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"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.