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Nightwish: Imaginaerum

It's gotten to the point now that each new release from Finnish symphonic metal legends Nightwish gets treated like a major musical event. One listen to their brand new one Imaginaerum and you can easily see why. The vision of bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala quickly unfolds on opening track "Taikatalvi", and explodes on the following song "Storytime", as huge swells of orchestral keyboards and the soaring vocals of Anette Olzon carry the song to glorious heights. Yes, it's Nightwish, but there's a greater sense of theatrics and 'Broadway spectacular' on display here, as opposed to the operatic metal the band was delivering in the Tarja days.

Much of Imaginaerum is a grand, majestic spectacle, an album well crafted and perfectly assembled. "Ghost River" is a wonderful slice of symphonic rock, featuring Tuomas Holopainen's film score styled keyboards, beefy riffs from Erno Vuorinen, and the effective vocal interplay between Olzon and Hietala. Anette is all on her own on the gorgeous "Slow, Love, Slow", supported by some lovely piano from Holopainen, and she and Hietala again work magic together on the Celtic Metal track "I Want My Tears Back", one of the most addicting tunes this band has ever written. You'll be hard pressed to get this song out of your head for days after hearing it that first time. The addition of bagpie here only adds to the majesty of it all. Stunningly good.

"Scaretale" once again brings the bombastic film score element to the forefront and mixes with crushing riffs for a dramatic effect. Anette's vocals here are deliciously spunky, and Vuorinen's guitar work is especially potent. "Arabesque" is an instrumental piece for all the symphonic prog lovers out there (killer keyboard orchestrations) and "Turn Loose The Mermaids" is a folky prog number featuring acoustic guitar, flute, and Olzon's dreamy vocals. If you love Blackmore's Night, you'll dig this one. The band bounces back with heavy symphonic rock on "Rest Calm", as the crushing riffs, keyboards, and dueling vocal attack work more wonders. The Celtic themes always remain underneath it all, which gives the songs their true identity, and they are there in full on this one. After the folk based "The Crow, The Owl And The Dove", a charming number dripping with pop majesty, the band lurch into "Last Ride of the Day", one of the heaviest pieces on the album, and a tune sure to get you on your feet with your fist pumping in the air. The real highlight though on an album of highlights comes in the form of the 4 part epic "Song of Myself". This one has it all, metal, prog-rock, film score theatrics, you name it, with great vocals from Olzon and over the top keyboards. Wonderful stuff, and a tune you'll want to play over and over. The title track is another keyboard based instrumental that closes out the CD in wonderous fashion.

Basically folks, this is a fantastic display of everything that is great and exciting about symphonic metal. Nighwish have put together what could be their magum opus, their most powerful and adventurous statement. Anette Olzon really sounds like she's settled into her role here, and the shadow of Tarja is now completely gone. If you are ready to go on one of the most amazing musical journey's here in 2012, Imaginaerum is the ride you need to get on.

Track Listing
01. Taikatalvi
02. Storytime
03. Ghost River
04. Slow, Love, Slow
05. I Want My Tears Back
06. Scaretale
07. Arabesque
08. Turn Loose The Mermaids
09. Rest Calm
10. The Crow, The Owl And The Dove
11. Last Ride Of The Day
12. Song Of Myself
1 - From A Dusty Bookshelf
2 - All That Great Heart Lying Still
3 - Piano Black
4 - Love
13. Imaginaerum

Added: April 2nd 2012
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2141
Language: english

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Nightwish: Imaginaerum
Posted by Danny Heater, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-04-02 14:51:39
My Score:

It is admirable to see bands wanting to progress and generate different means of conveying musical ideas; it gives many of us hope that people still care. What shakes this hope are bands who are clearly capable of doing great things lavishing their potential in partial attempts at profound concepts. Nobody would deny that a film and album is a good idea, but when you approach a concept of that magnitude the most important thing to lay in the foundation is any sort of flow; this will give the listener the impression of a musical story. Imaginaerum, the storyline consisting of an old composer who tries to remember his past with the help of his daughter, doesn't even try to connect the songs aside from the convenient fact that they are all separate memories, and it's one of the elements that drags down an album which, while far from bad, could have been so much more.

