Nightwish: the evolution

Endless Forms most beautiful is the 8th album of symphonic metal band Nightwish, the first with new singer Floor Jansen and uillean pipes player Troy Donockley. The expectations were high : “In all objectivity, I think it’s the best Nightwish album ever,” confessed Troy in an official trailer. This is definitely Nightwish, but evolved.

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The whole band at the end of the concert in Buenos Aires on 15.12.2012 (from left to right): Marco Hietala (bass), Floor Jansen (singer), Tuomas Holopainen (keyboard), Troy Donockley (uillean pipes), Jukka Nevalainen (drums, had to step aside last year because of backaches) and Emppu Vuorinen (guitar).

Welcome back to the Nightwish world. This 8th album will take you on a long and winding path. The album lasts 80 minutes but the last song (“The Greatest Show on Earth”) occupies 24 minutes and is divided into 4 chapters. The orchestra and Floor’s voice give a powerful epicness to the whole thing. The influences and the atmosphere are in line with Imaginaerum or Dark Passion Play.

Floor Jansen has already received critical acclaim. And rightly so. Her voice is incredibly varied. She can be moving (“Elan”, “Our decades in the sun”, “Edema Ruh”) as well as heavy and bombastic (“Yours is an empty hope”, “The Greatest Show on Earth”). Floor’s voice is consensual and reunites different styles. I interviewed a former fan of the group before the official release of the album and she admitted: “Now that Floor is in the group, I’m ready to give Nightwish a second chance.” On top of that, the singer gives great live performances.

Like every album, this one has a general theme: the amazement before the wonders of earth and nature. This is why some lyrics echo that of “Wanderlust” (4th track on Wishmaster album). The first song introduces the theme: “The music of this awe, deep silence between the notes, deafens me with endless love.” Throughout the album, Tuomas Holopainen, the composer and keyboard player, wants to pay homage to everything nature has to offer, particularly the sky and the stars. On the one hand, Tuomas explores the mysteries of evolution and the emergence of life on earth. On the other hand, he makes us wonder before all we have left to discover in the universe. Carl Sagan, a famous American astronomer, is quoted in the leaflet provided with the album: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Reflecting the sky, the sea also has an important place in this new album. In “Shudder before the beautiful”, the lyrics read: “Tales from the seas, cathedral of green”. And this focus on the sea has always been present in Nightwish songs since the beginning. With that, the new album falls within the Nightwish heritage.

Old and new

Tuomas declared that the new album sounded more like “old Nightwish”. Let’s assume old Nightwish means the first albums from Angels Fall First to Wishmaster. Nightwish was essentially in its power metal phase. They used the keyboard and guitar solos a lot.

While it is true some songs echo former ones, present Nightwish as a whole is definitely something else. It boils down to one key element : the orchestra. The first albums of Nightwish did not have the huge presence of the orchestra and the choirs, which now give this monstrously epic touch to the Nightwish sound. The London Phiharmonic Orchestra was first introduced for Once, released 10 years ago. From that moment on, the Nightwish sound became singularly different from the older stuff. At that time, Tarja’s voice was epic enough. No orchestra was needed.

Old Nightwish sounds like mysteries, adventures in fantasy worlds, buried secrets, quests and missions in dark forests. Present Nightwish sounds more like the soundtrack of an epic movie. It would be the story of an adventurer leaving on a majestuous ship, bracing himself for a storm.

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Tuomas Holopainen, the composer and keyboard player. Credit: Ville Akseli Juurikkala

The greatest show on earth

Let’s take a ride through the songs. The album begins with the bombastic “Shudder before the beautiful”, very much like the beginning of Once with “Dark Chest of Wonders”. It is a catchy song, as if the listener was invited to take on a journey full tilt. It even sounds like “Stargazers” at times (Oceanborn). There is a nice battle between the guitar and the keyboard, warning the listener that Emppu, the guitarist, will be very present on this album.

The second song, “Weak Fantasy”, is mainly composed by Marco. It starts off with choirs, which sent shivers down my spine. On the first listening, I had visions of a thief fleeing through the forest, trying to escape pursuers. The song is certainly meant to convey fear.

Elan”, the third song, is also the first single of the album. It is a nice song, and Floor’s voice is soft and touching. The lyrics correspond to the spirit of the album: “The cliffs unjumped, cold waters untouched, the elsewhere creatures yet unseen.” They also eerily remind us of “Wanderlust”’s lyrics: “I want to see where the sirens sing, hear how the wolf howl, sail the dead calm waters of the Pacific.” In “Elan”, the lyrics urge the listener to move, go on a journey, take the leap and revel in the discoveries.

WATCH: The official video of Nightwish’s song Elan 

Yours is an Empty Hope” starts with heavy guitar riffs, setting the atmosphre. They echo “Slaying the Dreamer”’s or, even more, “Romanticide”’s riffs. The first part is nice to listen to, but the melodies seem to lack inspiration, even though the duet of Floor’s and Marc’s voices is powerful. The second part is more interesting. The low sinister choirs, before Floor comes back shouting, set a nice build-up. All of a sudden, Floor uses her soft voice for the 5th song, “Our Decades in the Sun”. It is the only ballad. The tempo is thus slower but the guitar, the drums and the piano altogether bring up rhythm.

With “My Walden”, the listener is back to a fantasy world with its Celtic rhythms and sounds. Tuomas himself confessed in a track-by-track description: “This song is like a continuation of “I Want my Tears Back” from the previous album.” And consequently Troy has an important role to play here. 

Endless Forms Most Beautiful” has a quicker rhythm and begins with guitar riffs. The first part is nice g but seems too simple compared to the grand expectations that conveyed the title. The bridge, however, is more powerful. The piano, the choirs and the guitars follow each other, and then the chorus comes back.Then again, the soft voice of Floor comes back gently for the 8th song, “Edema Ruh”. Tuomas explains the origin of the term: “It comes from one of my all-time favourite fantasy books called the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Edema Ruh are these traveling musicians and actors who go from village to village to perform and make their living.” The highlight of the song is probably the guitar solo by Emppu.

“Alpenglow” starts off with keyboard and the guitar, echoing some of the first Nightwish songs. All in all, no surprise in this song. Classic Nightwish, even though the voice of Floor brings a new touch, close to pop. The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is an instrumental song, with only children’s choirs towards the end. Nightwish usually compose very good instrumentals, and this is one of them too. It may be described as the calm before the storm.

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Troy Donockley, the uillean pipes player who joined the band in 2012. Credit: Ville Akseli Jurrikkala

Indeed, the storm is “The Greatest Show on Earth”. The last song starts off with the piano. As always, the orchestra, like bombs, arrives soon after. Long parts are dedicated to poetry reading, exactly like in Song of Myself in Imaginaerum. The 2nd chapter opens up like an explosion, with practically no transition – as very often in Nightwish 15-minute songs. Floor’s voice is impressive, she goes all the way from soft to heavy, from low to high. The beginning of the 3rd chapter is movie sounds, creatures going out of the water, gasping or shouting. They remind the listener of the very theme of the album: the wonders of evolution. These lyrics do the same: “After a billion years, the show is still here.” The 4th and 5th chapters do not have lyrics, only poetry reading at the very end, closing harmoniously this rocky album. 

In a nutshell, no disappointment from this album. All songs do not deserve special recognition, but the group has succeeded in releasing an impressive, powerful and catchy album. It is Nightwish, no departure from that. At the same time, the group has pushed back its limits once again, composing the longest song and experimenting new styles.

I beg you, give this album several listens. You will need them to truly appreciate the songs.

8,5/10

Clotilde Percheminier

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