Image © Spinefarm Records 2007
Anette Olzon (lead vocals)
Image © Spinefarm Records 2007
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(01 November 2007) Dark Passion Play is the long awaited, hugely anticipated sixth studio album from Finnish symphonic metal outfit Nightwish. A band faced with the challenge of finding a suitable replacement for the role of lead vocalist following a controversial and highly publicised dismissal of original singer Tarja Turunen in October of 2005. Sifting through thousands of hopeful demos sent in from female singers across the globe, eventually Anette Olzon was chosen to be the new front-woman of the band. Press and fans responded with a mixture of reactions and initial samples of the 'new' Nightwish created divides amongst long-standing Tarja fans and those excited for a fresh force to carry the band onwards and upwards. Everyone desperately awaited to see which direction the band's sound would take with such a crucial change to the line-up and finally, three eventful years after the release of the critically acclaimed symphonic masterpiece Once, the new Nightwish album is now upon us.
With Dark Passion Play, Nightwish have created an album of outstanding quality. Offering 75 minutes of powerful, grandiose symphonic metal that showcases the amount of time, effort and energy that was put into this ambitious release has undoubtedly been worth it. The album maintains the bombastic, sweeping sound honed in previous release Once yet offers a highly diverse listen, as the band blend infectious melodies that are more memorable ever, passages of furious guitar work which hit harder than they ever have, and stunning string-work to create a rich musical tapestry resting inside the thirteen tracks on offer.
New vocalist Anette may take some getting used to for Nightwish fans of old. Less operatic in style, she has a more controlled voice than that of Tarja, and while perhaps lacking the sheer emotional force and command of Tarja, her smooth, infectious and somewhat more streamlined vocals fit the songs found on Dark Passion Play perfectly.
Riskily placed 14 minute opener "The Poet And The Pendulum" presents Nightwish at their most cinematic, moving and majestic best. The outstanding strings of the London session orchestra weave within thick, chugging riffs, powerful drum work and thick, crunchy bass lines. This within the mere openings of a song that reveals main songwriter Toumas Holopainen at his most creative, honest and openly emotional. Lyrics dealing with the inner personal turmoil he faced reflect a dark, constantly shifting epic tinged with a hopeful, romantic tone that eventually calms after its crashing introduction to the delicate vocals of Annette atop pacing violins. Steadily rising towards a layered chorus, featuring bassist Marco's rougher vocals that are present more prominently than on previous albums, tying the song's sprawling sections together. Haunting narration's and churning riffs aplenty, the piece eventually closes with Anette's soft vocal strains dancing amongst fading piano notes, in what is a truly breathless listening experience.
"Bye Bye Beautiful" presents a complete change of pace with a song highly simplistic in structure, as warm keyboards, thumping drum and guitar work build up to a charging chorus which allows Marco to shine as he lets loose some forceful vocals, the band taking a tongue-in-cheek swipe at former singer Tarja in the album's catchiest and most pop-like moment. Single "Amaranth" opens with sparkling keyboards and echoing choir work that thrives upon a melodic, multi-layered chorus presenting a sweeping vocal performance from Anette, before the album take a heavier turn with "Master Passion Greed". Clattering drums battle with furious riffs before Marco roars into a scathing vocal assault throughout an unrelentingly aggressive song. One which slows only for the swaying, choir-filled chorus and spectacular outro, featuring charging strings which grow in intensity as they wrap themselves around pummeling double bass drum work and distorted guitar to create a flooring cacophony of sound.
Delicate ballad "Eva" is the album's weakest moment. Slow in pace and lacking in imagination, Annette tries her hardest to bring life to a song that lacks the mystic magic of past ballad's from earlier albums, for example "Sleeping Sun" from album Oceanborn. The quality soon returns within the latter half of the album however, with the fantastic folk-tinged "The Islander". Crisp acoustic guitar accompanies the rich vocals of Marco, in a song ripe with imagery of forgotten landscapes as whispers of flute float amongst highly emotive vocals. Anette gifting the raspy Marco a more delicate edge as her accompaniment emerges at just the right moments. Charging instrumental "Last Of The Wilds" allows guitarist Emppu to let loose some fret-board heroics as he duels with the Uilleann pipes of Troy Donockley in a vibrant mixture of instrumentation, one which keeps hold of the folk-infused melodies prominent in previous track "The Islander".
Anette steals the show for album closer "Meadows Of Heaven". A beautifully serene song carried by gentle piano and swirling violins, depicting imagery of Toumas's childhood surroundings through lyrics soulfully delivered by Anette and an emotional chorus that is as memorable as it is moving. Male and female gospel choirs eventually join the fray to create a blissfully uplifting outro that rises and rises in its intensity, sending you to the heavens this song speaks of, before strings and guitar crash as one. Bringing this song, and album, to a dramatic close.
An album high on expectation and anticipation has most certainly delivered, and how. Dark Passion Play sees songwriter Toumas lay himself bare lyrically and creatively as the album blends an exciting range of instrumentation. From stirring orchestral bombast and heavy rhythm work to gliding Uilleann pipes and plucked acoustics, the album offers a diverse mix of the band's attributes and Toumas's song writing skills. Newcomer Anette rises to the high-pressure challenge of taking on such a pivotal role, and, Tarja adorer of not, you can't help but feel her vocals fit perfectly inside the overall sound of the album. An awful lot went into this release. Energy, sweat, tears and probably much more besides, but there's no doubting that Nightwish are most definitely back in business.
Also worth mentioning is that the special edition version of the album comes with a bonus disc featuring instrumental versions of each song. A superb addition to obtain as it gifts the orchestra featured throughout the original versions a more prominent and fuller sound, allowing you to really pick out the
intricacies of each composition and realise the impact such soaring instrumentation has in creating this band's fascinating scope in sound.--Jim Hall in Derby, England