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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)