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The Endless Forms of Nightwish

April 15, 2015

Few bands in metal have inspired the unrestrained devotion and adoration of it’s fanbase the way Nightwish have. Such a fiery bond is subject to various temperaments, as the band themselves found out through the course of two vocalist changes. That they are widely (if erroneously) recognized as the first female vocal led power/symphonic metal band only serves as fuel for this burning intensity. Their success in the late 90’s and early 00’s spawned countless imitators, other newly formed bands that wanted to put their own spin on what really did feel like a fresh style of metal, with inspired females keen to try their hand at singing over heavy guitars and sweeping orchestras. Ushered along by a signing craze from metal labels all over, female fronted metal bands went from a mere handful to a plethora in the blink of an eye. But few, if any of them have ever managed to attain the near mythic status and storied history of the mother of them all.

Nightwish fans today fall into two basic camps, those that are aficionados of a particular era or vocalist past, and those who see the band as something greater than its constituent parts, including vocalists. This latter group is far more inclined to acknowledge the very apparent reality that Nightwish largely exists as a vehicle for the songwriting of its keyboardist, songwriter, founder, and guiding force Tuomas Holopainen. I myself fall into this latter camp, for despite being introduced to the band during the Tarja Turunen era shortly after the release of Wishmaster, I found myself becoming a bigger fan of the band after her departure. It didn’t take me long to realize after listening to their 2007 first post-Tarja Turunen release Dark Passion Play that I had always been more of a fan of Holopainen. Their 2011 follow-up Imaginaerum hit the nail on the head for me, a thirteen-track treatise of perfection that backed up my argument that Holopainen’s songwriting was able to blossom and flourish without Turunen’s limiting (albeit powerful) vocal style.

Nightwish and their fans share a relationship that is at once devotional and divisive, and also detached and myopic. The band’s most personal works (such as the entirety of the Century Child album) are the kinds of rare records that forge molten emotional bonds with fans. Holopainen’s autobiographical lyrics inspired this devotion, and with it came the kind of rabid fandom that became a hyper protective community, for better and worse. The band learned firsthand of the latter during the media and fan firestorm that resulted from their 2005 open letter dismissal of original vocalist Tarja Turunen. In an attempt to get ahead of the inevitable media war-of-words and fallout between the two parties, the band erred in underestimating just how exposed its own fans’ nerve endings were. Holopainen was himself skittish around the media and private by nature, and as the band leader he found the fallout particularly torturous. For many fans even nearly ten years later, that damage has yet to be undone —- click on any YouTube clip of the band’s Turunen era and scroll down to the comments section for the most surface of glimpses.

Since that cataclysmic event Nightwish have conducted most of their inner workings with an eye towards privacy and security. Unmoved by the pleas of fans lamenting the loss of Turunen, the band circled the wagons around their organization and approached future decisions with a touch of tunnel vision. The band wouldn’t shut their fans out completely, offering up some behind the scenes looks in the form of photo galleries, social media updates, video blogs —- but their content was carefully controlled. It was a gamble, but the commercial success of the Anette Olzon era justified Nightwish’s new approach in the face of a semi-divided fanbase that consisted of very vocal fans sympathetic to Turunen. And in demonstrating their commitment to not repeating the errors of the past, Nightwish handled the October 2012 falling out with Olzon with single press statement that offered no details. The timing of their announcement in declaring fill-in vocalist Floor Jansen as an official permanent member was also interesting to note —- occurring long after the Imaginaerum tour was over, in between album cycles where the requests and expectations for media availability would be relatively low.
 

For Nightwish fans, the announcement of Jansen brought along expectations that the band would make use of her operatic vocal capability on the new studio album, as she had demonstrated on several older songs on the tour. I myself took note of the general tone and tenor of the reactions on the band’s Facebook page around that time, and most of them were from fans salivating at the thought of a Wishmaster or Century Child sequel. Its likely that many long sundered fans of the band’s Turunen era were eyeballing Jansen as the closest possible thing to their dream reunion. As a bigger fan of the pop-vocal infused Olzon era, I too wondered how the band was going to balance their expanded musicality with the undeniable fan craving for hearing something soprano-oriented being belted out by Jansen. As heard in the Showtime, Storytime concert video, Jansen was able to bounce from one style to another in varying moments, though she typically stuck to her rock-inflected delivery. A retrospective viewing of that concert makes me realize that it was far more foretelling of what the new album would bring than anyone realized.

