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It’s been a few long, saddened years for Mrs. Turunen back when NIGHTWISH officially and effectively caved in on itself. After plentiful years and albums showcasing some of the best female vocals to front a metal band in recent times (hell, some of the best femmetal vocals EVER), NIGHTWISH started stagnating to the point of developing a musical case of jungle rot and shat out the inexcusably tepid “Once”. Then came the accusations, the word wars, and poor Tarja was kicked to the curb. It was quite hard on her (she described her firing from the band as a “divorce”), but after taking some time to rest on their laurels and let the emotional wounds heal up, she picked herself up and went solo, releasing records under her name and rubbing elbows with some pretty big Finnish greats. And while the first few albums were a bit rough around the edges, they thankfully centered on her amazing voice, so that in and of itself made up for the simplistic arrangements.
So here I sit with her latest offering, wondering if Tarja still can knock us for a loop…
Like the earlier recorded works, the central musical scheme of things is based mostly on the vocals, but this time around the actual instrumental backdrop have a louder proverbial voice and is a bit more noticeable. The thing that struck me as a bit odd with Tarja’s solo work is that they have a decidedly symphonic metallic vibe; I figured that after all that has befallen her, she’d’ve shied away from that sort of sound…but I guess old habits die hard, and this time around the final product produces more concrete ideas than the last couple of NIGHTWISH attempts. “Dark Passion Play” this is not, thank the All Father, and instead the heavy guitar and bass riffs and shattering percussion are offset by epic choirs, symphonic/piano interludes, a strong classical feel, and some head-bouncing pop/electronic elements with Tarja returning to the multi-layered, operatic roots that made her earlier forays of wishing for the night as awesome as they were, giving us some of her most powerful singing to date. There is a potent beauty to this disc, a potential guilty pleasure to any who get off on Euro-metal, with lots of heart that comes from one who puts her all into her craft, and thankfully we’re allowed to join in on this ride. And yes, some of the material is quite familiar, even a bit predictable, to all who have been paying attention to Finland the past ten or so years, but in this regard the strong songwriting and overall performance makes up for it all on my end. This shines the brightest on songs like “Anteroom of Death”, “Dark Star”, and “Rivers of Lust”, which take traditional song arrangements and mold them into something easier to get into without resorting to shoving riffs down your throat. More often than not it works better in that regard.
All in all, Tarja’s newest solo work is a fantastic piece of work that could very well make one forget the emaciated husk that has become her old stomping ground. This probably won’t be the first thing to pop in for the horns-raisin’ throngs, which is a shame, but for those who want substance versus baseless noodling, you can’t go wrong with this.