For nearly as long as I’ve been listening to metal, I’ve loved NIGHTWISH. My first album from them was “Wishmaster,” which I bought back in 2000 or so and they have remained one of my favorite bands for nigh on 15 years. Through style changes, line-up changes, and you name it, I’ve loved them. I loved them with Tarja Turunen, I loved them with Anette Olzon, and when Floor Jansen stepped in as a replacement, I jumped on every opportunity to see them I could manage, because I love her too. I couldn’t be happier to have her or Troy Donockley as permanent members of the band, so I have been very impatiently waiting for this album to come out. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks devouring it, so I could form some concrete opinions to share with you. Now, here they are!
“Shudder Before the Beautiful”
This is what I consider to be a proper NIGHTWISH starter song. It has just the right amount of energy and foretells of good times to come if you keep listening. I felt like “Élan,” as the first release, was just taunting us, as it was rather gentle and tame, so it was this song’s release as a teaser that really got me excited for “Endless Forms.” This was the song that said to me, “I was just kidding before, that song doesn’t tell you what the album is about. THIS one does. Enjoy.” I have to admit, the riffs in this song sound… familiar. I think it’s not far removed from “Storytime” or “Whoever Brings the Night,” and yet, it doesn’t bother me. The surrounding music is different enough that it still sounds like a new song, even if the riffs are not their most unique.
All right, here we go! I love heavy NIGHTWISH and Floor Jansen is absolutely killing it! Her voice sounds so gritty and awesome. Also, whatever is happening with her voice and Marko Hietala’s is insane – sort of intermingling, harmonizing pure excellence. It’s like “Dead to the World,” only in my opinion, better! This was, by the natural order, the third song I heard off this album and it sold me immediately. I had, for a brief moment in time before the album came out, worried that the pipes and folk instruments would be too much, but I was wrong. They add something new and fresh and totally awesome to the mix, and it’s not overwhelming.
I thought this was a really clever, sneaky first release. Like “Eva” before it, it was the first song to be heard with a new vocalist and I suspect that they were keeping secrets, so to speak, when they made this one public. This is a beautiful, gentle, borderline boring song on its own. As a single, it’s admittedly kind of weak. But in the context of the album? Somehow, this song gains so much more! Much of the album has this quality. But this song is sweet, not too powerful, and lovely. Jansen’s range isn’t tested very much, but it doesn’t need to be tested in every song, and I’m glad if it’s not. If she was using her all in every single track, I think it’d get overwhelming, so this song is a nice breath of air after “Weak Fantasy.” Also, lyrically it was a good choice for a spring release!
“Yours is an Empty Hope”
Who or what was this song written about? Is it an F-you to their former vocalist? Is it an obnoxious F-you to religious folk? In an interview with Metal Hammer, Tuomas Holopainen mentioned that this was the most out-of-place song on the album, compared with the themes of the other songs, and it arguably the heaviest song as well. And it’s cool. Jansen’s voice again sounds gritty and heavy, and I’ve never heard her sing that way with other bands, so it’s great to know that she can cover so much territory. Also, if you listen closely, you can hear her growling in the chorus. This is cool stuff. As the most unusual track on the album, I consider it to be the weakest link, though it’s still fairly solid.
“Our Decades in the Sun”
This is just a gentle, beautiful slow song. Objectively, it’s perhaps the least interesting on the album, as it’s not as powerful as “Élan,” but it’s lovely in its own mellow way. Again, like “Élan,” it serves as an effective cool-down after the heavier song that precedes it. And really… if this is the worst you have to bring to the table, I have nothing to complain about.
Now it’s Troy Donockley’s time to shine! The ever-present folk sound that this album is taking advantage of hits its first true apex with this track. I love the source of inspiration too – I could easily imagine Holopainen and Henry David Thoreau (the author of Walden) sitting in the woods together, discussing life and nature and beauty. This song has good energy and that folky sound somehow makes it feel all the more natural, in that it makes me want to sit outside and enjoy good weather and nature. Also, who is singing what in what language at the beginning? It sounds perhaps Gaelic or Irish to me, but I can’t say for sure. I’m loving the way they’ve explored a lot of different vocal styles throughout this album.
“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”
Like I said for “Shudder Before the Beautiful” as an intro track, this is exactly the sort of thing that I want in a title track. It’s got the same force as “Bye Bye Beautiful” or “Dark Chest of Wonders,” in the shortish-but-high-in-energy type song, and it’s something I’d like to hear at the end of a live set or perhaps at the beginning of an encore. This is the perfect type of song to have a crowd screaming along with, jumping up and down, and getting into it. I love whatever Holopainen is doing in some parts on the low end of the keyboard – you don’t hear nearly enough of that. This is another great track to put on when you’re in the mood to party and have a good time.