Nightwish have responded to their fans’ expectations in rather typical fashion, by ignoring them altogether of course. Holopainen’s vision for Endless Forms Most Beautiful takes precedence over everything, its songs forming a loosely-stitched thematic album about spirituality through science and reason, inspired largely by the writings of biologists Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin. It’s songs didn’t require operatic vocals —- quite the contrary in fact, Jansen’s vocals on the album are far closer to the pop stylings of the Olzon era. This has confused some and upset many, the hope that Jansen would bring the band back to its classicist roots taking another massive blow. Certainly not everyone felt this way, but it does seem that Nightwish will yet again have to bear the brunt of their most vocal critics, their own diaspora of fans. That unfortunate truth about fans is that they can be rather myopic as well in their own regard.

So I’ll argue here that those fans affronted by the vocal decisions on Endless Forms are focusing on a singular aspect of the album to their own detriment. The very thing they are decrying is the mechanism that allows these songs to form yet another first-rate Nightwish album, and might I add —- an album that musically reaches back to touchstones of the past such as Oceanborn and Once. It might be that its coming off the heels of the wildly eccentric, diverse Imaginaerum album, but there is a musical unity present throughout the new album that reinforces its thematic concept and somehow bleeds the feel of old school Nightwish. Take the album opener “Shudder Before the Beautiful” where a sprinting orchestral arrangement slightly outpaces guitars, drums, and vocals —- a spectacular effect that ushers along what actually plays like a duel between Holopainen’s furious keyboard wizardry and Emppu Vuorinen’s wild guitar solos. Talk about old school, that’s the kind of Finnish power metal trademarks that you’re hard pressed to find anyone doing these days.
 

Perhaps its the largely uptempo feel of the album that’s responsible for the old-school resonance that I’m feeling. The band hasn’t done away with Dark Passion Play/Imaginaerum era live orchestras and cinematic arrangements, they’re still present and rather glorious in most moments, but they’re utilized this time more for amping up the energy of rollickingly speedy tracks like “Yours Is An Empty Hope”, “Weak Fantasy”, and the title track. This is a triumvirate of songs that underscore Holopainen’s gift as a songwriter, not in that he expertly juxtaposes soaring melodic ear candy over a frenetic rhythms but that he can do it in such diverse ways with varying degrees of heaviness and aggression. The vicious, snarling “Weak Fantasy” might be the best song on the album, with its tension building usage of solo string sections and a furious pummeling courtesy of pinch-hitting Wintersun drummer Kai Hahto. I get enthralled after the post-folk breakdown at 3:37 where the orchestra descends with a sweeping crescendo alongside Marco Hietala’s always wonderfully passionate vocals —- few others can pull off such riveting drama through the tenor of their voice alone.

Its Jansen who shines on the other two tracks, providing them vocals that veer between ethereal lightness and leather-lunged rock n’ roll grit. On “Yours Is An Empty Hope”, Jensen doesn’t play the beauty to Hietala’s beast, instead her Doro Pesch-esque vocals work with his to amp up the aggression of the song tenfold. I get a bit of a “Slaying the Dreamer”/”Master Passion Greed” vibe here, particularly the latter in regards to the stop-start nature of the doomy, violent orchestral booms. Shifting in tone, she plays the cheerful, charming narrator in “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”, her effortlessly bouncy vocals a stark contrast to a seriously aggressive rhythm section. Vuorinen and Hietala even share a rather nasty guitar/bass solo section here, unleashing a rumbling monster truck of a dual-riff that comes as a total surprise. Vuorinen gets some criticism in guitarist corners for playing what is largely the same riff-pattern in the same guitar tone throughout the entirety of the band’s catalog. I don’t personally feel the criticism is entirely warranted, because being the sole guitarist, he is largely responsible for the band’s metallic elements —- that being said he is far more reigned in on this album than on Imaginaerum, where he had room to experiment.

A rapidly rising favorite of mine is “Alpenglow”, a song that boasts the album’s most snappy, ear-wormy chorus, along with a twisted vocal segment from Jansen that really, really reminds me of Olzon’s vocal theatrics on “Scaretale” off Imaginaerum. Multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley is present throughout the album, chiming in with uilleann pipes, bodhran, low whistles, and bouzouki —- but his standout track is “My Walden” where he dominates the soundscape with a flurry of Celtic-tinged melodies. The first two minutes of the song are fairly standard in approach, but its the latter half of the song where the band indulges in a folky-jam session that I almost wish encompassed the entire track. I suspect it would’ve made the song standout more as a result and also given Donockley a platform for longer running melodies and motifs. Much to my surprise he isn’t on every track here, at least not blatantly so, as was my fear when discussing the Élan single a few weeks ago. Even more surprising is my feeling that he’s being underutilized somehow… that might be one to chew on, I could change my mind on it. I’m all for his presence on Nightwish albums, but I’ve yet to suss out what his contributions are within on a more fundamental level as a permanent member.
 

