Nightwish - Imaginaerum

Nuclear Blast
Produced by Tuomas Holopainen, Tero Kinnunen & Mikko Karmila

After the gloomy trifecta of Century Child, Once and Dark Passion Play, Imaginaerum sees Tuomas Holopainen finally move away from self-flagellation and back to his roots, just not the roots people immediately think of. Doubling as a soundtrack to the forthcoming movie of the same name, the album itself acts as something of a tribute to motion picture soundtracks as a whole. Tuomas's song-writing has focused much less on his inner demons and much more on his inner child, regaling themes of fairy tales, light fantasy and children's adventures stories. To an extent these influences have always been there in Nightwish's music – after all, the term 'Disney metal' wasn't ascribed to them for arbitrary reasons – but Imaginaerum is by far the most overt display of this.

The result is a colourful, vibrant and lively album's worth of music. If Once and Century Child felt cynical due the pressures of fame and internal struggles, and Dark Passion Play weary of expectations, then Imaginaerum sounds liberated and free. Tuomas, as a song-writer, is clearly aware that he can create whatever his inner child deems appropriate. If that means eccentric interludes that sound like something out of a Tim Burton movie, or a smooth jazz ballad invoking a seedy, smoke-filled bar, or a brisk, epic instrumental that sounds like it should be playing to an action scene, well then that's what it should be. It is evident that this is the first album in a long time where Tuomas is actually enjoying the creation of his music, rather than simply doing it out of obligation or self-therapy – that in itself makes Imaginaerum a much more uplifting and energetic album than its recent predecessors.

The quality of the song-writing of course is as to be expected. At this stage in Nightwish's career, long after shifting away from symphonic power metal and into their current sound, it would be foolish to expect a full-on metal album. There are certainly heavy songs – the two of most note being Ghost River and central piece Scaretale. Otherwise the album can be split into its slower and more ballad-like songs and more upbeat melodic hit type songs. Tuomas hasn't lost his talent for writing excellent melodies and there are very few songs on the album that don't feel like potential candidates for future singles.

None of this would be possible without sturdy execution though, and credit should be given to the band for their continuing (and seemingly ego-less) excellent playing. Likewise, the choir and orchestration is at a higher level of quality than ever to really capture the motion picture soundtrack feel that the band are going for. However the undeniable stars of the show are the two prominent vocalists on the album – Marco and Anette. Marco has slowly but surely been given more and more material to work with on every album, but on this one he really gives it his all. His signature singing style is prominent on opener Taikatalvi, as well as Ghost River, but his real time to shine is the frankly ludicrous interlude on Scaretale, where the singer becomes the very embodiment of a larger than life Disney-esque character that chaotically sings and yells alongside music straight out the darkest, acid-induced dream sequence.

However Anette's performance has been what everyone is talking about, and with very good reason. After being heavily criticized by fans and critics alike for her studio and live performances, the singer seems to have returned with a wrathful vengeance. Anette Olzen gives life to the songs in ways that Tarja Turunen could barely consider. Anette's secret talent as a singer apparently has been her way of projecting very different voices across the material, playing out many different personalities throughout. She's sultry on Slow, Love, Slow, sinister like an evil witch on Scaretale, forlorn on the beautiful Rest Calm, and more besides. Anette has come out of the last four years stronger and more confident than ever, turning more than a few heads in the process. Her hiring as the band's singer might have seemed odd back when she was first announced, but now the reasons for her choice seem abundantly clear.

Discussion of Imaginaerum can't really skip the album's longest and most difficult song – Song of Myself. There's a certain expectation amongst Nightwish fans that every album should have one long, epic track that is often everyone's favourite. Song of Myself is not quite of the same breed as these songs, despite its hefty length. Instead this is a much more contemplative beast, slow and heavy in its beginning but changing in an unexpected way towards its end. Rather than simply raise the tempo and bring the album to a fast, epic close as expected, the album continues its contemplative pace alongside poetry readings from the band and others. The poem itself reflects the band's older and more self-involved material, but nonetheless gives a strong and emotional sense of closure.

There are obviously some legitimate and understandable criticisms of the album, often from looking at it from a certain point of view. It can come across as a bit pretentious. Likewise, it is completely overblown and over the top, as well as being a very mainstream and very commercial album. These traits might not be for you. Still, those still crying over Tarja Turunen's firing or that this is more symphonic rock than symphonic metal need to really consider moving on. In the meantime, Nightwish are what they are. Imaginaerum is the freshest the band have been for a long time. Certainly Dark Passion Play was an incredibly good comeback after Tarja's dismissal, but this is the band really hitting their stride. It is going to take a lot for them to comeback and top this one, that is for certain.

“ colourful, vibrant and lively ”

Tracklist: Taikatalvi / Storytime / Ghost River / Slow, Love, Slow / I Want My Tears Back / Scaretale / Arabesque / Turn Loose The Mermaids / Rest Calm / The Crow, The Owl And The Dove / Last Ride Of The Day / Song Of Myself / Imaginaerum

Photo(s): Heile

Written by James Donovan
More: 2011, Albums, Female-fronted, Symphonic,

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