Location: Kitee, Finland
Genre: Symphonic/Power Metal
Released: March 27, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases
Third time is the charm, right? With Floor Jansen now at the mic for Nightwish, it just might be.
Finland’s largest cultural export (other than the indestructible Nokia brick phones and Angry Birds) decided to go Dutch by bringing in Floor (After Forever, ReVamp, and a ton of Arjen Lucassen’s projects) after the departure of Anette Olzon (who herself is Swedish). Marco Hietala, the band’s bassist and vocalist, called Floor a perfect fit for the band, and it’s not hard to see why. Although Anette did an admirable job with the more ambitious direction Nightwish wanted to take, Nightwish is at its best with a classically trained soprano on board.
Tuomas Halopainen, the leader of Nightwish as well as the man who brought you The Life and Times of Scrooge, wants the listener to hear this album from front to back, and that goal is reflected in the album’s rich composition. There isn’t a single track here that isn’t at least somewhat enjoyable. I might have made an exception for “Élan,” which served as the lead single*, but it built up into a worthwhile number towards the end. I’m also not a huge fan of “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula,” an instrumental that I’m told was originally supposed to have vocals before the band called an audible, but I don’t have any legitimate complaints about the track other than the desire to hear what Floor can do with this song.
“Weak Fantasy” and “Yours Is An Empty Hope” both have a strong Symphony X vibe to them, especially the latter. The band grabbed Wintersun/Swallow The Sun drummer Kai Hahto to fill in for this album’s recording, which might help explain some of the album’s heavier elements. Floor particularly shows well in “Empty Hope” and a later track, “Alpenglow.” Even the ballads, which have been boring on previous albums, are enjoyable here. “Our Decades In The Sun” holds the flag for the ballads, while “My Walden” has a very interesting male vocal solo in the introduction that sets the stage for the rest of the track.
The biggest standout here is not any particular song (and most of them are quite good), but rather the production. It’s the closest to a flawless production mix that I’ve heard this year, and the balance of folk instruments along with the usual metal instrumentation in the mix is fantastic. The only noticeable slip-up is in the 24-minute (!) finale, “The Greatest Show On Earth,” which has loud bursts of sound in the beginning that sound like they were recorded during a building demolition. That song, while good and powerful in some places, is unequivocally too long for its own good. I understand the Symphony X influence here, but trying to out-Odyssey The Odyssey isn’t going to get you many victories.
Minor gripes aside, this is a by-and-large enjoyable album that should be quite accessible both in and out of the metal community. The general concept of the album, mostly revolving around the meaning of life and how short it is, adds to that feeling of accessibility.
Overall: The best Nightwish album since Oceanborn. Seriously.
*What is with this trend of bands and/or labels putting the worst song of the album as lead single? I’ve called Nightwish, Devin Townsend, and Blind Guardian on it within the last five months, and they aren’t the only ones. I thought the purpose of putting out singles was to get people to buy your albums, not bore them into submission.