The aforementioned “Élan” is effectively the same version as on the single, and within the context of the album it actually sounds better, though I’m less convinced of its effectiveness as the lead off single (“Alpenglow” would’ve been a better choice, a more daring yet similarly catchy cut). The thematic-bending “Edema Ruh” (something from a fantasy series I’ve never read) is an okay song with a relatively generic chorus (by Holopainen standards), but its slightly redeemed by some interesting guitar work by Vuorinen. And I’m torn about the sole ballad on offer, “Our Decades In the Sun”, because during the moments when its working it is as gorgeous and beautiful as anything the band has ever done. The problem might be that the song is too delicate for its own good, its sections often left without connecting musical glue, and the silky string arrangements unable to muster enough momentum to bind everything together. Its actually Vuorinen’s stormy guitar interjection at 2:07 that provides the song with its only dose of electrical current, a brilliant moment that ought to make you shiver. I enjoy listening to it overall, but its not in the ballpark of the band’s best ballads, and its a shame because it had the qualities to perhaps be their best.

And here comes the axe… look, I’m as enthusiastic as can be about the theme of the album, having read books by Dawkins myself and generally sharing the same perspective as Holopainen on science and reason and the grandeur they have shown us. That being said, the grand epic of the album, a twenty-four minute behemoth titled “The Greatest Show on Earth” absolutely falls flat for me. I don’t mind that Dawkins is a narrative voice here, because the words he’s speaking are poetic and beautiful, but perhaps he would’ve been more effective at the end of the track, serving as the non-musical coda for the album. Instead his speaking parts and the musical sections of the song are chopped up into relatively non-conforming parts that simply come across as choppy and cluttered in their sequencing. As for the musical sections themselves, there’s only one that truly shines, from the 12:00 to 13:47 minute mark where Jansen and Hietala trade off vocals in a staccato rhythm fueled speed run. The other sections seem to lack any sort of definition, let alone micro-hooks, which are essential for longer set pieces like this —- you need those ear candy moments to keep your attention and to make you want to come back. And I could entirely do away with “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula”, which is more mood piece than instrumental (it does little to match up to the power of the original photograph its in reference to).

And now back to that non-operatic vocals thing —- simply listen to this album and you’ll understand that there was no room for it. That won’t appease anyone disappointed with the album as a result however, because the argument could always be “Well Tuomas should make an effort to write songs in that style”. But that’s the thing, he can’t —- if he tried and he wasn’t completely into it they would come off sounding half-baked and uninspired. The reason we’re all Nightwish fans is because of his songwriting, and his songs have always been for better or worse authentic portraits of his interests, feelings, or passions at that time. On Imaginaerum, the wide-open fantasy/imagination concept of the album influenced his songwriting towards a diverse array of styles and sounds. It might even be accurate to frame that album as more directed by the music rather than the lyrics. On Endless Forms, its the other way around because the lyrics are far more important to the crux of the thematic core, perhaps a reason why Holopainen endeavored to have them sung as clearly as possible. Maybe the next album will be thematic in a way that lends itself to soprano-styled vocals… its possible, but it shouldn’t define your enjoyment of a modern day Nightwish album. If the vocal style is that important to you, then you’re expecting the wrong things from the wrong band.
 

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. rob25 permalink
    April 15, 2015 6:40 am

    Consider myself an old school fan, I too was expecting a return to a more operatic style but I’m glad they didn’t. An excellent review though I myself love the title track. My album of the year with Night Demon so far.

    • rob25 permalink
      April 15, 2015 6:44 am

      Not the title track correction. The greatest show on earth. Apologies

    • April 15, 2015 6:57 pm

      I think that the relative failure of “The Greatest Show on Earth” to my ears will be a huge mark against this album when it comes time to think of the years best…. especially since it was supposed to be the grand statement track of the album according to Tuomas himself. It just didn’t have enough in the way of quality melodies and song structure like other Nightwish epics have in spades (I’m thinking of “Ghost Love Score, “Poet and the Pendulum”, “Song of Myself”, etc), and lacked the needed micro-hooks to ensure that a lengthy song will keep my interest. Maybe I’m in the minority in thinking that.

      But my mind has been changed over time before. That being said I feel like I’ve listened to this album on repeat for a few weeks straight now and that should be more than enough spins to feel like the song itself just isn’t working for me.

