Friday, February 10, 2012

Nightwish's Rock Opera Imaginaerum

The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish is back with their most daring release to date. Imaginaerum is an album written around the premise of a movie, a type of rock opera of sorts. It’s a brave move for a band to make take such a bold step and really says a great deal about their artistic integrity. They aren’t happy with playing it safe; they want to push the proverbial envelope of creativity.

It’s been a little over four years since we have heard from the band. Their last release, Dark Passion Play, marked the vocal debut of Anette Olzon who replaced longtime vocalist Tarja Turunen. The album was a big success for the band and they seemed poised for worldwide domination. This brave and bold step at such a pivotal point in their career will be interesting to see how it plays out with their fans. Let’s dissect this “concept” album and see if it’s worthy of elevating this very talented band to a higher level.

The album opens with an odd music box and piano lullaby sung in Finnish. It is almost as if you are sitting in an opera house as the first act is about to begin. I can imagine the lights going dark and the curtain opening. This leads us into the first single “Storytime”, which is familiar Nightwing ground. It has that symphonic and metal sound that blend together so well, plus an added background choir. This is probably the most commercial sounding track on the album and a great choice for lead-off single. Anette’s vocals on this track are hypnotic and smooth and you can’t help but to be drawn toward them.

Up next is “Ghost River”, with it’s almost Van Halenesque guitar intro. Listen to it and tell me that you don’t immediately drift off to “Ain’t Talking About Love”! I think song has a somewhat similar vibe as “Storytime” as it’s heavily orchestrated and very catchy, but the chorus is a bit heavier with the guitars amped up. The tempo slows down on “Slow, Love, Slow”. The simple arrangement of piano and a slow bass line that weaves throughout the song gives it a bit of an old school jazz feel to it. If you close our eyes, you can imagine Anette in a smoke filled bar against a baby grand singing this song.

“Scaretale” is a wild ride of a song as the intro sounds like something out of a horror movie, complete with little kids chanting “ring around the rosies”. The lyrics are also somewhat bizarre as it speaks of the bride eating the innocence of people. There’s also a killer riff worked in there to headband along to. “Arabesque” is an instrumental piece that just doesn’t work for me when I listen to it. Maybe it will make more sense when the movie is released, but for now, it just seems like filler.

The use of dual vocalists, especially one male and one female, doesn’t always work out on a single track or mesh well together. “Rest Calm” shows that when it does work, it takes the song to another level. Marco’s vocals are powerful and commanding, yet Anette’s vocals are too, but in a totally different delivery. She really shines on the chorus as she turns beast to beauty in her delivery.

“The Crow, The Owl and the Dove” is a beautiful song and a standout on the album. All the elements really come together and complement each other on this track. The lyrics are moving and powerful and the vocal delivery adds to the emotional element of the song. “Song of Myself” is a bit of a puzzler for me. It clocks in at just over 13 minutes and about 7 of those minutes are spoken word. It just seems a bit too long for me and maybe trimming it down would have helped it in its effectiveness. The album closes with the instrumental title track.

So, does this rock opera work without the aid of the forthcoming movie? I say yes, but not 100%, especially with the instrumentals. The album is diverse and has a little bit of everything on it. I think Anette really shines on here and shows that she was a worthy candidate to replace Tarja. The guitar work of Emppu Vuorinen and Jukka Nevalainen runs the gauntlet. The acoustic work is a very sharp contrast to the shredding guitars and solos, but its delivery on the songs is just as powerful.

I think Imaginaerum will please longtime fans of Nightwish as well as be a good jumping on point for new fans as well. The movie for this album should prove to be interesting as we wait to see if it propels this piece of art to another level or not. In the meantime, sit back and crank this up and allow yourself to be taken on a journey with Nightwish.

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