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Nightwish has always been a tough band to categorize, mostly because their albums have always evolved quickly and because Tuomas’ lyrical pursuits have been deep and varied. Gothic could describe their image and words, Power and Symphonic could describe most of their music, while elements of Thrash and Doom metal exist in a smaller number of their songs. The operatic tendencies of Tarja’s vocals have always taken a high level of precedence, and this has been a factor that has truly separated this band from many of the other Goth and Power Metal outfits.
The title of my review underscores what I’ve heard on this album ever since I picked it up 2 ½ years ago, an effort at variety that reached just a little too far. Some have complained that the orchestra gets in the way of the metal elements on this album, while others argue that the fact that Tuomas got someone else to do the orchestrations suggests that there was some sort of sell out. While the orchestra is a bit overused at times, the lion’s share of these songs still rock hard, and Tuomas has proven himself capable of orchestrating songs himself based on previous albums. Sometimes bands like to get outside input on certain aspects of their work, so unless you can suggest that Tuomas appointed an outside orchestra director under duress, get over it.
Where the attempt at a progressive sound went overboard is primary seen through the uneven pacing of the album. You have a pretty standard Nightwish anthem in “Dark Chest of Wonders”, really powerful chorus, solid riffing and a beautiful atmosphere. Then out of nowhere we get a quasi-dance inspired Goth rocker in “Wish I had an Angel”. “Nemo” fits as your typical heavy and deep ballad by this outfit, which is followed by another curveball in the symphony-like “Planet Hell”, also a good song though it seems a bit abrupt coming after a ballad. “Creek Mary’s Blood” is a somewhat overlong epic ballad loaded with acoustic tracks, Native American flutes and narratives.
The pacing issues really begin to jump out at the listener when the eastern influenced “The Siren” pops up. We have a fair share of violin work on this one and a solid lead guitar riff that sounds like a middle-eastern version of Maiden’s “Wasted Years”. “Dead Gardens” and “Romanticide” are both heavier tracks with a bit less orchestra in them, the former has a chorus similar to “Creek Mary’s Blood” and a somewhat abrupt and anti-climatic ending, and the latter is a quasi-groove track with a large collection of muddy riffs and some interesting choir work. “Ghost Love Score” is our token super-epic of the album and pretty much touches every possible variation sound on this album in one single track. You’ve got a heavily Asian influenced Sitar section for a verse, a mixed meter orchestra theme that screams Symphony X, a long ballad section, and plenty of memorable melodies.
The remaining two tracks are ballads and pretty much give the listener a chance to take a final breather to a very complex album. “Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan” is a beautiful orchestra driven ballad with a simple melody set to a charming poem in Finnish. “Higher than Hope” is a more power oriented ballad that reminds of such classic Nightwish tracks as “Oceansoul” and “Dead Boy’s Poem”.
After the initial listen, the consumer is left with one simple impression, and that is what the hell did I just hear? The flaw in this album is not that there are any bad songs on here, there aren’t any. The problem is that taken as a whole, it takes several listens to fully process everything. Nightwish has never been a “Prog.” Metal outfit and it is unsurprising that many have had a negative reaction to this album, because much of what is on here was not there before and it seems to have come out of nowhere. There is still a sense of sameness to be found in the melodies Tuomas has put together, but if you were to listen to Oceanborn or Wishmaster and then compare it to this, you would almost think it is a different band with Tarja doing the vocals.
In conclusion, this is Nightwish’s weakest album to date, but by no means is it a bad album. Many will have objections to it, especially among the fans of earlier Nightwish. It’s a bit over-produced, it’s stylistically all over the place, but it is an enjoyable listen none the less. It comes recommended mostly to fans of Symphonic Metal and Gothic Metal, although Power Metal fans will find things to like here as well. If you would like to hear something a bit different, give this album a try, and be prepared for a musical rollercoaster ride in the process.