  2. Vocarin permalink
    April 15, 2015 9:26 am

    Great review, as always. I agree with your assessment of The Greatest Show on Earth. Much as I like pretty much every other mammoth installment on a Nightwish album, it just doesn’t work here. It feels stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster when prior epics like Poet and the Pendulum and Ghost Love Score have a unifying theme and concept them that drives the work. Doesn’t detract too much from an awesome album, but calling a spade a spade is always important.

    I wonder if Tuomas doesn’t set Floor up for operatic sections for the same reason he didn’t try it with Annette: he said in the Dark Passion Play album interviews that he didn’t want the new singer to be seen as Tarja 2.0, so he made songs where she wouldn’t have to compete in that respect. I’m of the opinion that Floor could do better in the operatic ranges than Tarja did, since I love Floor’s version of Ghost Love Score more than Tarja’s, therefore I would welcome an album that supports that range of her abilities. I’ve heard in places that Tuomas won’t write her in as an operatic singer, which would be a waste of her talents, while in a recent interview I watched he said ‘she’s as versatile a singer as you can get,’ so maybe the next album will involve more diversity and vocal range for her. It could go either way since, like you, I’m a fan of Tuomas more than I am of a specific singer or other, but an album where she’s able to flex her vocal muscles would be welcome, whatever form that takes. As you say though, the album and theme and songwriting come first.

    Speaking of those, you make an interesting point on how the Imaginaerum album seemed to showcase the music rather than the lyrics while this time it’s the other way around. Do you feel like this is a common thing or a rare thing for bands to pull off as well as Nightwish does? I agree with your point, but I’m not as well-versed in the Metal scene as you are, nor do I hear the breakdown of riffs and such like you, so is this effective reversal par for the course? Or is it another thing that Tuomas does really well?

    • April 15, 2015 7:10 pm

      Damn I should’ve read your comment first before replying to the poster above —- I’m not alone in my feelings about “The Greatest Show on Earth” after all!

      As for your last paragraph —- good,great question, something I haven’t given much thought to before. Its definitely a rare thing, but I feel like Therion is a good example of a band that has toyed around with emphasizing different elements…. they were always a band that emphasized their musical/instrumental side over vocalists, so when they released Gothic Kabbalah in 2007(?) they got a lot of blow back from fans who thought it was an attempt at developing a more commercial-friendly sound. The reality was that the band simply had drafted in some really great singers to their lineup and either consciously or subconsciously wrote an album of songs that showcased their talents up front and center. (It was a great album as well!)

      But I think Tuomas has an advantage as a songwriter the same way Tobias Sammet of Edguy/Avantasia does — they write music on keyboards/piano first, so the melodies are an inherent backbone of the song structurally. If you removed the guitars from a Nightwish album, you’d essentially still hear something really close to the way the final recording sounded. With that as a backbone, he can raise the musical complexity at will or have a song be far more dependent on the vocal melody as the driving instrument at work. Rarely if ever are Nightwish songs riff-dependent or solely vocal melody dependent.

      • Pharithos permalink
        November 30, 2015 9:50 pm

        You know – they do those long epic songs so well, and I was going back through some of their albums as I was reading these reviews, and it struck me – no one has mentioned Beauty of the Beast!!! Maybe because it’s a clear-cut trio of tunes on one monster track, but … DAMN! it’s so good, specially round the 5:30 – 6:30 range when one more night really comes into its own.

        I’m just getting my feelers into this album, but absolutely loving it. I do some painting (a lot of Warhammer 40k) and Imaginaerum was totally inspiring music to listen to, and my favorite song was Last Ride of the Day when I was painting.

        Cheers!

      • November 30, 2015 10:18 pm

        “Beauty of the Beast” is a fun track, not my favorite among Nightwish “epics” but certainly no dud either. I guess being more a post-Tarja fan I tend to overlook some of the older stuff but I will say, Century Child might be a flawless album!

  3. Mariano permalink
    April 15, 2015 12:34 pm

    You described three basic types of Nightwish’s fans, but – perhaps – there is a fourth one: the newborn fan. I find myself to be of this type.

    I never paid so much attention to Nightwish. Of course I knew some great songs from them, and “Once” was a very played album in the Rock Radios here in Brazil. But to be honest, I’ve always found myself bored after listening to Tarja’s Era Nightwish. After her departure, the band came to total hiatus in term of news and the likes here in my land and, even knowing that the band got another vocal, the interest in listening to their new albums was zero.

    That said, after listening to past albuns (a few months ago) and listening to “Elan” Single in the radios, I came to think that the sonority was fresh and new. Also, Floor’s voice was well know for me because of After Forever.

    • April 15, 2015 8:35 pm

      You’re in for a treat then if you will be listening to Imaginaerum for the first time. I consider it their post-Tarja masterpiece and in contention with Century Child for their greatest of all time.

