Tuesday, October 16, 2007

CD Review: Nightwish - Dark Passion Play

Well Nightwish fans, this may not be the review you've been waiting for unless you are one of the six loyal readers of this crummy excuse for a blog, but here it is anyway, you bastards.

Okay. Everyone knows that vocalist Tarja Turunen was given the boot. Her replacement is a young lady from Sweden named Anette Olzon. The rest of the Finnish symphonic metal band, bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, drummer Jukka Nevalainen and keyboardist/main songwriter/producer Tuomas Holopainen are back to show that they are more than capable of carrying on with a new voice on their new release, Dark Passion Play.

So, how did they do? The songs:

The Poet and the Pendulum – The first track is a 14-minute masterpiece that features quiet soprano solos accompanied by violin, oboe and piano, a surging orchestra and the voice of new singer Anette Olzon. Her delivery is solid and and urgent at times. Bassist Marco Hietala also lends his pipes to the song in one passage where his mad wails are driven by the buzzsaw riffs Emppu supplies. The song ends with Tuomas gently playing the piano to the fadeout.

Bye Bye Beautiful – This song starts of with Anette singing sweetly, but Marco takes over with an angry delivery that seems to be aimed at Tarja. The band pumps the rhythm out to make their point.

Amaranth – This is the first US single, and it is a catchy song. Anette’s voice soars over the band in both the verses and choruses, and the band clamps down tight, mainly fueled by Emppu’s riffs.

The Cadence of Her Last Breath – A bit more punchy that Amaranth, Anette once again soars over the cacophony of the band. Emppu takes his first proper lead break, and it is a quick, piercing piece that ends in a flurry of squeals. The urgency of this track will likely eliminate it as a candidate to become a single.

Master Passion Greed – A monster track that mixes grinding metal riffs with the orchestra. Marco’s vocals drive this song, and, as he holds the heavy bottom down on bass, he is more than up to the task of battling Emppu’s riffs and Jukka’s powerful drums. Easily a match for Dead Gardens in the heaviest Nightwish song ever.

Eva – A slow, sentimental ballad guided by Anette’s sad vocals and the gentle strains of the orchestra. Emppu plays a lean, crying solo to counter Anette’s laments.

Sahara – This plodding song shows the darker side of Anette’s vocals. The interplay between the band and the orchestra in the middle of the song give an eastern feel as the choir assists Anette before the song slows for a bit before getting back in step. The song ends with Anette chanting to the heavy riffs and mighty orchestra.

Whoever Brings the Night – Starts fast with a guitar riff and matching bass line before Anette comes in, but even darker than on Sahara. She is accompanied by the choir on the choruses. The middle of the song is dominated by the alternating choir/orchestra interplay with Anette’s sneering delivery before the band kicks back in. Emppu fires off a short solo with Jukka hammering away behind him before the main melody re-asserts itself as the song ends.

For The Heart I Once Had – The sweet Anette returns as she gets back into her higher register for this sad song. Alternating between heavy and subtle, the band plays it smart and lets Anette’s multi-tracked voice guide things, then joins in when appropriate. Emppu provides a couple of nice fills. The middle quiets as Anette softly sings over Tuomas’s quiet piano before the band notches it back up as they bring it up a step and push Anette’s voice. She is up to the challenge and guides the band to the song’s end.

The Islander – A folky, acoustic piece that features Marco on vocals. He sounds a lot like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull as he sings over Emppu’s dexterous guitar and the an Irish-sounding flute. Anette joins Marco on the second verse, but she does not overpower, and the mix works as Emppu strums on. After a brief violin solo, Marco, Anette and Emppu go back for another chorus which ends as the guitar, flute, violin and soft drums fade the song to its end.

Last of the Wilds – This instrumental track comes in as The Islander fades out. It starts out with some Celtic style violin before the band jumps in with vigor. The first riff repeats with Tuomas playing along with the violin as Marco pings away on the bass. Emppu joins in with some heavy riffs as Jukka slams away on the drums. Emppu fires off a sidewinding solo between the violin and keyboards. A quiet space with gentle harpsichord and flute comes in before the band re-enters with Emppu seemingly dueling with the violinist. The quiet again descends as the harpsichord plays everything out.

Seven Days to the Wolves – This song shifts things back into slow burn mode. Anette sings with sharpness on the verses and Marco joins her on the choruses. The orchestra pitches in with the band and Emppu plays a soaring solo into a tempo shift powered by Jukka’s steadiness. The orchestra comes back in, and a short violin solo gives way to Emppu’s heavy riffs as Anette comes back before another round of repeating choruses gives way to a quicker version of the main melody to bring the song to its end.

Meadows of Heaven – This song starts with quiet violin and piano as Anette sings the sad words of hope. The vocal choir and orchestra join her on the second chorus. After a slow flute/violin passage, Anette guides the choir in another verse before Emppu slices through with a trembling solo before Anette comes back with another verse. The last two minutes of the song are truly uplifting as Anette sings the refrain over some of the sharp individual voices of the choir while the orchestra sweeps it all up.

This CD is a hell of a statement. It picks up where 2004's Once left off, and carries it off into the distance. To say that Tuomas pulled out all the stops with this project would be an exercise in understatement. The direction in which the band is headed seems clear, as evidenced by the increasing use of philharmonic orchestras and vocal choirs. While this gives the music a fuller, grander sound, it takes away from the band itself, in particular guitarist Emppu Vuorinen (but maybe that's just my guitar player's bias showing). Still, if you liked Once, you should like these songs.

But what about Anette? The comparisons to Tarja are unavoidable. Her voice definitely doesn't have Tarja's high end, but she might have just a bit more versatility to her voice. She doesn't sound as deliberate as Tarja sometimes did, and she seems to be able to handle the more exotic passages Tuomas writes and arranges as well as Tarja. That having been said, I think Anette will be fine as long as people pay attention to what she can do as opposed to what she cannot do. Marco also stepped it up, carrying a bit more of the vocal duties to provide a nice contrast with Anette throughout the CD.

To wrap it up, the band happens to be on tour in this area, and I am fortunate enough to be heading out to see them this Saturday at the Palladium in Worcester (Followed by H.I.M. at the same venue on Sunday. It's gonna be a hell of a weekend!). I hope to see some of you there!

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