Nightwish’s New Album is Top-Shelf with Endless Replay Value

Now that’s I’m talking about.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful, the newest album from Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish, is their best album since 2004’s Once.  The band seems rejuvenated and full of energy, fresh off a set of lineup changes, including their third singer in nineteen years, the addition of a pipes/whistle player, and the substitution of their longtime drummer for the recording of the album and coming tour. Full of moments both heavy and lighthearted, with a wide variety of tempos and melodies, along with the poetic lyrics of keyboardist/bandleader Tuomas Holopainen, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is top-shelf Nightwish with “endless” amounts of replay value.

Some background: The band unceremoniously kicked out Tarja Turunen, the original Finnish singer, who was the voice of Nightwish until after Once’s release.  After a long period of auditioning, they hired Swedish singer Anette Olzon. And thus the so-called “Nightwish Reborn” era began in 2006-2007, during which the albums Dark Passion Play (2007) and Imaginaerum (2011-2012) were released. Anette, a pop singer, was a widely controversial choice to replace Tarja’s operatic vocals, which arguably made Nightwish the successful band they are today. Anette was ultimately not the best fit for the band, and was replaced in 2013 by Floor Jansen, a Dutch singer with more metal experience. Troy Donockley, who had played the Uilleann pipes and tin whistle on Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum, was added as a permanent member around the same time, turning the longtime quintet into a sextet.

After parting ways with Tarja, it can be said Nightwish fell into an emotional and creative nadir, which was reflected in the uneven but affecting Dark Passion Play. Imaginaerum was an overall more consistent album, but with fewer memorable moments, and suffered from its rigid, childlike concept and tie-in film, which apparently seemed like a good idea to the band members. Now, with a new singer and new piper/flautist, Nightwish seems to be back on track, and it shows with Endless Forms Most Beautiful.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful is arguably Nightwish’s happiest album since 2000’s Wishmaster, taking its title from Darwin and the themes of evolution and nature as its inspiration, infused with wonderment and a quasi-mystical air — a much richer theme than Tuomas’ infatuation with lost youth and childhood. Featuring the support of a full orchestra and choir, like the previous several albums, the band’s sound on this album is richer and fuller than ever, with plenty of concessions to longtime fans such as myself, including lyrical and musical references to some of their earlier enduring songs.

The opening number, “Shudder Before the Beautiful”, opens with a short spoken-word introduction before kicking off with a dramatic flourish, providing one of Nightwish’s strongest opening tracks ever, with a catchy rhythm reminiscent of Once’s opener “Dark Chest of Wonders”. “Shudder” sets the listener up for the overall concept of the album—a celebration of the Earth and all its biological wonders—and prepares the listener for the album’s expansive symphonic sound.

While Nightwish’s heaviness has arguably declined in recent years with what sometimes veers on an over-reliance on the backing orchestra, the early tracks “Weak Fantasy” and “Yours is an Empty Hope” respond with the intense sound that many listeners have been craving, with newly invigorated musicianship from guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and bassist Marco Hietala. The latter song particularly references the band’s heaviest song, Dark Passion Play’s “Master Passion Greed”, and both succeed well, despite deviating emotionally and lyrically from the overall joyful and celebratory nature of the rest of the songs.

The third track and first single “Élan” is probably Nightwish’s most earworm-y song in years, and belongs on the same level as similarly popular singles such as Once’s “Nemo” and Dark Passion Play’s “Amaranth”, and begins a running theme throughout the album of the idea of early more mystical beings predating humanity as we know it on the earth, with entreaties to “leave the sleep and let the springtime talk/In tongues from the time before man.” Overall the song has a rousing folky quality enhanced by judicious use of Donockley’s flute, and will likely be played at every Nightwish concert for the foreseeable future.

The one true ballad of the album, “Our Decades in the Sun,” is utterly touching and warm, featuring some of Floor’s best vocals, as it details the memories of parental love with a promise to meet again. The song’s melancholy feel foreshadows future melodies that will appear later on the album, adding to the overall sense of musical cohesiveness on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. The following song, “My Walden,” continues the troubadour/folk sounds of “Élan” as the lyrics describe an ideal place for inspiration and creativity, a “Walden”—likely reference to Thoreau’s Walden, with lyrics like “I do not wish to evade the world/Yet I will forever build my own.”

The following song, the title track, is perhaps the most invigorating and exciting song on the album. Borrowing symphonic elements of some of Nightwish’s most energetic songs, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is the crystallization of the themes of the album as it encourages the listener to stop for a moment and appreciate the miracle that is the existence of life on Earth—all its wonders on this “special speck of dust”—all the “endless forms most beautiful”—to be “alive, aware, in awe/Before the grandeur of it all.” “Alpenglow” also continues this epic strand running throughout the album, continuing the lyrical themes of “Élan” and foreshadowing elements on the album’s final track.

