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Profound, but not in the way they meant - 40%

GTog, December 5th, 2011

On some level I suppose that this crushing feeling of an opportunity lost is my own fault. After Dark Passion Play, introducing the phenomenal Anette Olzon, I wanted more of the same. But on the other hand, I wasn't demanding perfection, or even greatness, but just something good.

A large part of Nightwish's success has been their female lead. I never liked Tarja, but still you can't talk about Nightwish without acknowledging that the strong female vocals are 75% of their sound. We all know it. Even if you're a newish Nightwish fan, and therefore aren't really sure what's so hot about this band, you can listen to Imaginaerum and find out immediately what's not - they keep letting their fucking bass player fucking sing. Everything I found wrong about this album is pretty much summed up right there.

Storytime is a good first song (never mind Taikatalvi), but it's a tease. It sets up the album all wrong, by making us think that we're in for genuine, melodic, powerful songs that successfully feature a talented female lead. That's Storytime all the way. Understandable why it was the first single.

But the next time we're treated to that sort of writing isn't until it isn't until Last Ride of the Day, and that's track 11. Practically the whole album goes by. You can think of Storytime and LRotD as kick-ass Nightwish bookends bracing a bunch of dusty old tomes no one would ever want to read more than once.

The thing that keeps happening, or course, is Marco Heitala. Look, I understand that the guy has his uses, but jesus christ singing isn't one of them. On Dark Passion Play, his rough voice provided a useful counterpunch on tracks like Bye Bye Beautiful and The Poet and the Pendulum, but the guy has no range and an awful tone. On Imaginaerum, they tried the counterpunch trick on Ghost River, but this time it fails. He growls over Anette, and the whole things comes off as him interrupting an otherwise good song.

There are several examples of Marco doing clean vocals too, but I ask you this - Is there anyone out there who waited the four years since Dark Passion Play thinking gosh, I hope they let Marco sing more? Not I.

To make matters worse, several tracks feature Marco performing a duet with Anette. Marco is simply unqualified to duet with Anette. He could sing folk tunes around a campfire, but that's about it. His tone is such a contradiction to Anette's that he almost cancels her out, like an opposing sine wave. One of these tracks, The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove, is easily the low point of the album.

It's really hard to hear a good band ruin their own songs by overwriting them, and that's what they (Tuomas) did by writing in parts for Marco. They're almost completely unnecessary, except in the bird song, and that's not a very good track anyway. Now, I'm the farthest thing from a songwriter, but in hockey terms if your top scorer is at the net, get him the puck. Write songs for Anette. Everyone else just play and maybe offer backing vocals.

Structurally the album's got problems too. Starts folksy, gives us a bit of Nightwish, then back off with a jazz song, some mediocre/weird tracks, a couple of the aforementioned horrific Marco/Anette duets, a little Nightwish again, then when you think maybe they'll finish strong we get half a track (Song of Myself) and an overlong orchestration that serves as an outro.

A note on Song of Myself - listed as a 13:37 epic length track, it obviously makes us think of The Poet and the Pendulum. I mean, how could it not? Well, it isn't even close. It's not even really that long. The song is actually only half the length, and isn't bad as far as it goes, but the other half is just self indulgent spoken word bits. Now that is just irritating. Especially after listening to almost the entire jarringly uneven album before we get to it.

Musically, you get exactly what you expect from Nightwish. Drums, bass, and guitar are nothing special, the orchestrations are quite accomplished, and the female vocals are spectacular. If that's what you want from Nightwish, then it's here. It just isn't emphasized. Clearly, this is just a movie soundtrack, and not a new album with accompanying movie, as the buzz would have us believe.

Overall, Imaginaerum is profoundly disappointing. Half of it is not even metal. I count only four tracks that I think are pretty good, hence my score, and none that are stellar.