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The irony of American cynicism. - 70%

hells_unicorn, December 15th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digisleeve)

The first inclination one tends to have when hearing the concept of a Disney concept being set to a serious musical score is towards a dismissive laughter, at least insofar as the U.S. and much of the U.K. would be concerned. Disney, after all, is locked in competition with Warner Bros. for the honor of producing the most slapstick infused animated shorts, replete with gags and ridiculousness galore. Scrooge McDuck fits into this present scheme, albeit in a less overt way, via the popular 1980s animated series Ducktales where a mixture of comedy and homage to more serious cinema fair would cross paths. But the series in question only tells part of the story, and in a less serious way that is more sensitive to the "sensibilities" of younger viewers, when squared with the original graphic novel to which Tuomas Holopainen has sought to pay homage, utilizing most of his usual tricks from his Nightwish arsenal, minus 95% of the metallic elements.

While at first the seemingly over-emphasis on nostalgia and depth appears to be misplaced, the musical elements of A Lifetimes Of Adventure, the lead off single to what would later be Tuomas' first solo LP outing Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge, are actually fitting. The story of Scrooge's life at the point of the song is as an old man, reminiscing on his accomplishments and sacrifices while seeking after material wealth. The closing line of the song's refrain "To be rich is to seek, to relive a memory" is particularly poignant, underscoring the irony of Scrooge as a man of action, always chasing after the distant horizon and never stopping to see where he stands. The lyrics don't focus solely on regret, but also with a degree of gratitude for the experience, and perhaps even a stubborn refusal to accept that the journey is coming to an end.

The various moving parts of the song and the arrangement that breathes it to life are captivating, though also a bit too predictable for their own good. The lead vocalist marks a departure from the Nightwish format by opting for an angelic, airy voice closer to Sharon Den Adel than the dramatic soprano character of Tarja Turunen or Floor Jansen, giving the song a sort of child-like character, as if the lyricist is speaking from the perspective of a nephew of Scrooge's, reflecting on one of his grand tales of adventure in the Klondike. The game of notes surrounding the words is largely a repetitive symphonic ballad that is fairly close to what would pass for a Nightwish ballad, minus the heaviness and bluster of course. The song hits a zenith in the last couple minutes when a lone electric guitar begins wailing away in a rocking manner, arguably a sign that Tuomas remembers who his audience is while he steps out of the metal realm. It's more of a driving, melodic solo after a 70s progressive rock band and restates a lot of familiar territory from the song's orchestral backdrop, but it's definitely a stronger of a solid yet middle of the road symphonic number.

The easiest thing to do when encountering something out of character is to either ignore or mock it, and sometimes the easy road is actually the correct one, but this is not one of those instances. While Tuomas' formulaic approach to telling a different kind of tale ends up in territory that most will recognize from his day job, he makes a good point musically about a genre of art that has long been pigeon-holed into a "kids only" or solely comedic box. While it is obvious that an ensemble cast of anthropomorphic ducks has little to do with the real world in the literal sense, there is something quite real about the characters and their exploits when taken figuratively. The best fiction points back to the world that we live in, and while perhaps not the most spellbinding of musical interpretations out there, A Lifetime Of Adventure is a solid reminder that there is a bit more to our beloved animated characters than just a passing chuckle.

Ethereal - 78%

WhiteSwan, March 14th, 2014

I confess that when I heard about this album for the first time, I thought it would be merely a joke. After long time talking about a possible side-project by Tuomas Holopainen, come to think that the field of fantastic composition of Nightwish could stoop so low to subjects like a cartoon character as Scrooge McDuck was simply implausible. Then I saw the official cover. I almost fainted. What was Toumas presenting us as an alternative project to Nightwish? Was really an album about Scrooge's life?

Yes, the cover was nice: the terrible character, perfectly detailed and animated, watching reflective towards the sky as he's slipping his valuable gold coins with disdain. Although probably the song contains deepest issues than just narrate this duck's adventures, I could not help but think it was a mockery to those who expected a magnificence after seeing so many transcendent successes in Nightwish's trajectory.

As expected, when the single was released I ran to listen it to have a more accurate appreciation of Tuomas' ideas captured in his album. The only song contained in this EP, "A lifetime of adventures" (and its alternative version), did not seems to be disappointing. Although I wasn't come predisposed, I don't expected anything memorable after the terrible disappointment to see where Tuomas' inspiration was aimed this time.

The song, which exceeds the six minutes, obviously moves away from the grounds of the Metal to introduce in an ethereal environment, with a barely perceptible rock past middle. Great part of the melody is based on a key repeat as background, with some mixture of synthesizers that cast a mysterious but beautiful environment to the ear. The absence of drums during the first part, is noticeable replaced by slow and rythmic hits as certain bells which make it a fantasy's feature and perfect animation.

I think the strongest point of Tuomas' album was having the collaboration of a vocalist such Johanna Kurkela, of which we already had prior knowledge by having cooperated with Sonata Arctica few years ago. Her voice is so delicate and ethereal that it seems to be a whisper crawling by the melody. So it reach the goal introducing a singer who is well placed in the role knowing that she has to turn a fantasy tale in a song.

