The release of a new Nightwish album is always a focal point in the Symphonic Metal calendar. Well, they don’t happen very often nowadays do they? Incredibly this is only the second Nightwish studio album to feature fantastic vocal powerhouse Floor Jansen – and she’s been a part of the band for years! 2015’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” seemed on the whole to fill the gap between Tarja-era fans and those who stuck by the band on their following Anette Olsen releases. But some criticized Floor Jansen for holding back vocally, an agreement she made with main-man Tuomas Holopainen to enable his vision for the band to flourish. It’s possible that many fans of both Floor and Nightwish were hoping for more, but that album was the start of another new era for the band and “Human II Nature” is step two (or II if you prefer).
So, to please Tuomas, let’s concentrate on the music first. The Symphonic alongside underlying folk elements synonymous within Nightwish’s style are still the bed-rock of their sound – the folk-leanings being leant even more gravitas by the continued talents of the UK’s own Troy Donockley, who once more takes on some of the male vocal duties (and even gets the Folk/Eurovision flavoured ‘Harvest’ to sing lead on). This is a diverse album musically, capturing occasional (and all-too-fleeting) heaviness here and there and especially on the tribal-driven…errr…’Tribal’. It is an album that will please the Symphonic Metal devotees with the grandiose ‘Music’ and ‘Endlessness’ (the latter featuring Marko Hietala taking the lead on this one, echoing a classic Jon Oliva roll in latter-day Savatage) and in amongst the well-placed splashes of traditional and contemporary folk, there is more than an occasional nod to Phantom Of The Opera style musicals (‘Pain’ etc.). There is the expected orchestration and choirs to back it all up as well, enhancing some gorgeous, sound-track style moments throughout the first half of the album.
Vocally, Floor Jansen is treading that fine line of self-restraint once again, but sounds to be enjoying things a little more, finding different, subtle ways to show off even more of her extensive vocal prowess. She still delivers the catchy choruses in the more melodic Anette-style as per the previous release, but it’s on the other sections that she is having a little more innovative fun, skipping octaves effortlessly and squeezing some operatic gymnastics over the odd choral section (the part in ‘Shoemaker’ for instance is fabulous). Troy lends his smooth English-folk tones once more, but Marko’s role has diminished significantly in the vocal department which is a shame – this might be to do with the fact that the whole album isn’t quite a Metal as Nightwish once was, so there are less songs that suit his vocal delivery.
If I’m being brutally honest though, this is an album of two parts. The first Nine songs are what we all hope and expect from Nightwish, however the last 7 (from ‘Vista’ through to the end) are mainly instrumental, classic Tuomas self-indulgent film-soundtrack auditions, weighing in collectively at around half an hour! Beautiful as some of them are, I can’t help feeling that after waiting five years for a new Nightwish album that I would have preferred more from Nightwish the band, banging out some great songs, rather than centring on Tuomas the composer. But Hey, Nightwish is his band so it’s his prerogative to present them in his vision, and this is still an album of 80 minutes long, even if at times the drums, bass and guitar tend to pass by a little unnoticed.
So where does this album stand up against its predecessor? It’s certainly a continuation and I can’t really comment until I’ve lived with it for 5 years I guess. Initially, it feels like there is less to latch onto immediately, but it’s also evident that it is an album with plenty of depth, so subsequent listens will no doubt unveil many more treats that aren’t as evident on the first few listens. We all have our favourite parts of what we perceive as Nightwish – I personally love their Metal side, as well as the folk side, but I’m not so keen on film scores or musicals, so this album is a step away from my personal Nightwish ideal, but with such stunning performances by the musicians involved it’s not an album that I could ever consider dismissing or ignoring, because it has plenty to impress and delight Nightwish fans of all ages and eras.
(7/10 Andy Barker)