      • April 15, 2015 8:42 pm

        Yeah, I starting to like their previosly albums. The point is, I was in need of some stimulus to recover my interest in then… and “Endless Forms Most Beatiful” was the perfect one.

        I’m very tempted to buy a ticket to see then at “Rock in Rio” late this year.

      • April 16, 2015 5:16 pm

        Can’t imagine a better show to see them at!

  4. Eric permalink
    April 15, 2015 2:10 pm

    Dude, I totally agree with you about “Alpenglow” which is my favorite song on the album. I like “Elan” but they definitely should have made “Alpenglow” the single. “Greatest Show On Earth” would be great if it wasn’t for the spoken word and animal noises which would cut it down significantly. If it were edited, it would definitely be a lot better. My issue is the fact that they’ve blatantly used the opening riff from “Dark Chest Of wonders” for both “Shudder Before The Beautiful” and “Yours Is An Empty Hope”. I just saw them on the first night of the tour in NYC and I could have sworn they were going to do DCOW before it because YIAEH.I don’t care that much about not having Floor use her operatic voice although it would be nice to see what she can do on the next album. She definitely slayed “Stargazers” and “Sleeping Sun” live without a problem.

    • April 15, 2015 8:29 pm

      Ill be seeing them in a few weeks myself, hoping they keep Sleeping Sun in the setlist! I was always surprised that Floor didnt use her operatic voice more on “She is My Sin”… her take on that song was just like Anette’s.

      And yeah I noticed a bit of a Dark Chest vibe in YIAEH as well but only am now hearing that Shudder reference. Not the biggest deal to me but yeah its kinda glaring.

  5. April 16, 2015 4:06 pm

    Your analysis of Endless Forms Most Beautiful is perfect, in my estimation. I am of the second group of Nightwish fans, having discovered them quite by accident around the time Tarja was expelled. I saw them perform in 2008, and I was blown away, of course, since it was my first (and only) Nightwish concert.

    I have found that this album definitely needs several listens to be truly appreciated. My first reaction was that the core band was rather overwhelmed by symphonic majesty and found the simple “Edema Ruh” to be my first choice. Now I have to agree that “Weak Fantasy” is a better, wilder and more wonderful track, and there are no portions that I will skip in future, although I rather agree with your assessment of “The Greatest Show on Earth”. I could really do without the worm gurgles at the finale.

    Thanks for your excellent examination of a most eagerly anticipated release. (I am sharing this blog on Facebook today).

    • April 16, 2015 5:25 pm

      Thanks! And glad you’re liking the album… I think that I didn’t completely love it as much as I did Imaginaerum but it has plenty of great moments on it.

  6. Elenita permalink
    April 19, 2015 3:12 am

    I just discovered this blog today and I must say it was insta-love with your reviews and the way you write (so yeah, you got yourself a new fangirl from Argentina, lol).

    Got to admit I came back to the Nightwish fandom only when I heard Anette was gone, since I’ve stopped following them after Tarja left. I listened to Imaginaerum only after listening to the Live @ Wacken album, and even though it’s great, the vocals kill it for me. I prefer to enjoy Floor’s versions of the songs.

    Going back to EFMB, I do agree with your review. I know Floor’s voice is really versatile and she can do pretty much anything wih it, but even though lots of people (myself included) were wishing for a more operatic album, the songs just wouldn’t have sounded right with those vocals, they simply had no room for it IMO. And that doesn’t keep it from being great, I liked pretty much every song (though “The Greatest Show on Earth” is lacking something).

    Word has it they’ll be coming to Argentina in October, so if it’s confirmed I’ll be rushing to buy my ticket. I’m looking forward to what they bring us in the future. Just like you said on another post, I’m feeling Nightwish has found their permanent vocalist (and I’m loving it).

    • April 19, 2015 11:35 am

      Hello, glad you found this place and thanks! I’ll have to repeat the broken record advice I give everyone who tells me they skipped the Olzon-era and urge you to really give Imaginaerum a listen. On a songwriting level alone, it might be one of the best albums in metal in the past ten years, also one of the most diverse and adventurous (which in a way makes it more “progressive” than most prog-metal albums).

      I hope that they can manage to do at least three albums with Jansen, but I would find it unsurprising if she decides leaves after her second album with them. She hasn’t had to face the same scrutiny that Olzon had too as a complete unknown, but the band’s schedule is intense and their fanbase demanding —- Jansen’s already faced problems with burnout in the past. I guess we’ll see.

