When Nightwish and Tarja parted company all those years ago, every fan of the band had an idea of who they would like to see as the new vocalist for Nightwish. There was one name in particular that kept cropping up as a great choice for her replacement amongst everyone I spoke to on the subject. That name was Floor Jansen, but it was also usually dismissed as we all agreed that she was probably too strong a personality for Tuomas to manage and that he would go for a relative unknown, which as we now know, he did. Then, 8 years later Floor is suddenly touring with Nightwish, within a year she has stomped her authority all over their back catalogue (perfectly showcased on a live album). 18 months later, it all seems to be working out brilliantly and here she is, singing on a brand new Nightwish studio album. An utterly mouthwatering prospect for fans old and new.
A spoken intro by English author, ethologist and biologist Richard Dawkins leads us straight into opening track ‘Shudder Before the Beautiful’, which has all the expected Nightwish traits of orchestration, heavy guitars and strong rhythm. But really, we’re all waiting for Floor to be unleashed aren’t we? The verse is understated, not a million miles away from the vocals on “Imaginaerium” and the bridge/chorus is catchy and memorable…yet that patented Floor power that I was expecting is virtually absent. Clever. Keep us waiting, bring some continuity from the last album and don’t show all your cards in the first song. Yes, I see the plan… and don’t get me wrong, the vocals are excellent, as is the musicianship, but anyone who has heard After Forever and especially Revamp can hear that Floor is holding back. ‘Weak Fantasy’ is next, and is a particularly heavier affair. Rhythmically driven by new drumming powerhouse Kai Hahto, complimented by huge guitars, it also gives us the first taste of the Marco/Floor dual vocal that I have been so looking forward to. It’s a great track that has pretty much everything I was hoping for – classic Nightwish. ‘Elan’, the first single is next, one of the album’s more commercial tracks it has a gorgeous piano + Pipes intro (by the UK’s own Troy Donockley), lending the song a slightly folky edge. It’s in that ‘Nemo’ ball-park and very pleasant indeed. Three tracks in now and it’s becoming apparent that really, the most important thing about Nightwish 2015 is the songs. The performances are not ego trips or personal showcases, they are all for the greater good of each track. Floor’s new restrained-power-style also starts to fit perfectly, like it’s always been there.
‘Yours Is an Empty Hope’ is this album’s ‘Slaying The Dreamer’. Packed full of orchestration and angst, with Emppu and his guitar pushed right to the front (musically that is – he has to be pushed to the front physically or we’d never get to see the little fella!), working perfectly with Marco’s bass, this is the style that first got me hooked into Nightwish. It’s great to hear Floor fronting a track like this, albeit still not quite as freely as she might do in Revamp. Ballad time next, with the orchestra-free ‘Our Decades in the Sun ‘. There’s plenty of gorgeous piano, but also the full band are evident too with a great riff from Emppu slotted in and a quite beautiful vocal performance from Floor.
Nightwish have many facets that go to make up their overall style, and next track ‘My Walden’ is this outing’s folk metal-tinged ‘I Want My Tears Back’. Troy, once more is excellent, elevating the song’s striking verse and chorus section. It’s all very comfortable sounding and you think you know what’s coming next until a piano interlude completely changes the tempo into a folk guitar-led section (Troy’s Uillean Pipes part lifts the song even higher!), echoing Eluveitie at their best…and then with a high note from Floor it suddenly finishes. A fabulous track, and probably my favourite on the album. More punchy guitar heralds the start of the title track, which I have to say, on an album that could only be Nightwish…is pure Nightwish! It’s “Once”, it’s “Dark Passion Play”….hell it’s even a little bit “Oceanborn”! Up-tempo and catchy, full of orchestration, with interesting key changes and interludes. It even has a cool Savatage-style low piano burst and a great guitar riff.
I appear to be doing a track-by-track, which I normally don’t like to do, but with ‘Edema Ruh’ being the eighth track I might as well carry on. It’s another of the album’s more commercial tracks – it’s got a hint of ‘Sleeping Sun’, but slightly more up-tempo and optimistic. It reminds me of a cross between latter day After Forever and Emppu’s Brother Firetribe band…with a cute little folky bit as a middle section. The equally catchy ‘Alpenglow’ has a little more bite and attitude than it’s predecessor, but overall you get the distinct impression that this time around Tuomas has made a concise effort to write stand-alone songs – interestingly structured and at times complex in arrangement, but nonetheless free from little in-between ditties and self-indulgences. This is probably because he has allowed himself one big, whopping indulgence in the album’s epic 24 minute closing track! It’s even longer if you include the instrumental ‘The Eyes of Sharbat Gula’ that precedes it, which, emotive and dramatic though it is, it’s effectively the 6 minute precursor to the mammoth ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Twenty four intense minutes of epic soundtrack that expands on the Darwinian inspired, thought provoking lyrical inspiration for the album. There is abundant orchestration and numerous mood/tempo changes. Everyone gets a go vocally at some point, there is more narration from Dawkins and the whole thing really is an immense feat of arrangement and dedication. Tuomas has excelled himself on this one and it really balances out the album.
I’ve analysed enough, it’s time wrap things up…
Nightwish with Floor Jansen. Initially on first listen I was just a little bit disappointed, I thought it would all be a little bit…bigger somehow. More power, more duelling with Marco, more flamboyance. But after a few listens it started to make more sense. Let’s be honest, if you want to hear Floor really go for it – go buy Revamp! This is the style she has chosen to sing in for Nightwish…and this IS Nightwish – this is Tuomas’s band and Tuomas’s songs, and it’s hard to see how they could be performed with any more vitality, drama and passion than they are performed by everyone on this album. Every fan’s favourite Nightwish moments are surely covered somewhere on “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” and if this is line-up is a permanent arrangement then Nightwish are on an exciting path to even greater glory.
(8/10 Andy Barker)