After Nightwish parted ways with their singer Tarja Turunen in 2005, the hype surrounding the band has been enormous. It was already huge before that but these last two years have been excruciating times for fans, not knowing where the band will venture in the future and if their music would ever again be as emotional as before, still carrying all the old classic elements with it as well. The painful wait for news on the new singer was over in May as their single "Eva" leaked to the net, and the band had to present something for the fans before everything blew out of control. The new vocalist was a complete surprise and came in the form of Swedish singer Anette Olzon, formerly known from a more melodic rock oriented band Alyson Avenue. The fans have welcomed her well, and in "Eva" she proved her talents as an emotional singer, who can carry higher notes as well.
The more exciting moments still lie ahead though, as their sixth album will be released in Finland on September 26th and the rest of the world two days later. We checked it out in Finnvox before that, accompanied with band members Tuomas Holopainen, Emppu Vuorinen, Marco Hietala and Olzon, who sat down next to me in excitement from what reactions the album would raise in the journalists. Holopainen was even more tense, his eyes layed to the floor through the session. Jukka Nevalainen couldn't make it here, and Vuorinen left before we could capture a new photo of the band in the studio. But here's what I could capture from one listening session.
1. THE POET AND THE PENDULUM - This massive, movie score- like song begins peacefully, growing into the symphonic grunt that is known to be the trademark of Nightwish, giving space for the choirboys and the huge orchestras, where the string section brings in great mood. A nice start for the album, giving a confident feeling for the listener they can still rely on Nightwish not having changed too much. Olzon's first notes prove she's very convincing and sounds beautiful. The first surprise found from the album comes in the catchy chorus, which is a bit unusual for Nightwish, although still as seducing and strong as they always manage to pull them off The poppish element brings in new breeze to this fourteen minute song, which is the longest song on the album, and then the song once more goes into a soothing middle part, an English choirboy singing like in the beginning of the song. The dark song carries oceanic atmosphere, and has the typical classic and symphonic influences so characteristic to Nightwish. Hietala also joins the vocals near the end with his strong voice, giving some rage to it and Olzon joins him with a clear voice. The song cuts heart-rendingly, only to finish off with a short, sensual and gorgeous ballad moment, that goes sky-high. I wonder how this will work live, and if they'll ever even play it live.
2. BYE BYE BEAUTIFUL - If there ever was talk among Nightwish fans about how the band would deal with the "loss" of Turunen, you'd first expect Holopainen to come forward with the subject lyrically. This song might be some sort of a final note, according to the lyrics. A very strong song that has 80's rock influences, those beautiful melodies, but then again kicking like a mule once in a while. A straight and short song, which manages to raise hell with its brisk touch. Although the subject of the song isn't too uplifting, Olzon's voice has that effect, but Hietala has a more mechanic touch to this one.
3. AMARANTH - Once again 80's influences in the melodies and vocals. Both sensual and strong melody passages and fast paced rhythms in a straight yet short song. Another hard kicking track that is very pithy. A good second single after "Eva", being totally different from that, a powerful and slick party track, and so far the easiest one for the listeners ears.
4. CADENCE OF HER LAST BREATH - Beginning with someone panting, the song occasionally has thriller-like feeling to it with the keys bringing along "Halloween"-type atmosphere. Also continuing with an 80's style chorus. The song flows like melted butter and is another short but edgy and strong song, that rocks. This midtempo includes peaceful vocalparts. Vuorinen presents a tricky guitar solo and Olzon shows fine singing.
5. MASTER PASSION GREED - One of the albums most bombastic and toughest songs. Total grunt, where Hietala gets really aggressive, accompanied with huge choirs and orchestras. A ballsy song that grasps you by the heart and takes your breath away.
6. EVA - The first single, which presents a different side of Nightwish, the more poppish one where Olzon brings in brilliant emotion. The song is a perfect composition, like most songs on this album. "Eva" works from first listen with its ethereal and touching feeling, and besides all that it will touch people through its lyrics. Beautifully flowing airy melodies and amazing vocal- and guitarwork.
7. SAHARA - This straightforward moody song is all fierce, threatening and sort of calm, mainly in Olzon's vocals. The band once again surprises the listener, now with oriental influences that work well for the song. Very bombastic choirs and orchestrations once again.
8. WHOEVER BRINGS THE NIGHT - This quite straight song rolls strongly and smoothly and the singing sounds mysteriously hollow, creating ghostly atmosphere with the matching background choirs. There are certain guitar- and vocal parts, which stop for a listen, wondering what the playful song will feature next. Interesting catchy chorus, which makes you wanna go headbanging. Creepy whisper in the end perfects the ghostly mood.