      • Elenita permalink
        April 21, 2015 11:06 pm

        Hi there! Yes, I did listen to Imaginaerum and it’s impossible to not admit that it’s something completely different to anything else out there. Both musically and lirically it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. The only thing I had problems with was Anette’s voice (not because of animosity towards her, but because that particular timbre gets on my nerves – sort of like nails on a blackboard).Still, there are some songs that aren’t on the live album with Floor and that I still want to hear to because they’re simply amazing (like “Slow, Love, Slow”, “Scaretale” and particularly “Turn Lose the Mermaids”).
        Regarding Floor, I sure hope she can keep up with the band’s demanding schedule and fanbase. Aside from loving her voice, I feel that she’s so versatile that Tuomas will be able to once again breach boundaries and give us quite a few gems.

  7. L Roy permalink
    April 23, 2015 6:25 am

    Pidge, long time no see. Loved the write up on Steven Wilson’s new one (which is actually the point of this comment – give me a second, lol)…

    I have absolutely no problem with any of Nightwish’s singers – as a concept/image thing, I much prefer the Tarja era than any of the others, although I openly admit that Imaginaerum is my favourite of the lot. However, the case I’d like to highlight is Nightwish pretty much shot for the stars with the release of Once – which understandably has been the staple of their live shows ever since, and incidentally the one I hate the vocals on the most. Whoa – wait a second – how could I dislike this album when I just admitted I preferred the Tarja era AND it contains more songs that have been successfully covered by all three vocalists?

    Glaringly obvious is of course the vocals – compared to her previous efforts, even Tarja herself started to lose the opera vibe and reign things in power and pronunciation wise, intentional or otherwise. A little less obvious however – and I would encourage you to go back and consider for yourself – is that the guitar work took a back seat to the orchestration; less in your face power chords and rarely a solo that didn’t just repeat the vocal melody. The centrepiece of Once was the London Film Orchestra who, whilst bringing some novel film score punch, have subsequently come back to play on every one of the three albums since.

    Furthermore, the format of every album has been the same since Once, with each release since featured a new, more orchestrated, more grandiose version of the ‘heavy’ single (Wish I had an Angel/Bye Bye Beautiful/Storytime/Endless forms) the ‘pop’ single (Nemo, Amaranthe, I want my tears back/ Elan), the 10 minute epic (Ghost Love Score/Poet & Pendulum/Song of Myself/Greatest Show on Earth), and a little folk number to break them up (Kuolema/The Islander/Turn loose the mermaids/Sharbat Gula).

    To top it off, on Endless Forms… the recycling of riffs is shameless – Dark Chest comes back twice on Weak Fantasy and Shudder; Master Passion Greed comes back on Yours is an Empty Hope (as does the ending riff to Song of Myself at 3:20ish); My Walden and Edema Ruh are effectively Mark II versions of Last Ride of the Day and Last of the Wilds respectively; once they were out of riffs it seems 25 mins of orchestra was then separated into movements by minutes of alternate picking – although, I’ll confess I do love how lush the orchestra is on this one.

    Which brings me nicely to Steven Wilson’s new one – at least he had the realisation that his solo writing was overtaking his efforts with PT. For whatever reason he may have chosen to retire PT, the silver lining was that any crossover in terms of earlier content between the two projects was largely avoided. I can’t however say the same for Tuomas Huolopainen. Nightwish, whilst still a class act, seems to be more the “Huolopainen band ft. Hietala and friends”. Regardless of who is performing microphone duties, I feel the bigger issue is that Nightwish albums have now become a giant exercise in orchestral composition, with the rest of the band offered little to no opportunity to expand their palette, instead used as mere hired guns to fill in the gaps.

    Insomnia by any other name, perhaps?

    • April 23, 2015 8:29 pm

      Whoo…. a lot to chew on here, let me get back to you with a response, just wanted to let you know I read your comment L Roy!

    • April 23, 2015 9:58 pm

      “I have absolutely no problem with any of Nightwish’s singers – as a concept/image thing, I much prefer the Tarja era than any of the others, although I openly admit that Imaginaerum is my favourite of the lot. However, the case I’d like to highlight is Nightwish pretty much shot for the stars with the release of Once…. A little less obvious however – and I would encourage you to go back and consider for yourself – is that the guitar work took a back seat to the orchestration; less in your face power chords and rarely a solo that didn’t just repeat the vocal melody. The centrepiece of Once was the London Film Orchestra who, whilst bringing some novel film score punch, have subsequently come back to play on every one of the three albums since”

      —- Its worth considering that Once was not the debut of Nightwish’s dalliance with live orchestras, as they utilized a Finnish orchestra on most of the tracks on Century Child in 2002. That album can be viewed retrospectively as the last bridge between their first three albums’ guitar-was-equal-with keyboards power-metal style and their newer (some would say streamlined, I’d say vocal-line dependent) style on parts of Century Child (Everdream, Bless the Child, Ocean Soul) and the Once album. Was it a conscious decision? It could have been, the only person who knows is Tuomas himself but he did a fairly good job delivering some rather convincing material on what I largely regard as the band’s second weakest album (the debut being the overall weakest).

