Someone’s had the paint out and made something incredibly colourful. I know the album has been out for a little while but it only arrived here after the release date and made an instant impression when pulled out the envelope. The slipcase on this is see through and etched with what looks like paint trails which when over the main case really bring the already striking artwork here to life. It immediately grabs attention and should certainly jump out off the shelves of any record store. The lady herself should need no introduction at all, you have either taken one look at her name and completely skipped the review or are going to be keenly reading it. Il Diva of the metal scene, her music is adored by a huge amount of people and is as close as anything to having her crossed over into being a commercial phenomenon. Her operatic style is one that you will either love or completely dislike and her success shows that many do indeed have a lot of love for the ex-Nightwish singer from Finland.
There are plenty of colours on display here and at first with the single leading the way ‘Victim Of Ritual’ burns bright with fire making it a mix of yellow and orange in my head. This passionate melange of rock opera ala Ravel’s Bolero is a potent and storming number with a chorus that flattens. There is no shaking it once heard and as I said reviewing it if the rest of the album is anywhere near as good it’s going to be well worth picking up. Basically let’s put it this way, it certainly is not far off.
Some of the ten songs which run for just over an hour in length are crackers sure and simple. ‘500 Letters’ takes things down a notch, slow burning and pretty much a ballad, one for the lighters to come out for and the crowd to sway around too. You know there are bound to be a song or two like this and it’s a good idea to get it out the way after such a powerful opening. ‘Lucid Dreamer’ is much more interesting (especially if a phenomena you identify with). Here the colours get decidedly dark with the harmonies taking on an almost funereal pall, tinged with grief. With it the nuances are also quite beautiful and the track as a whole is quite unexpected, especially when the music walks down very trippy paths and adds some psychedelic touches to its palette. It even injects a bit of a funeral march into things and it is all very Byron or Bronte in its narrative. Want to really rock out? Well the heavy jagged guitar riffs on ‘Never Enough’ will certainly do the job and along with the powerhouse chorus this is going to be one of the album and live standout tracks especially with the way it virtually builds up and implodes.
It’s one of those albums I could easily say something about each and every track which is the sign of a good one in my book. It’s not all upbeat and ‘Darkness’ again injects a touch of sorrow into proceedings and is a song to really take the lyrics in with. It has me thinking that the artist really has matured of late and this is a grown up album that takes it well away from the fantasy and Disney elements that some may have dismissed her for in the past. The operatic parts are not too in the face either, sure they beseechingly drift around on songs like ‘Deliverance’ and there is a certain flamboyance and pomposity but that can only be expected.
Of course not all credit should go to Tarja reading the back booklet there is naturally a host of musicians, composers, arrangers and even a bloody seagull (yes you read that right) concerned. The guitar and bass department in particular working particularly hard on the rockier numbers like the well-defined ‘Neverlight’. If I had to look for holes well ‘Until Silence’ is a bit too twee and sickly for me although I can appreciate it, it kind of just makes me want to go to sleep. However as we finish with ‘Medusa’ a duet with Blue October singer Justin Furstenfeld, which has me swaying in all the right ways and strangely reminds melody wise of Lacuna Coil a little, it really is a case of plucking at straws.
Going out on a limb, I think I have enjoyed this more than any of Tarja’s previous solo albums and certainly consider it’s her most accomplished work. Hell it even has me tempted to go and see her live again as I have not done so in a fair few years, now where’s those English tour dates?
(8/10 Pete Woods)