9. FOR THE HEART I ONCE HAD - Starting the song with finely sweeping gentle guitar, that reminds me of Mike Oldfield's style, the flowing keys and beautifully sensual fairylike vocals soon join in. Then suddenly the song goes a little bit higher, not lifting the tempo much though, and features a slower middle part. Another moving song, that has sorrowful and desperate chorus and keys. The whole song cries out eternal longing.
10. THE ISLANDER - A seaguls song sounds through the rain and acoustic guitar starts playing in celtic surroundings. The most unusual and eccentric song from Nightwish, which will surely touch those into celtic settings. Hietala sings this one, and Olzon does backing vocals. The band brings in new instruments in this song, I think I heard bagpipes at least, and they fit here perfectly. Another great song.
11. LAST OF THE WILDS - Party track in celtic style. Continues "The Islander" mood, and captures the band jamming in a relaxed mood, lifting the tempo more from "The Islander". The only instrumental on the album, which presents a calmer middle part. The violins give the song its jolly and care-free character, and a Finnish kantele ends the song beautifully. Freaking brilliant and hypnotizing!
12. 7 DAYS TO THE WOLVES - The last fast track on the album, very powerful and very massive in-your-face crunch. Drumpower for sure and defiant mood, with fine guitar solo and a smokin' string section. The vocal parts are shared between Hietala and Olzon, although Olzon is the main vocalist. This song presents the most magnificent vocal harmonies and once Olzon even fires away one vocal spot sky high, making you speachless. This is one of the most catchiest tracks on the album and in the vein of old Nightwish, having a strongly pounding middle section, which then blows out enormously clear and high vocal parts, that lead both vocalists singing the impressive chorus together. Another track that would work as a single, ending into doomsday screams from Hietala. Goosebumps, and nothing less. Again.
13. MEADOWS OF HEAVEN - The album ends in very languishing manner, the piano and violins start the song, that plays with sensitivity. Olzon's vocals flow as fine as in "Eva", and the chorus goes high, being very captivating. At this point it's hard to even imagine the song growing bigger emotionally, but it does, and Vuorinen plays amazing guitar piece here, that cries out desperation. The violins fill the air and the end is pure passionate melancholy, where Olzon gives her best, along with the background gospel choir and female soulvocalist, who make the song more massive. Fiercely touching and heavenly calm ending to the album.
All in all very inspiring and colourful album and another definite masterpiece from Nightwish, even stated as being the best ever from the band and I might agree, but at this point it's hard to say too much. From one listen I can say "Dark Passion Play" didn't open as easily as "Once", which is still a brilliant album. I was glad to notice Holopainen held on to their symphonic movie score influences. The songs that shined for me were Amaranth", "Eva", "For The Heart I Once Had", "Last Of The Wilds" and "7 Days To The Wolves", but "The Islander" was also extraordinary and "Meadows Of Heaven" touching and I always love epic songs such as "The Poet And The Pendulum". In the end I can't belittle any of the songs, the whole package is perfection. Nightwish knows what they want, which makes them a strong unit, and have had a chance to use the greatest workers in music business, which suites well for Nightwish's style. I also just loved the tiny freaky whispers and wolflike screams Hietala did in few songs. Scary, but great fills for additional mood. Hietala is definately the "Finnish werewolf". Great howling, dude!
These thirteen masterpieces, clocking in almost 76 minutes, were amazing and it was very impressive to hear Olzon do such great job, filling the shoes left by Turunen more than well. Olzon sings eight songs alone on the album, whereas Hietala does two, then both sharing the rest songs. Holopainen remains to be one of Finland's greatest metal composers, and it's great to see the other members have had their share on the input as well, Hietala and Vuorinen having written two songs, and notice how well the musicianship works in the band. Now we just have to wait for the album and see how it grows on each one of us. I'm sure those who loved "Once" will love this one as much though, if not even more. And then there's the questions how will the band and the new songs work live, and how does Olzon sing the old songs, but we'll see that soon enough on their forthcoming long tour, where fans around the world have a chance to catch them again.
After the listening session Vuorinen took off as usual, as well as Hietala soon enough, heading over to a Tarot gig the next day. We took a few photos without Vuorinen and Nevalainen, and the band was on a good mood. Maybe some sort of relief rushed through them after the listening session was over, but Olzon and Hietala were giggling next to me at the shoot and Holopainen did some funny faces behind me. We soon headed to the after party at the Inferno bar, where a group of journalists and people who've been working with the band gathered. Holopainen and Olzon were the only ones joining this group, who drank a few and chatted till late night. Nothing spectacular while we were there, just friends talking, and I'll tell you something, Olzon is one of the friendliest people on earth. You'll discover that yourself when you meet her someday, somewhere.
Report by Satu Reunanen, satu [at] rockunited.com
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