Dark Passion Play

Written by: PP on 28/12/2007 03:50:27

A few months ago you could still have counted me into the ever growing number of Nightwish doubters, who not only weren't convinced enough about "Once", but also doubted the band could find a voice majestic enough to replace that of Tarja. Questions regarding the operatic parts of the old songs and the direction of the new songs were poised across the internet, which wasn't helped by the great secrecy shrouding the new singer's identity. Questions that have now been answered through live shows with new singer Anette Olzon and the band's new, arguably most ambitious studio album to date: "Dark Passion Play", an album which has brought me back under the wings of the Finnish symphonic metallers.

I think the band knew they had a lot of convincing to do from the start, which is why they chose the monumental 14 minute opus "The Poet And The Pendulum" as the opening track to their CD. The song covers every question you could've possibly have asked from the band - whether they will keep their old sound, whether they will evolve from that, will Anette have any operatic parts, et cetera - in one extended go. Opening with an epic atmosphere formed by silent keyboards, Anette slowly enters from the foggy landscape with an astonishingly beautiful voice, showcasing her ability to match notes higher than Mt. Everest. The atmosphere is then drawn closer to the ground with the band's trademark keyboards and colossal power metal riffs entering in, except they are better than they have ever been before, and Anette demonstrates that her standard-range vocal work matches - perhaps even surpasses - that of Tarja. And that's all just within the first two minutes of the song. There are several movements between dramatic instrumental moments, hard-hitting metal passages, and others where it sounds like the whole orchestra has been hired to create something that could've been out of the massive final battle in Lord Of The Rings - once you reach the fourteenth minute of the song all doubts have been cleared and you find yourself asking "why did I ever think otherwise?". "The Poet And The Pendulum" is the simultaneously the most artistic, the most ambitious and the best song Nightwish has written to date by leaps and bounds. It demonstrates talent that I don't think even these guys themselves knew they had, I mean this is epic, classic, seminal material that'll go down in the history books even surpassing Metallica's "S&M".

The only other song on the album that comes even close to matching the symphonic majesty of the opener is the all-instrumental "Last Of The Wilds". It showcases the other side that the band has always had - the folksy one. Some reviewers have argued to hear a distinct Celtic sound in the song, but to me it sounds more traditionally Northern Finnish, music that you'll find in the endless forests of Lapland. The full orchestra is brought back in to re-create the symphonies, but the folksy sound is owed almost completely to the traditional Finnish instrument kantele, which together with the fiddle and the uillean pipes provide the song a sound that very closely matches what I imagine as the musical translation of the natural wilderness.

The band remembers fans who are more into the simpler and more striking songs (such as "Dark Chest Of Wonders" or "Wishmaster") too. "Amaranth", for instance, is an explosive song leaning less towards symphonic metal than it is to simpler power metal. Here the differences between Tarja and Anette are highlighted the most, as where you would've expected Tarja to use her majestic operatic vocals in the chorus, Anette gives the song and the band a whole different feel with her "merely" high-range vocals - the pitch change in the middle of the catchy chorus is to kill for. "Bye Bye Beautiful" is another strikingly powerful anthem with a strong chorus. It also has clear emotional importance to Tuomas and Marco, as Anette is pushed aside in the bridge leading up to the chorus where Marco (or is it Tuomas, I don't know) yells "Did you ever hear what I told you, did you ever read what I wrote you, did you ever listen to what we played" before finishing it off with the chorus "Bye, Bye, Beautiful", clearly addressed to Tarja and the messy break up her and the band had, thus gaining final closure to the whole saga.

And these four songs form the core of the album. They are masterpieces and, at least in the case of "The Poet And The Pendulum", the best material the band has written if not ever, at least in years. Listening to them makes their early recordings sound amateurish now that I've gone back to them, but perhaps that's because the production could not humanly be better on the album. The other songs on the album are left clearly into the shadow (except for maybe "Sahara" and "7 Days Of The Wolves"), but that's okay, even with just these four songs the album is better than the whole symphonic metal scene put together. And when songs like the beautiful ballad "Eva" and the heaviest song on the album "Master Passion Greed" aren't bad either, the band has hit jackpot with this album. Now watch them rise into worldwide super stardom with "Dark Passion Play" - the symphonic metal album of the year.

Download: The Poet And The Pendulum, Amaranth, The Last Of The Wilderness
For the fans of: Stratovarius, Visions Of Atlantis, Apocalyptica, Epica
Listen: Myspace

Release date 28.09.2007
Nuclear Blast

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