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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.