There has been a huge fuss around Nightwish during the last couple of years. Beginning from the newsbreaking sacking of lead singer Tarja Turunen, more or less fiery exchange of comments between various persons more or less involved with the situation, and onto the cloak and dagger secrecy of searching and finding the new vocalist for the band…. the revamp of Nightwish has been an epic in it’s own right, and one of the biggest discussion matters in the heavy metal field. Whether it’s been interesting or overblown, depends on the point of view. Taking all that into consideration it is obvious that the band must’ve had a huge shadow looming above their heads when it came to the releasing the new album “Dark Passion Play” – an album that’s importance was pumped up extremely high by the events preceding it.
The biggest question on everyone’s lips has been the following how the new singer, swede Anette Olzon would fill the shoes of her predecessor Turunen? Despite keysman Tuomas Holopainen being the biggest creative force behind the group, Turunen’s theatrical stage presence and unique style had lifted her to a status that both made her the band’s definite centerpiece and at the same time slowly brought on the end of her career as the lead singer of Nightwish.
So how does Olzon fit in? Is she capable of fronting a stadium filling band such as Nightwish? Yes. Does she sound like Tarja Turunen? Thank God no.
The problem with Nightwish has, for me, always been the fact that Turunen’s singing has sounded – sorry to put it so blunt – horrible. The overly dramatic opera vocals combined with an inexcusable bad accent has pretty much kept me away from listening to Nightwish and many are the occasions I have whispered silent curses about otherwise good sounding songs being rendered unlisteneable by the wailing vocalist. So I admit straight ahead being somewhat of a stranger to previous Nightwish albums, having heard only a handful of songs and been scared away from the rest. But since there are probably hundreds of reviews of Dark Passion Play circling around in the media, this one being done by someone who’s basically a complete Nightwish novice, might just give a little different view on the new album, and judge it by it’s own strengths and weaknesses rather than with a solid comparison point to the band’s past achievements.
The album takes on in breathtaking proportions. The opening track “The Poet And The Pendulum” unfolds itself as a titanic epic where the band itself plus a huge orchestra create layer after layer a majestic wall of sound. The song, consisting of numerous chapters and flowing between mellow beauty, grandiose choruses and sparkling aggression is a bold move to be featured as the opening track, but succeeds in proving Nightwish being back with their full glory, holding no bars and being invigorated by the new beginnning.
But regardless of the impressive effectiveness of the 14-minutes long album opener, it’s with the remaining tracks that Dark Passion Play begins to unravel it’s true strengths. First of all, the balance between the band and supporting orchestra is well thought of; whereas one or the other takes the larger role as fitting to the song, neither one becomes too prominent at any point. Hats off to Tuomas Holopainen, he masters his world of symphonic metal in a way that is hard to match. The songs range from jutting metallic assault of ‘Master Passion Greed’ to the subtle frail beauty of ‘Eva’, effortlessly, letting the rest of the songs find their place in between of the two extreme ends of the scale. However, the mentioned two songs don’t rank amongst the albums highlights themselves. ‘Master Passion Greed’ brings some well needed heaviness to the album and allows Marco Hietala roar out the vocals with his trademark flawless power. Still, compared to Hietala’s work with similarly heavy material done by his other band Tarot, ‘Master Passion Greed’ falls steps too short. The ballad ‘Eva’ on the other hand is touching in it’s fragile beauty and though proves to be a decent song, isn’t quite at the same level as the very similar, Hietala -fronted song ‘While Your Lips Are Still Red’ that Nightwish featured both on the Amaranth single and on the soundtrack of finnish director Markku Pölönen’s Lieksa! -movie. Having said that, Dark Passion Play does have good slower moments, notably in ‘For The Heart I Once Had’ that showcases Anette Olzon’s crystal clear vocals to the max.
The musical peaks on Dark Passion Play are still plenty and come in many forms – track number two, ‘Bye Bye Beautiful’ has all the qualities to claim the title of the album’s best song. Starting with Olzon’s clear singing and exploding into Hietala’s viciously sputtered chorus, the track is a brilliant combination of smooth melody lines and a pulsating punch of vile energy. The lyrics make it no secret to which events the song is based on and Holopainen has done an excellent job channeling his feelings into the song… you can feel the steam blowing on this one.
“Amaranth” switches on to a bit softer mood, though still featuring a driving force of Emppu Vuorinen’s skillful guitars. Again, Olzon’s voice fits the song perfectly and the mere thought of how Turunen would’ve moaned it keeps my points piling up for Anette’s favour. Vuorinen’s composition “Whoever Brings The Night” is a guitar-driven piece that catches a loose arabian nights -theme better than more cliched and underlining track “Sahara” that precedes it. A great although surprising inclusion comes in the form of instrumental ‘Last Of The Wilds’ which sees the band switch into a refreshing celtic mode with a song that most folk metal bands would sell their dearest kilts for.
All through the album Anette Olzon’s voice carries on with beautiful clarity that doesn’t struggle in any curve. At points her english could be a bit smoother, but compared to Turunen the improvement on that area is huge as well. Beside swinging the bass, Marco Hietala has gotten a large role as the second vocalist and as usual handles the job peerlessly. The angel/demon contrast between Anette’s and Marco’s vocals is very effective, though Marco does get to show the gentler side of his voice on the nicely folky, though in the long run a bit dragging ballad “The Islander”.
Ranging from the cold seas to the burning deserts and from scottish highlands to the dark, bitter corners of the world, Dark Passion Play tries to cover a huge area of themes and ideas within one CD. Although at some points the whole album threatens to collapse under it’s own weight, the band eventually manages to maintain it’s course and keep the strings within it’s grasp. Holopainen’s poetic lyrics soar a little too high and a little too dreamlike at times, but for the most part he hits his mark and at times even shines. At some point I found myself thinking he should’ve perhaps given some lyrical responsibility to for example Marco Hietala who might’ve come up with some variation, but then again Nightwish is pretty much a platform for Holopainen’s own poetic vision and thus his lyrics fit the band’s imagery, even if the results sometimes verge on corny. The production on the album deserves an individual note, the sounds are remarkably clear and rich especially considering all the involved instruments alone. Also, orchestrations of always solid Pip Williams couldn’t have been handled better.
Dark Passion Play is an album that might well divide the Nightwish fans in two camps. The things I disliked about Tarja Turunen are as much loved by others, and to them the change in the singer department might be a hard step to take. For me Dark Passion Play with it’s many great songs, musical richness and lead vocals that finally the music perfectly was a very pleasant surprise.
1. The Poet And The Pendulum
2. Bye Bye Beautiful
4. Cadence Of Her Last Breath
5. Master Passion Greed
8. Whoever Brings The Night
9. For The Heart I Once Had
10. The Islander
11. Last Of The Wilds
12. 7 Days To The Wolves
13. Meadows Of Heaven
(Special edition includes the whole album as an instrumental version)