Dark Passion Play

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Ott 28 2007, 7:34

This is the review of Nightwish's Dark Passion Play that I wrote for www.ozprog.com - I'm not sure if it'll get published, but I thought it was worth a try. Anyway, into the review:

The Finnish Symphonic metal band Nightwishhas undergone fairly tumultuous events over the last few years. The public sacking of their much-loved singer, Tarja Turunen, and the search for a new singer, beginning in 2005 and continuing through to early this year have no doubt made the last few years difficult for the band. However, from this dark period has emerged what I believe is by far their greatest achievement yet.

The album begins with the thirteen minute The Poet and the Pendulum, an epic and powerful introduction. It makes great use of the London Symphony Orchestra, various sounds effects, choir and whispered voice clips to add atmosphere. Lyrically, it is one of the highlights of the album, depicting Tuomas Holopainen’s journey as a songwriter over the last ten years. Probably the most progressive piece on the album, it changes tones and rhythms several times, though it never loses the feeling of being connected that some long songs do. Both Marco Hietala and Anette Olzon sing on this song, taking turns and weaving in and out of each other. A highlight is the pounding chorus, which promises to be stuck in the head for days. Or does it?

The Poet and the Pendulum flows easily into the second track, Bye Bye Beautiful, a four minute, up-tempo piece. Marco commands the chorus of this, with Anette’s dulcet tones illustrating the verse. This song tells the story of Tarja’s disconnection from the band and Tuomas’ feelings about Nightwish’s loss and is another of the albums lyrical highlights. A strong guitar and drum line keeps it flowing along and the symphony and keyboards add flourishes. Marco makes particularly good use of harsh vocals in this song, though never descending into full growls, it is a brilliant performance. Guess what? This one gets stuck in your head too.

Amaranth, the never-fading flower of legend, comes next. This song is probably the most-radio compatible of the album, having almost painfully catchy riffs, especially that of the chorus. Anette’s range is shown to full extent here, jumping around like a … jumpy thing. This track bears a lot of similarity to Bye Bye Beautiful in basic format, though it is wildly different in execution. With Amaranth, Nightwish have admirably succeeded in making a radio song that doesn’t suck. In fact, I’d say it is one of the top songs of the album.

Cadence of Her Last Breath begins out of the silence with the sound of heaving breaths. The rest of the band follows in slowly, building up to a speedy crescendo. Anette once again shows her vocal skills, and Marco’s highlight parts bring her into relief. The choir is heavily used here, and the bass is also a major part in the verses. Crunchy guitar riffs and a strong bass line keep the song moving. While still very good, this song serves to bring you down from the unbridled brilliance of the first three songs.

Cadence is followed up by what is arguably the heaviest song on the album – Master Passion Greed. Apparently written about Nightwish’s former manager, Marco sings the whole song, exhibiting his skill in both clean and nearly-harsh vocals. The pounding drums of this song bring you back up again after the previous, proving that this album truly never lets up. The syncopated verses and symphonic crescendos make this seem even speedier and heavier than it is. This song also shows how well the album is mixed, you can hear every part clearly, ranging from vocals to orchestra. You can even hear the bass, something rare among metal bands.

The first single from the album, the calm ballad Eva, is in my opinion the weakest point on the album. It was released upon the announcement of Anette as vocalist, and while it certainly shows her vocal talents well, it doesn’t seem to be placed correctly, seeming like a let down after Master Passion Greed. Money was given to charity for every sale of the single, and its lyrical story is quite a pleasant one, of a girl named Eva and her loneliness and imagination. The slow and lyrical guitar solo is one of Empuu’s few chances to show his skill, and he does succeed, though even it seems a little flat. The song does crescendo nicely as you near the end which prepares you for…

Sahara. Another heavy romp, it brings the listener right back to moshing territory. Clever symphonic arrangements and guitar interludes lend a Middle-Eastern or African feel, similar to that of The Pharaoh Sails to Orion (Oceanborn,) and Anette shows why she is better than Tarja, which is her sheer variety of voices and tones. She changes to a lower voice, using vibrato well on long notes. The orchestra plays another major role, particularly percussion, and the distorted guitars and drums dictate the flow of the piece, ebbing and flowing through the mix. This is another piece that showcases Tuomas’ talents as a composer of many forms of music and as a master of giving atmosphere to a piece. You can even see the camels, I swear.

A more guitar-driven piece follows Sahara. Whoever Brings the Night, the first song written entirely by the guitarist, Empuu. Strong chords power this song, with the bass and drums playing a major role. The keyboards lie just under the focus, occasionally emerging to add a flourish or emphasise a point. The choir and orchestra once again have a large part, adding flavours throughout the verses and interludes and backing up Anette in this heavy piece. Whoever Brings the Night also has a hint of Eastern influence, and its symphonic staccato end brings you abruptly into the next song.

A sustained series of gently distorted guitar notes bring the listener into For the Heart I Once Had, and they are followed by an equally gentle verse from Anette. This truly showcases her beautiful voice, and flourishes from the keyboards and orchestra give it a truly sweet feel. The chorus however, shatters this illusion, kicking you in the face with a sudden crescendo of metal, with powerful guitar, brass and choir. It seems to work despite this mismatch, and that moment when I first felt the chorus explode was one of the finest moments in the album.

The sound of waves crashing on the shore and seagulls cries opens The Islander, another gentle piece. Acoustic guitar, solo violin and a truly brilliant keyboard line lead into the reintroduction of Marco singing. A series of whimsical, almost baroque riffs gives this an olde worlde feel, and Marco’s voice is just as good with this tone as his previous anger-filled appearances. Anette contributes her voice in a few parts, and the two voices meld together in a brilliant duet. This was the final proof for me that Anette was the right singer for Nightwish.

