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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!