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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".