The only instrumental on the album, Last of the Wilds, continues this medieval air, again beginning with violin and acoustic guitar, and the baroque riffs continue. This song plays two conflicting parts against each other: a heavy line of guitar, drum and rough keyboard; and a more calm and quiet violin and keyboard part. These parts slowly meld until they are playing off and with each other, creating a unified and progressive instrumental which is a true showcase of the bands skills in both composition and musicianship.

As Last of the Wilds fades away, we are greeted with a powerful drum beat, and the opening strings of 7 Days to the Wolves. This uses the baroque feels of the previous tracks and builds them into a crunch of guitar, drum and bass and the orchestra’s most powerful arrangements yet. Anette’s voice also blasts into the song, weaving a charming tapestry of lyrics into an already great song. 7 Days to the Wolves is my favourite song on the album, the point at which Dark Passion Play builds up to its final climax and the orchestra, band and lyrics all mingle. Marco and Anette combine once more in duet and draw the album towards its inevitable close.

Meadows of Heaven, the final conclusion of the album, once again uses the violin to introduce itself. A gentle ballad, Anette’s voice and Tuomas’ lyrics combine perfectly and write a scene of lost love and death through the music and the morose string accompaniment. It builds slowly, to intermittent crescendos of choir, orchestra and band and Anette and Marco unite for one final time in an almost gospel-y section to bring the song to its fiery end.

The sound of this album has remained pure Nightwish – bombastic orchestral arrangements, crunching metal guitar riffs and driving keyboards – and is as always masterfully brought together by main composer Tuomas Holopainen. The guitars under Emppu Vuorinen are also clean, complex and loud, as are the drums, performed admirably by Jukka Nevalainen. The bassist and male vocalist, Marco Hietala, has a far more commanding position in the band, singing far more than on any previous album, which is definitely a plus in my view, with his combination of raw emotion, wide range and clear language a benefit to the band that was often missed under Tarja. Holopainen has also continued his knack for writing lyrics that depict his meanings perfectly, with great use of emotion. Finally, the controversial member, Anette Olzon (formerly of Alyson Avenue) has joined the band to replace Turunen – gone are the almost overly melodramatic opera vocals, replaced by a freer and more expressive singing voice. In my opinion (flame me if you must,) Anette is a wonderful addition to the band, easily replacing and surpassing Tarja in stage presence and vocal ability. She has far more variety in her vocal ability, and just seems to fit into the band better that Tarja ever did. I look forward to the gift of seeing this brilliant symphonic metal band live in February, and I look forward to many years of continued Nightwish brilliance.

Commenti

  • AnnaDraconida

    Anette is a wonderful addition to the band, easily replacing and surpassing Tarja in stage presence and vocal ability. She has far more variety in her vocal ability, and just seems to fit into the band better that Tarja ever did. I am sorry mate,but that is just ridiculous.More variety??? Her voice sounds the same in every single damn song! Stage presence? Onstage she has all the grace and charisma of an aging zombie! Fits better into the band? She can't dress to save her life,and ends up looking like the teenage singer of a punk rock band rather than the front-woman of a metal band! Gah,I wish people would open their eyes and ears.

    Ott 28 2007, 17:14
  • FPAnubis

    Sorry, miss, I think we'll have to agree to disagree there. Thanks for your input, but...

    Ott 29 2007, 5:41
  • potatomanda

    I agree that Anette Olzon is a wonderful addition to Nightwish. Although Tarja may be the better singer (in terms of vocal technique, perhaps), her singing was too over-the-top for me. Anette's voice suits Nightwish's songs better.

    Nov 2 2007, 8:10
  • burgo_mcsock

    Good review there man, I think you were a bit harsh on Tarja but I guess I am also firmly in the Anette camp, Tarja could have torn the band apart if they let her stay. Tuomas always was and always will be the soul of Nightwish and I believe that his diverse song writing ability is really highlighted in the variety of tracks on Dark Passion Play. I also support Marco's more prominent role on this album. Overall I would say that Dark Passion Play is easily my favourite Nightwish album and would recommend it to any fans of the genre.

    Nov 2 2007, 11:21
  • disdainful-soul

    [quote]Finally, the controversial member, Anette Olzon (formerly of Alyson Avenue) has joined the band to replace Turunen – gone are the almost overly melodramatic opera vocals, replaced by a freer and more expressive singing voice. In my opinion (flame me if you must,) Anette is a wonderful addition to the band, easily replacing and surpassing Tarja in stage presence and vocal ability. She has far more variety in her vocal ability, and just seems to fit into the band better that Tarja ever did.[/quote] You summed it up better than I ever could. Tarja's voice was too over the top for my tastes (that, and she had a lot of failings, especially with the opera aspect - too throaty for me) and although she was good in the grand dramatic position, that was all she was really good for. Anette has a wide variety and range when it comes to emotions, able to go from something like Eva, to Amaranth to 7 Days to the Wolves. And you're right - she does blend with Marco's voice so well. I can't wait to hear Anette's take on some of the old Nightwish songs, to hear what kind of emotions she brings to them.

    Dic 28 2007, 23:24
  • Quispiam

    Great review, you're right most of the times. However, I don't think you've quite understood what Meadows of Heaven is about as you say lost love and death. As I got it, it's more about the dreaming of childhood innocence, that never will return. The feeling of innocence everyone felt as a child, when you can do practically anything and nothing really matters, you're a pure flower. Looking back at it is pretty sad. Or well, maybe I'm the one who misunderstood. :P Please shoutbox me when you answer, cause I won't know otherwise. Cheers.

    Mar 23 2008, 23:11
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