      That Tuomas found a guy in Pip Williams who he could easily work with in integrating classical backing scores to the band’s albums is something I’d imagine most of us would consider a boon. Think of all the great gems it yielded, the powerful moments! Fanboy gushing aside, I didn’t really mind that the orchestra kept popping up on every subsequent album because the writing was on the wall as early as the Wishmaster/Century Child era. Go back and check out interviews with Tuomas back then and he’s always going on about how film score music is a far bigger inspiration to him than metal in developing Nightwish’s sound. When the band was finding its way on those first three albums, they did rely on the guide-ropes of metal bands that influenced them (Metallica, Stratovarius, their contemporaries in Sonata Arctica, etc), largely because they were still forging their own musical identity in rather unknown musical territory and because Tuomas was still new to the whole songwriting racket…. so he absolutely relied more on guitarwork from Emppu.

      I also think its indicative of why I don’t think we heard absolute greatness from Tuomas as a songwriter until the Century Child album (a case could be made for “Sleeping Sun” as a spectacular moment from Oceanborn, but it was still baby steps compared to the beautifully arranged open nerve endings that made up Century Child). His best ideas were brought to fruition by the liberation and expansion that working with an orchestra allowed him. It meant that heaviness could take a new form, in the shape of sweeping, gusting strings instead of only guitar riffs, and that he could utilize the orchestra as his own personal vehicle for establishing moods and tones instead of solely having to rely on his primary melody and Tarja’s vocal delivery. In short the orchestra was the tool that he needed in order for him to become a better songwriter, and its good fortune that ensured the band became successful enough from Wishmaster to be able to get that orchestra for the next album.

      Without it I don’t think we’d have ever heard Ghost Love Score, or The Poet and the Pendulum, and on and on and on. I suppose it could be argued that if he really wanted Endless Forms to be a band-centric nod to Oceanborn he would’ve done away with the orchestra completely and relied solely on bass, guitar, keyboards and drums but that’s not what he wanted clearly. I also wouldn’t see the point in that, especially considering the band rose to artistic and commercial prominence during the post-orchestral era, its very much their identity now, and I think we can lock in an orchestral presence on everything the band does in the future.

      “Furthermore, the format of every album has been the same since Once, with each release since featured a new, more orchestrated, more grandiose version of the ‘heavy’ single (Wish I had an Angel/Bye Bye Beautiful/Storytime/Endless forms) the ‘pop’ single (Nemo, Amaranthe, I want my tears back/ Elan), the 10 minute epic (Ghost Love Score/Poet & Pendulum/Song of Myself/Greatest Show on Earth), and a little folk number to break them up (Kuolema/The Islander/Turn loose the mermaids/Sharbat Gula).”

      Oh definitely, I won’t argue with you there. I’ve noticed the same patterns but they don’t tend to bother me because all those songs have enough of an identity to not blur together for me. Storytime doesn’t remind me of Bye Bye Beautiful or Wishmaster, but I could see a resemblance to Endless Forms (uptempo both). I dunno…. every band has patterns, Metallica used to ballad up track number four on their studio albums from Justice to Re-Load (hell perhaps even through Death Magnetic, if you ignore St Anger…. and I do). Iced Earth has those tendencies in songwriting as well…. tell me how similar “Melancholy” and “I Died For You” sound! Stratovarius is the king of patterns in power metal terms, but I suppose we can throw Tobias Sammet in the mix as well with a few noticeable patterns of his own. Everyone does this and while it can be noticeable, it doesn’t take away my enjoyment.

      “To top it off, on Endless Forms… the recycling of riffs is shameless – Dark Chest comes back twice on Weak Fantasy and Shudder; Master Passion Greed comes back on Yours is an Empty Hope (as does the ending riff to Song of Myself at 3:20ish); My Walden and Edema Ruh are effectively Mark II versions of Last Ride of the Day and Last of the Wilds respectively; once they were out of riffs it seems 25 mins of orchestra was then separated into movements by minutes of alternate picking – although, I’ll confess I do love how lush the orchestra is on this one.”

