So, I have not talked about Nightwish in the last 3 articles, let me now fangirl a bit. From my previous rambling, it should come to no surprise that I would “review” -with my very modest music enthusiast skills- their new album. Endless Forms Most Beautiful was released yesterday in the UK, ending the long wait for an opus that was expected to bring with it the wind of change.
My methodology has been to first listen to the songs without the lyrics, focusing on the compositions and then have another go to scrutinize my own feelings in reaction to the music. But, as any Nightwish album before it, Endless Forms Most Beautiful can only be truly appreciated with the booklet and lyrics in hand. Today I could finally do this (yay semi-justified sick leave) and listen to the full album a third time (and another time, and another, and …) while giving my full attention to the words and their meanings.
Before moving on to my track-by-track review, I just would like to say that the physical album is one of the most beautiful object I have the honour to own, with great care and details given to the artwork and the quality of the booklet and CD case.
Let us now have a look at those songs, shall we ?
- Shudder Before the Beautiful : I believe I already made my point on that one and would redirect you here for more details. It is definitely one of the best songs of the album for me. I have heard Tuomas Holopainen call it a “classic Nightwish” and he could not have chosen a better opening song than this hymn to life.
- Weak Fantasy : Moving on to something heavier straight from the second track sends as well a clear message even if that heaviness is beautifully tempered by a choir in the background. The vocal line opens on an unusual rhythm and I love the way Floor used her voice in what I perceive as “hard rock”, almost Doro-esque, tones. The symphonic aspects are nicely balanced with a surprising acoustic-sounding guitar bridge. Marco’s lines are a bit high, which is not going to be easy on stage, but I still think this song would work great live. I thought the vocal melody a bit too simple on the verses but it gives Floor the opportunity to try interesting textures and it suits well the atmosphere of the lyrics. I am not sure I understand the meanings behind it though, I guess it is open to interpretation.
- Elan : I already talked about this one too, although it is actually quite a nice counterpoint after Weak Fantasy. It shows the variety of registre of the band and is super catchy. It finds its place well in the album and I am now almost certain the clip version is a radio edit. The music lines feel clearer, purer on the album, enhancing the folky character of the song. The ending is also different from the clip and is prompting me again to hope for a live acoustic version. The theme is quite simple but strong nonetheless with its powerful message of living life to the fullest.
- Yours is an Empty Hope : That one falls in the heavily symphonic category, with more attention given to the Orchestra lines balanced by a classic Emppu guitar counterpoint. The general feel is haunting, with vocal lines almost growly and a powerful chorus with Marco’s voice at the forefront. I find it always interesting when Nightwish goes unabashedly dark while still giving us a well crafted melody. I found this song very cathartic as it seems to me it both condemns and embrace how easy it can be to spill one’s hatred and fears onto strangers in our digital age.
- Our Decades in the Sun : This is the traditional ballad of the album, alternating nicely with the harsher preceding song. It gives the opportunity to Floor to use what I hear as her After Forever voice. The melody is beautiful with a lot of space given to the main vocal line even though I do prefer the instrumental parts. Indeed, the theme of filial love and childhood nostalgia does not really speak to me.
- My Walden : After Elan this is another rather folky song. The voices sounded weird to me at the beginning due to the overlaying of vocal lines, but I do love the melody. We really can feel the Troy influence on this one. In the end however the composition is slightly underwhelming and lacks a bit of personality compared to previous songs. Guitars are really in the background which makes this track looks like it tries but ultimately fails at Irish/Celtic metal. The track does come into its own through the lyrics, which I believe honours the book “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau and that I personally interpret as an ode to Heroic Fantasy worlds (You can take me out of Fantasy but you can’t take Fantasy out of me).
- Endless Forms Most Beautiful : I must admit I was originally disappointed by that one. I has a quite 80s hard rock (almost Brother Firetribe) feel to it and I would have expected more from the song the album is titled from. After listening to it a couple of times, I cannot deny it is really enjoyable and punchy. It could have been a song where Floor used her opera voice and I still regret she did not. But when looking into it in more details, I realised how powerful it truly is. The composition is inspired if not complicated to alight the powerful message inviting all to celebrate the diversity of nature. I have needed wikipedia to research some of the lyrics, which the nerd in me loves. This song will be perfect live and I can’t wait to hear the band rocking it out.
- Edema Ruh : I had high expectations for this song due to the subject dear to my heart. It ended up being fairly simple but still represents well the Edema Ruh people created by Patrick Rothfuss. It is particularly nice to hear Emppu shine in it (that solo man), especially since I can easily see him as a blond Kvothe. However I almost feel this song might have benefited more from the celtic/folky arrangement than My Walden. In the end, it is a nice melody, the guitar lines are just delightful and we get a nice moment with pipes as well. I have heard it might be the next single which would not be a bad choice.
- Alpenglow : Punchy, bombastic, with a nice balance between all members, this song is in it for the win. It speaks to me in a very instinctive way and is my favourite so far. When reading the lyrics for the first time, they did not disappoint and complemented perfectly the feeling I got from the music. The theme leaves tons of room for interpretation ; to me it is about creation through imagination, sharing adventures through stories and how every tale ends like life itself, slowly fading into the collective consciousness.
- The Eyes of Sharbat Gula : This instrumental is a nice break after a few lyrics-heavy tracks but not sure it was a good idea to put it just before a 24 minutes behemoth, which is very instrumental as well. It would have been better served elsewhere in the album. Other than that I think it is the best Nightwish instrumental in a while.
- The Greatest Show on Earth : The centerpiece of the album did not win me over completely. The intro, though beautiful, is a bit too long and repetitive. Tuomas shows us he can really play the piano and makes the first part of the song a tribute to soundtrack music. “Four Point Six” also gives us the opportunity to finally hear Floor’s lyric voice in all its glory. On the other hand, spoken words in the middle of a song are a big no-no for me. The next part gives us a sudden change of pace back to a heavier melody, which oddly sounds familiar. Not sure I like Floor pushing her normal voice on “Life”, especially when all the instrument lines are balanced in a way that do not leave room for her to shine through. The symphonic parts however are grandiose and remind us which band we are dealing with. “The Toolmaker” is amazing and would have deserved a song of its own. It gives a chance to Marco to use his “crazy” voice again and he is wonderful in duo with Floor. Lyrics-wise, I believe it is also easier to discuss about mankind and its faults than of the bigger topic of the creation of Earth and life. It seems Tuomas tried and tell a story that he does not master completely (but who does on such a vast topic) and in its length the song loses its coherence. It is still a very honourable musical attempt and I hope they will play Toymaker live.
Overall it is easy to see how EFMB will be better perceived than Imaginaerum. The band feels more relaxed and free in their performance. The songs are varied and give the opportunity to each member to showcase their skills as well as bring some innovations. The theme is also brighter and more universal compared to the two previous albums. We have a nice balance between very heavy and very melodic pieces while the orchestrations have been dialed down a notch, back to “Once” levels I think. In conclusion, it is another evolution that cannot be compared with its predecessors and should be appreciated for its own values. To me, it has very few weaknesses and those, when noticed, do not spoil the experience. My love for Nightwish thus goes on, and now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and listen to EFMB a few hundred times more.