For those of you who don’t know, the Edema Ruh are traveling singers and performers with their own culture and customs who are said to know all of the world’s stories, as depicted in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. So this song was a big deal for me personally as a fairly big Rothfuss fan, and the first thing that stood out to me was the use of the word “sirens” in the chorus. There has never been any mention the existence of sirens in Rothfuss’ books, so this bothers me a bit. In defense of the song though, I suspect that the song is more of an homage to a concept that Holopainen found inspiring. And in the end, it has less oomph than most of the rest of the album. I would have also preferred if he had used a term that didn’t jolt me out of my reverie; “faeries” would fit in both the song and Rothfuss’ world.
This is perhaps my favorite song on the album (note: my favorite song and the best song are not always the same). It has the old NIGHTWISH sound and the new NIGHTWISH folk flare. Again, the energy is great, and while I won’t call this a great live ending track in the same way as “Endless Forms,” it is definitely a near-the-end song. The dynamics continue to be phenomenal and there’s a lot of range in it. There’s nothing quite like the power in “we were here” to remind you to leave your mark on this world.
“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula”
I am not at all opposed to the presence of an instrumental track on every NIGHTWISH album, and I think they have been getting better and better. “Moondance” was nice, “Last of the Wilds” was fun, “Arabesque” was mysterious, and this is… dark, mystical, powerful, and beautiful. Even with the presence of a children’s choir, which I am notorious for disliking, the song only improves. All of the eerie voices in the background serve to solidify the atmosphere, and I love it. Also, if you’ve never seen the photo of Sharbat Gula, go look at it. Her eyes are described by National Geographic as “haunted and haunting” and this song captures that feeling completely.
“The Greatest Show on Earth”
I feel like I’m overusing the word “beautiful” in this review, but what can I do? This is probably one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever listened to, and it’s fairly solidly beautiful across every song. What’s best is that every song seems to belong with the rest, each good, but greater when put together. This is the most true with the last track, a 24-minute epic about life, evolution, and natural selection. I heard that this was cut down from its original run-time, which was over 60 minutes, and who could blame them for writing such a long track? How exactly does one go about cutting down the history of all life? With that in mind, 24 minutes hardly seems long at all. I think the thing I love most about this song though, is that it never bores me, there are no sections I want to skip, there are no awkward transitions, and it fits perfectly like the last few brush strokes of the overall masterpiece that is this album – the grand finale, so to speak, and grand it certainly is.
So what is there to love about this album? Firstly, Floor Jansen and the way she uses her whole voice, a whisper at one time, a growl at another… she covers an impressive range not only vocally, but stylistically. The inclusion of Troy Donockley and the fact that the familiar NIGHTWISH sound has been born again with the inclusion of folk instruments and sounds is also delightful. I loved a touch of new drumming style, brought by Kai Hahto. I loved the inclusion of varying vocal styles, apart from what I’ve already said about Jansen and even apart from Hietala’s trademark wails. I mean the clean male vocals and the growls that are found here and there. And I love the consistency within variation – there are songs that are gentle and powerful, fun and beautiful, and just totally encompassing, and every one of them is in its place.
With that in mind, maybe the best part about this album is how consistently good it is throughout. I’ve been listening to this album over and over for some time now and not once have I skipped a song or picked a favorite to be separated and put on a playlist. This album is best listened to as a whole. Listening to one song is like looking at Mona Lisa’s eyes without seeing her smile. You need the whole picture to truly appreciate it. And in the end, it’s good enough that you can listen to it straight through.
I feel like I want to go sit next to a pond in a forest late at night around midsummer and listen to this album while I’m just enjoying the great outdoors and the world in all its splendor. This album is a tribute to science and nature and I feel, particularly with songs like “My Walden” and “Alpenglow,” that you could somehow get even more out of it if you’re in a place that helps evoke the feelings that probably inspired the album in the first place.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- Shudder Before the Beautiful
- Weak Fantasy
- Yours is an Empty Hope
- Our Decades in the Sun
- My Walden
- Endless Forms Most Beautiful
- Edema Ruh
- The Eyes of Sharbat Gula
- The Greatest Show on Earth
Tuomas Holopainen – keyboards
Floor Jansen – vocals
Marko Hietala – bass, vocals
Emppu Vuorinen – guitars
Troy Donockley – pipes, vocals, etc.
Kai Hahto – drums
Nuclear Blast Records
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”