      Will definitely concede that Yours Is An Empty Hope has a striking rhythmic structure to Master Passion Greed, and unfortunately at that because I’m not a big fan of either. Empty Hope ends up being a better song but not by much. As for My Walden being a copy of Last Ride of the Day…. I’m not entirely convinced, there’s a tempo difference first, and while the melodies do hit some similar angles I definitely can’t say that they’re copies. Ditto for Edema Ruh and Last of the Wilds —- I hear the latter as more guitar-driven and the former as reliant on Floor’s vocal melody as the guiding musical element. Every now and then I’ll hear something in Nightwish’s songs that remind me of something else in their catalog, but I hear that a lot with other one-songwriter dominated bands as well… comes with the territory.

      Endless Forms does come off as unique album to me musically speaking for the most part, not as much as Imaginaerum perhaps but that was a special album with special musical conditions/inspirations (ie…. being a soundtrack allowed them the freedom to do a song like Slow Love Slow, or a rustic ballad like Turn Loose the Mermaids, or a crazy, theme-park/horrorish tune like Scaretale). Its not their best album, I think we’ll all agree on that, but no one hits homeruns every time at bat.

      The thing that kept creeping into my mind when talking about how artists repeat stuff is just how much I notice that with Steven Wilson at times…. he’s a remarkably original artist but particularly in the Porcupine Tree era he tended to do that alot, most often noticed in transitions and guitar riffs. I think this was a major factor in his deciding to shelve PT and go solo, so he could embrace sounds that the other guys didn’t want to do (jazz for example). He explains why PT was shelved pretty well in this video if you’re interested, its worth hearing his take on it and he comes off as fairly reasonable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxruvIBRaG8

      That being said, all his originality-seeking hasn’t always been to my taste. Grace For Drowning I just couldn’t get into for all its jazziness and I thought that The Raven Refused… was good but its relatively same musical tone throughout the album could really grate on my patience. I love Hand Cannot Erase precisely because it is so diverse and features so many different styles yet tends to be strung together with a pop-songwriting motif. But you’re right in pointing out just how diverse from album to album Steven Wilson has been post PT.

      Nightwish is by definition Holopainen’s songwriting vehicle… three vocalists come/gone/current should tell anyone that. I don’t want it to become a democratic partnership where everyone gets an equal say in songwriting, because it would dilute what I love about his music. I think the other guys contributions are well incorporated however whenever they do offer them up, such as Marco’s awesome musical contributions for “The Crow The Owl The Dove” on Imaginaerum, 7 Days to the Wolves from Dark Passion Play, and of course While Your Lips Are Still Red. Emppu just doesn’t seem to be much of a songwriter in his own right, despite delivering a few great contributions on the Wishmaster album…. its possible that he just isn’t that great at coming up with melodies which is what Nightwish tunes are built on, not riffs. Interestingly enough Hietala contributes more on Endless Forms than he’s ever done.

      I suppose its the whole eye of the beholder thing. That very line that separates Nightwish fans into two distinct branches, those that feel the vocalist (or other members) should be equal in importance or greater contrasted by those who feel everything stems from Tuomas Holopainen. A philosophical difference then!

      Wow, sorry for making this an essay, you had me thinking!

  8. Esa Laukkanen permalink
    May 14, 2015 7:58 pm

    Thank you for your analyses and comments. Those has been always well written, and I have noticed getting always something to thing. I do not always necessary agreed with your conclusions but mostly we are on the same page. Good job!

    I’m definitely belonging to the second camp, having always appreciated their music. Naturally it took some time to adjust from Tarja to Anette, but it never took away my passion to the music. Floor was easy transition as I had been following her career for some time.

    I had biggest difficulties to get into Elan, it took some time to grow on me. On the other hand, I liked TGSOE immediately. This is a great album, and it’s getting probably even better over the time.

  9. May 16, 2015 12:11 pm

    Thanks Esa! I actually saw the band live in Houston a week or so ago and they played TGSOE live —- it was marginally better live but I still wondered about the effectiveness of a 20 minute plus long song in a set that was lacking Nightwish classics like “Ever Dream”, “Nemo”, and “Dark Chest of Wonders” (to name a few that come to mind). That it was one of three epics they played that night alongside “The Poet and…” and “Ghost Love Score” was even more surprising. I suppose its a minor thing to quibble over but I just don’t see TGSOE as the album’s centerpiece but clearly Tuomas does and its being presented as such in their live show.

    I can say however that “Elan” sounded better live, its just a pop song at heart with a decent hook —- they’ve done better for sure but “Elan” at least sounds more mature and developed than “Amaranthe”.

  10. seancebloggse permalink
    June 24, 2015 3:55 pm

    Interesting Review I like the new album it´s better than Dark Passion Play and Imagienerium and Floor is a superior singer to Anette. Oceanborn and Wishmaster are the best albums so far miss the mix with metal and opera.

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