Nightwish wouldn’t be Nightwish without an absorbing ten-plus minute track, and Endless Forms Most Beautiful delivers, with Nightwish’s longest song to date, the twenty-four minute “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which features one of Nightwish’s best choruses to date, along with more spoken word segments (though nothing quite as awful as Imaginaerum’s unbearable “Song of Myself”), continuing themes both musically and lyrically from earlier on the album and providing a fitting close.

Overall, the addition of Floor Jansen’s vocals makes this album and ensures its overall success. Her voice, capable of the lightness of Anette’s, the operatic quality of Tarja’s and the emotional capacity of fellow symphonic metallers Within Temptation’s singer Sharon den Adel, is the best part of the album. She displays her incredible stylistic range across the album’s ten songs with vocals (out of eleven total), often using both harsh and melodic vocals within the same song (“Weak Fantasy”, “Yours is an Empty Hope” and “Alpenglow” best show off this tendency). She is capable of incredible delicacy and tenderness, as demonstrated on the ballad “Our Decades in the Sun”, and she holds her own against the instrumentation behind her as well as the choirs and occasional vocals of bassist Marco Hietala, with whom she gels rather nicely. The addition of Troy Donockley at first worried me—I thought Nightwish was going full Celtic—but luckily, his appearances are extremely judicious and well-used.

In fact, the only disappointments for me on this album are the songs that simply are not as remarkable or well-crafted as their more incredible counterparts, as well as the overall blandness of the drumming and some of the guitar and bass.  However, while the quality of the instrumentation is a large step up from the previous two albums, there are moments where Emppu seems to be phoning it in, or where Marco can barely be heard (though that more likely points to choices made in the mixing of the album).   Additionally, the presumptive second single (and planned first single, for some reason), “Edema Ruh”, a perfectly catchy mid-tempo song, lacks the same oomph as songs like “Shudder Before the Beautiful” and “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” and just isn’t that memorable in comparison. “Alpenglow” starts off incredibly well, but is rather disjointed in sections, especially with regards to the lyrical melody, and contains just a bit too many changes for a song under five minutes.

The instrumental track, “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula,” is beautiful but slightly boring, and features a children’s choir, an element I encourage Nightwish to cease using (though Imaginaerum is most guilty of this crime). And lastly, while much of “The Greatest Show on Earth” has the potential to be Nightwish’s greatest long song, it unfortunately peters out around sixteen minutes, changing from a strong epic with, again, a truly excellent chorus, to a slow instrumental with animal sounds and additional spoken voice. The spoken word aspect of this album brings me to what is another problem I have with Endless Forms Most Beautiful: the inclusion of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as the guest speaker on the album’s opener and closer. While famous for his contributions to science, Dawkins has revealed himself to be extremely contemptuous of religion, especially Islam, and has demonstrated misogynistic tendencies; it is slightly jarring for my favorite band to seemingly endorse his behavior and ideas by including him as a central feature of the album.

Overall, however, the merits outweigh the detractions. Endless Forms Most Beautiful is Nightwish’s best album since the departure of Tarja, and, with time and more listens, may well join Once and Oceanborn as one of my personal favorites. Songs like “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”, “Élan” and “Shudder Before the Beautiful” will likely stay in the band’s concert rotation for years to come.

Tracklist:

“Shudder Before the Beautiful”

“Weak Fantasy”

“Élan”

“Yours is an Empty Hope”

“Our Decades in the Sun”

“My Walden”

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

“Edema Ruh”

“Alpenglow”

“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula”

“The Greatest Show on Earth”

Featured imaged courtesy of Wikipedia.

Correction, 4/6/15: The album’s year of release was initially misstated.


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14 comments

  1. 0
    Merle says:

    “Imaginaerum… suffered from its.. concept and tie-in film”
    While the film is not a 5-star masterpiece by any stretch (it can be cliché at times and some of the acting isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy… ahem, daughter), but it does accomplish it’s intended goals. It integrates the music beautifully, and evokes emotions quite well (I tear up a number of times throughout). For such a relatively small budget, I found it to be quite well-done.

    unbearable “Song of Myself”
    That’s a bit harsh. Even if you don’t like the spoken part, the musical section is exceptional and ranks up there with some of their best.

    “one of strongest opening tracks ever”
    Sorry, but that title goes to Poet and the Pendulum, which the only criticism I have is it was probably more suited as a final track than an opener.

    It’s funny how often Nightwish songs that take some heat from reviewers tend to stick out for me. On this one it was Edema Ruh, which I find delightful. I’ve heard other reviewers also criticize Weak Fantasy, but I love that one (especially live where Floor’s delivery is given with remarkable power). As for Sharbat Gula, just put that old National Geographic photo in your mind’s eye when you hear it, and it transforms the song completely.

