranth" or "Bye bye beautiful". The possible second single "The Crow, The Owl And The Dove" sounded like a boring version of "The Islander" with a touch that reminded me of a ballad from the Finnish rock band "The Rasmus". In fact, I didn't expect too much from the record anymore.

In the end, the album is not as bad as it seemed after the first two impressions. The album version of "Storytime" fits perfectly to the concept of this record and is much more impressive than the shortened single version. That's the case of many tracks as the whole result sounds better than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, the final result doesn’t sound more than good and intriguing but is far away from being a masterpiece or milestone.

The impression that this release would sound a lot like "Dark Passion Play" was indeed right but this record can't be seen as an improvement. It's rather like a weaker version of the first album with the new line-up. The epic track "Song Of Myself" for example can't catch up with the dramatic and impressive "The Poet And The Pendulum" and is stretched to an unhealthy length by too many narrative passages, a choir of children and more or less intriguing interludes. The final instrumental "Imaginaerum" is only a rather useless mixture of the different tracks of the album and not as magical as "Last Of The Wilds" from the last record. In fact, many tracks lack of genius, innovation and especially of the passion that one could feel in every song of the last output. Some good examples are the overlong "Rest Calm" or the more rhythm orientated "Last Ride Of The Day" that could also be a great single choice where Nightwish copy themselves and not in the best way. The tracks are not bad and should at least please to the fans of the band but I have the feeling that I have heard these tracks in similar and better versions on previous records.

The unique things about this record are without a doubt the very well done orchestral passages and the folk sounds. When these influences come together, the result sounds quite interesting. But this often only concerns the musical factor but not the vocals. "Turn Loose The Mermaids" is such a song but it's sadly flawed by rather mediocre vocals that don't have the magic that "Eva" or "The Islander" had on the last record. The final result sounds too close to artists like Loreena McKennitt which I prefer over this. The more dynamical track "I Want My Tears Back" works better and can be cited as a highlight of the record and would be a good choice for a catchy single, too.

Other tracks like the very well done "Ghost River" or the even better done creepy and atmospheric "Scaretale" are though fairly interesting and could fit to a gothic comedy or the score of a Tim Burton movie. These two tracks are also among the best ones on this album. Heavier and engaging parts sung by Marco Hietala and heavy guitar riffs are mixed with a touch of eighties' pop music by Anette Olzon's vocals and the usual orchestral bombast plus a choir of children. The songs have a few lengths and sound a little bit too ambitious but still have a great quality.

A fourth and last outstanding song is "Slow, Love, Slow" that sounds like a jazz ballad and is probably the most innovating song on the entire album. The vocals of Olzon and Hietala work really well together in this song. But this isn't quite often the case on this record.

In the end, we have a handful of really great and even original tracks like "I Want My Tears Back", "Ghost River", "Scaretale" and "Slow, Love, Slow" where Nightwish prove that they still have fresh ideas, justified ambitions and some courage. But most of the record sounds too much like the last output "Dark Passion Play" such as “Storytime”, "Rest Calm" or "Song Of Myself" without having the same level of innovation, passion and energy as the tracks written a few years back. Overall, the album lacks a little bit of heart blood and sounds a little bit too ambitious and complicated at some points. The lyrics and the concept are sure intriguing but the music isn't always. The band should have focused on the new elements they brought in for the release and not on the concept of the story and the future movie. What we have here is a good Nightwish album that has all the band's trademarks but we don't have a new step in the evolution, a new degree of passion and energy or a new opus magnum in here. This record is a step back but on a high level. Nightwish fans and collectors should of course purchase the release without a doubt but any occasional fan honestly doesn't need this if he or she has already purchased "Dark Passion Play".