REVIEW: Nightwish – HUMAN. :II: NATURE.

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I believe I was twelve years old when I first heard “Nemo,” the song that introduced me to the world of NIGHTWISH. A lot of things have changed since then: singers have come and have gone until the band finally found their match in the extremely versatile powerhouse Floor Jansen, multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley joined the band as a permanent member to spice up the mix with his Celtic folk-inspired magic and long-time drummer Jukka Nevalainen handed over his sticks and drum stool to the legendary Kai Hahto.

The band is releasing their new album “Human. :II: Nature.” on 10 April 2020 through Nuclear Blast Records.  Check out our interview with the band here, check out our first impressions from during the prelistening event here.

The opening track “Music” starts with an Ouverture-like, long, atmospheric intro that immediately sets the tone for the album. At first, the intro feels as if someone is forging something (think Moria, “Lord Of The Rings”-fans), but it is combined with all sorts of nature sounds, and ultimately reminds me a bit of the Russian composer Prokofiev, who was most known for his innovative style that combined the romantic qualities of preceding composers with the budding style of atonality. The beginning incorporates a kind of old folk sound, with a very primitive feel to it. After a minute or so, the song finally takes off with an intense buildup that leads to a more familiar sound including Troy Donockley‘s lighter enchanting folk melodies. After this section is done, electronic elements are introduced with choirs and we hear the first vocal melodies. Theses vocal lines are easily the most complex vocals that Floor Jansen ever had to sing. From the second chorus on, there is a more recognizable NIGHTWISH sound followed by the guitar solo.

“Noise” is perhaps one of the catchiest songs on the album, perhaps because it was the first song that was written after “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” It has a great riff, that feels very cinematic, and yet has a typical NIGHTWISH identity. This enigmatic riff sets the atmosphere of the song and is the basis of the grand composition. Even though, as mentioned, this song is probably the catchiest one of the bunch, it’s clear that the structures in “Human. :II: Nature.” are somewhat different than what the band is used to, and they have managed to surprise me with them a lot considering their progressive nature.

“Shoemaker” is perhaps one of the most complicated songs on the album, as it’s definitely far from catchy, and feels more like a piece of art by itself. The harmonies in “Shoemaker” are top-notch. When I thought the song was finally ending, I was taken by surprise with operatic vocals with Jansen‘s vocal register reaching stratospheric heights, a softer part which included Gregorian chanting as harmonies, and again when the song finally ends abruptly. I have followed Floor Jansen‘s career ever since AFTER FOREVER blew my mind, and have always felt a bit sad that she couldn’t showcase her true potential in the previous album, “Human. :II: Nature.” finally embraces Floor Jansen‘s incredible register, and levels it up.

“Harvest” is a heartwarming song with a positive vibe to it, sang by Troy Donockley, accompanied by tribal drums. The song offers a break from all the heavy, and intense tracks, and brightens up the atmosphere a lot. Again, this is one of the catchiest tracks on the album, so no big surprise that it was chosen to be their second single.

“Pan” is perhaps one of the heaviest songs on the album, but it plays around with different contracts. It has blast beats but also starts out with a beautiful piano melody, and includes mellow soothing vocals by Floor Jansen. Then again, the song is a true powerhouse with incredible different sections, that somehow magically work together. It has softer and enchanting sections that are wrapped around a very heavy core.

“How’s The Heart” is also a bit more of an accessible song, with somewhat cheerful piping at the beginning, and a catchy chorus. It feels almost like a folk explosion after such a dark and heavy song and is surely a welcome change. In its simplicity, it touches the listener as you can pay more attention to the lyrics.

With a proggy synth intro combined with vocals, “Procession” is perhaps the most emotional song on the album. Since it’s minimal, it’s quite easy to move the listener, and admittedly I also had to well up several times while listening to it. Finnish melancholy at its best.

In stark contrast, “Tribal” shows a more thunderous side of the band. The intro starts off with the drone sound of the uilleann pipes. The drums are perhaps the most spectacular thing about the song as they are dark and heavy. At the same time, the song has an almost otherworldly feel to it and also incorporates folk elements to their full potential. At times I’m sending a little bit of a Middle Eastern vibe in the vocals, and somehow “Tribal” even reminds me of a band like STRAPPING YOUNG LAD. This all is combined with impressive vocals, from growls to Floor Jansen’s more aggressive vocal melodies, the end of the song has perfect tribal drum elements, that drive the last section of the song into a higher gear.

The last song of the first part “Endlessness,” features Marko Hietala on lead vocals. NIGHTWISH still manages to surprise the listener with this last song, as it enters the realm of doom metal, and due to its grim nature, it was probably the best fit to end the first part with.

“All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World” is the next track. The song lasts half an hour and is divided into different parts, but it feels like one big track as a whole. A voice-over ignites the composition, from which the most rememberable line “I love not men less, but nature more”. As it often goes with classical music, it is perhaps not as easy to review, but what I can say about it is that it very much feels like an experience for all the senses. As “Vista” starts, I close my eyes to the music and start imagining all the wonders of nature Planet Earth has given us. I see all the trees, all the creeks, all the valleys, the mountains, the lakes, the oceans, everything flows by as I listen to the soundtrack that has painted these images in my mind. Suddenly it hit me, Tuomas Holopainen is nothing more than a modern-day impressionist conveying the moods and emotions of nature in what must be NIGHTWISH‘s most progressive album up-to-date. The song, however, gains more power when humans get involved in “Anthropocene,” and continues up until the bombastic ending. The song, altogether, has a bit of a melancholic undertone, which reminds me of Finland’s most famous composer Jean Sibelius.

“Human. :II: Nature.” is very different from anything that NIGHTWISH has ever done before. While there are familiar ingredients present in the recipe, such as the enchanting melodies, spiced up with some folky bits, and the typical aggressive guitar riffs, there’s a general different atmosphere present. The songs are structured a bit more how classical songs are structured like and are more focused on vocals (harmonies) and an atmosphere created by different soundscapes. All-in-all the album is an excellent addition to NIGHTWISH‘s discography but takes a while to sink in. “Human. :II: Nature.” allows for an introspective journey throughout themes that are close to the heart, a true piece of art giving that little bit of light in the darkest of times.

Tracklist

Disc I
1. Music
2. Noise
3. Shoemaker
4. Harvest
5. Pan
6. How’s the Heart?
7. Procession
8. Tribal
9. Endlessness

Disc II
1. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – Vista
2. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – The Blue
3. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – The Green
4. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – Moors
5. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – Aurorae
6. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – Quiet As The Snow
7. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – Anthropocene (incl. “Hurrian Hymn To Nikkal”)
8. All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World – Ad Astra

Lineup

Floor Jansen – vocals
Tuomas Holopainen – keyboards
Marko Hietala – bass & vocals
Emppu Vuorinen – guitars
Kai Hahto – drums
Troy Donockley – Pipes, flutes & whistles & vocals

Label

Nuclear Blast Records

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