  2. 0
    Peter Molnar says:

    +1 to James Corian

    By the way, I really miss that simpler, say less “full” sound from Oceanborn & Wishmaster.
    ( I also miss the much more meaningful lyrics of early Edguy & the pre Unia Sonata Arctica, but this could also mean I’m just getting older. )

  3. 0
    James Corian says:

    Great review! I must protest your choice of “Master Passion Greed” as the band’s heaviest song, however. In my opinion that title belongs to “Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean” from Oceanborn.

  4. 0
    Luke says:

    Considering the enormous line-up changes and resulting stress, the album is terrific. It’s like watching a couple episodes of “Cosmos” and is really a testament to the professionalism of the members. With that said, I REALLY miss Jukka. You can tell he’s not there, and we all know why, and the only thing you can ask for is that he gets well soon. I can also feel the parts that were rushed, but that can only be expected as the band continues to evolve.

    Gotta go see them live because how long can Marco keep it up? He took off in the early 80s, and we all know what happened in the 80s.

    1. 0
      Deborah Krieger '16 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      That’s actually quite funny, because in the US it refers to what top drawer also means: high quality, etc! You’re right about the UK meaning though… Good to know!

  5. 0
    Graham says:

    What an excellent review. I share many of the same opinions of this album.

    However I find the inclusion of the choir a welcome addition. Also the spoken segments on both ‘the greatest show on earth’ and ‘song of myself’ I found to be really interesting. The words spoken had an emotional impact on me and really makes those songs stand out. In fact ‘song of myself’ is probably one of my favourite songs of all time.

    First few listens of this album and I thought it was a bit boring but I found it to really grow on me after several listens.

    This will be the album that will remind me of the coming summer!

  6. 0
    Peter Cripps says:

    Very nicely written review, but I have to disagree with your comments regarding Richard Dawkins. The overall concept of the album is about evolution, and the grandeur of life. I am reading “The God Delusion” at the moment, and have to agree with everything I have read so far. I could never believe in a god that allows such atrocities as the 140 children massacred in Kenya recently for failing to answer questions from the koran, or those that died in the Alps at the hands of a suicidal pilot, to name but two examples. I think Richard Dawkins was an excellent choice to narrate his and Darwins quotations on an excellent and thought-provoking album.

    1. 0
      Janne V says:

      Blaming God for what human beings are doing always seems to me like there’s some kind of belief underneath all the anger… There’s certainly a lot of injustice in the world, and I don’t blame any deity for it. That said, I can truly understand that some people who have had hardships in their life need to believe in something: religion and a deity/deities can be the only thing that keeps them going. That’s why despising people because of their beliefs feels quite vile for me. It also shows that there’s a lack of understanding the variety of religion: for some people religion is a reason to judge and kill others, for some people something extremely beautiful and a representation for love.

      I like the review, even though I don’t agree with everything (but even those parts are well written). And I agree with Deborah Kriegeräs opinions regarding Dawkins: we need less – not more – contempt in this world.

  7. 0
    Brendon says:

    Your review of the new record is very well done, but I must disagree on your comments about the previous two, ‘Dark Passion Play,’ and ‘Imaginaerum.’ Those two records nearly redefined the bands’ overall sound causing many to question whether ‘symphonic metal’ even classified their genre appropriately. Dark Passion Play was the record that finally broke Nightwish into the US market and was a massive international success when compared to their previous efforts. Imaginaerum took that success even further. The cinematic elements of these two records is what amplified their success, and despite being significantly heavier, their newest record still has the same bombastic orchestral elements. Just listen to ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’ This sound is what redefined Nightwish as a band, not the change of vocalist.

    1. 0
      Deborah Krieger '16 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hello Brendon! Thanks for your comment. When I was comparing “Endless Forms” to “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginaerum”, I was speaking of what I consider to be more of a creative success rather than more commercial success. There’s no doubt that DPP broke Nightwish into the mainstream in the United States–and I do think Anette’s pop vocals on songs like “Amaranth” were a big aspect of the album’s North American success–but I am of the opinion that “Once” is really where Nightwish started using cinematic elements–“Ghost Love Score” is probably their most soundtrack-y song. And as I hope I made clear, I happen to be of the opinion that “Endless Forms” is a bigger artistic success than the previous two albums, with more high points than “Imaginaerum” and more consistency than “Dark Passion Play.” Time will tell to see how commercially successful the album and tour are. Glad to be able to discuss this with an interested party!

  8. 0
    Arjun Vishwanath ( User Karma: 3 ) says:

    Thanks for publishing this! Hadn’t heard of Nightwish before, they seem pretty cool. I’ll definitely check out their other albums too.

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