"It's the same old dead boy's song" Anette sings. This is one of a number of self-references across the album, and, probably unintentionally, spells out another main issue. At least half of the album relies on the same stock style of the past few Nightwish albums, which had already become too repetitive on Dark Passion Play. Taikatalvi, Storytime, Last Ride of the Day, and many parts of the rest of the songs exemplify this perfectly as these parts could easily belong on any of their other recent albums; their builds, their choruses, their chug riffs, and their predictable implementation of choir all over the place have not changed after a few albums of the same and comes off rather lazy (though Tuomas is a Hans Zimmer fan so no surprise there I suppose), not to mention Jukka has been playing the same drum beat for almost a decade. I feel that this was a perfect time for them to implement the orchestration in a new way than they have been and thus the result is a bit disappointing.

It must be accounted for, however, that there are a number of parts on here that are new for the band, with Slow, Love, Slow being the first notable example - I'm ignoring the "You Spin Me Round" tinge of the chorus of the preceding track, Ghost River, and its chaotic bits that sound unsure in context. Slow, Love, Slow is a doom jazz treat that hearkens back to the 30s or 40s (or David Lynch if you prefer) but with more piano arpeggios. This is also the first track that shows how fucking well Anette performs on this album. One could justify the sound since it is an older man in reverie thus this is an example of how the songs can be only playfully dark or merely sort of sad within the concept, but also it is odd that Nightwish seems to be hesitant to take that any further than simply throwing new sounds here and there. The western bits of Turn Loose The Mermaids come to mind; they sound cool but it's a bit awkward combined with the pretty, Scottish folk mood. Along the same lines, I Want My Tears Back awkwardly combines pop-metal and the Celtic folk of Last of the Wilds, and key signature aside they simply don't blend together. That said, the folk parts of the song are terrific.

Scaretale is probably the album's showcase, given the longer length and concentration of carnival-esque melodies, and once we get past the usual choir and string build of the intro we eventually come to harpsichord runs that show foresight of something interesting we return back to filler metal riffs. Though, the verses are especially entertaining because of Anette stepping out of her box into some ultra-hot characterizations, her range ever-growing. After that, however, Tuomas decides to take Danny Elfman's career for a ride, and he nails him to a tee. In contrast, the other longer song, Rest Calm, takes advantage of no new elements as the supposed doom track, but it's not doom at all yet ironically is as synthetically emotional as most doom bands, and hardly worth the time aside from Anette's choruses, but even those get old after hearing them 12 times at the end of the track as more and more layers build up to...wait for it...nothing. Rest Calm is Nightwish going through the motions.

Back to Anette though. We saw all the hatred towards her when she joined for Dark Passion Play; she was naively blamed for its weakness. Frankly, she did well enough considering she was jumping way out of her realm to join the group, but it would be a crime to condemn her this time around. She is far more comfortable, expresses much more versatility, especially in equilibrium and attitude (see vocals in Scaretale and Scottish accent in Turn Loose The Mermaids), and her vocals make most of the repetitive bits listenable. The emotion in her voice is never matched by the melodrama that becomes of the predictable chords and key changes, and repeated listens only embed that idea.

People will undoubtedly want to see the film after listening, but at film-length, this 75-minute mammoth is quite short of the masterpiece others make it out to be. The absence of motifs, in a concept album/film score nonetheless, lets the tracks roam free on their own (with way too many child choirs), and while it may fit the loose concept neatly, it personally feels slightly aimless and showy. Tuomas can obviously write well, as seen in Arabesque and the great poem at the end of the otherwise useless Song of Myself, not to mention The Poet and the Pendulum and other classics of the band, and while the introduction of many new elements into the band was a step in the right direction, their implementation came across as unnatural more often than not and unfortunately the storyline became lost. It was a great try and certainly worth hearing, but only the hardcore fans will enjoy this one.

» Reader Comments:

Nightwish: Imaginaerum
Posted by Scud on 2012-04-03 04:20:23
My Score:

Good review Danny I was hoping for something more adventurous.

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