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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)