The big problem of the lines sung by Johanna is they are too spaced out. Seriously, too much. This makes the song to have a really exceptional and unnecessary length. The weakest point of the song is the pre-chorus, where the storytelling becomes so slow that comes to despair. What's more, it is so forced that the method comes to doubt about how to separate the sentences to fit them with the tempo, giving rise to ridiculously cutaway verses: “To… still… re… member…”. That's really annoying to listen.

It is understood that the intention is to give mysticism and illusory appearance after the melody, but those spaces only cause the song to be prematurely tedious, and the wonderful bridge between the last two choruses (“All the strangers on your path…”) becomes too expected and very short compared to the rest of the structure.

There is also a problem with the choruses, it is much repetition. They are relatively long, and without any variation in the verses, except once in “hope and many miles to go…”, which gets to bore us. Then we have a quite vague and very extended solo with a horrible distorsion to my taste, but fortunately it closes the song for good. It was a wise decision to not repeat the chorus, as if we didn't memorized it already.

Because of the length of time in the verses, they are not very plentiful, and those six minutes can be compressed into four strophes (probably at a rate of a minute per stanza) although the lyrics are not bad. It is poetic and beautiful, as a reflection of Scrooge himself that, well contextualized, still looking towards the horizon shedding his coins without realizing what he really does.

Tuomas shows again that he can take advantage even from the most unlikely subjects and raise it with absolute seriousness and reliability. And of course, I'll be waiting the release of the complete album, and I guess it goes to my list of possible acquisitions.

"A Lifetime of Adventure" - Not quite a departure - 80%

champioz, February 15th, 2014

Tuomas Holopainen's first step away from Nightwish (besides a few scattered contributions he's made to small bands here and there) sounds exactly like we all expected it to. He is, after all, the Finnish symph-metal band's primary songwriter, so in a way we've been listening to his solo act all along. This first peek at his coming full-length is full of a lot of Holopainen's usual songwriting tropes, and is built on the iconic "Nightwish melody" - the chorus we all know so well that has surfaced in many iterations since the band was formed nearly two decades ago.

The effect, however, is about as nice as usual, and there are even some notable stylistic experiments that turn out to be quite successful.

First off, "A Lifetime of Adventure" is a minor power ballad built primarily around keys, a symphony orchestra, and a choir. The track begins with a pretty standard eighth note keyboard line doubled by a woman's chorus, sounding remarkably similar to the obscure "Away" track from Nightwish's Over the Hills and Far Away EP. This key/choir line builds the entire instrumental backing for both verses, and as such feels a tad repetitive.

To compound that, the verses feel about twice as long as they need to be. The lead vocal line is very spaced out, stretching the sparse lyrics out for 16 bars. With a doubled harmonic progression, which Holopainen could no doubt have worked out, this could have been halved. Either that, or some added texture to the second verse could have made it more interesting. The two remain virtually identical, though, save for some piano lines decorating the second towards the end.

The chorus drives the track's similarities to "Away" home, with very similar chord progressions and even melodies. The tracks suffer from similar problems, as well, with Away's lack of textural variety and sparse arrangement lending it the feeling of leftover filler. The present track has some nice orchestral excitement during its choruses, though, violins moving on eighth notes by the second time around.

It is here as well that we see the song's first major textural departure from Nightwish style. The percussion used is entirely congas and hand percussion for the first half of the song, emphasizing sleigh bells. It adds a nice, mellow effect. That subtlety is abandoned at about the right spot, immediately out of the bridge (which brings in the expected pipes from Troy Donockley), when full percussion booms along for the next chorus.

Unfortunately, Holopainen's issue with repetitive harmonic sequences doesn't end on the other side of the bridge. The excitement peaks very early on during what we would expect to be the final chorus, but the song continues on anyway with what I feel to be an unnecessary and overlong guitar solo. The track was completely devoid of rock instrumentation, and it feels out of place when it pops in at the end like that. To make matters worse, the solo is played in the guitar's lower register, it's placed strangely far back in the overall mix, and the distortion lends it a muddy quality.

Finally, the vocalist, Johanna Kurkela. Overall her performance is capable, and fits the atmosphere of the song. Her voice is soft and airy, unlike any of the vocalists employed under Nightwish's direction, and makes the whole listening experience rather ethereal. This advantage is lost a bit by the time we get to the song's big climax, where the full instrumental background leaves her sounding a bit quiet and silly.

Overall, the song suffers from unnecessary length and uninspired repetition. However, Holopainen's penchant for writing infectious chorus lines gives it a heavy selling point, and the absorbing atmosphere of the track lends it a few listens wherein the length isn't particularly bothersome.

It gives me plenty of hope for the coming album, but also a bit of trepidation, fearing Holopainen may have grown a bit indulgent off on his own (as though Nightwish isn't indulgent as it is!). A nice track that could be cut in half to much gain.