Nightwish – Imaginaerum

December 4, 2011 in Reviews by blackwindmetal


After her first album with Nightwish, Anette Olzon is now further established as a lead singer, and is freer than she was on Dark Passion Play. With Imaginaerum, Nightwish shows how they’ve evolved their style to accommodate her.

The album starts with “Taikatalvi”, a soft, sweet, and slightly sinister ballad entirely in Finnish. The lyrics are taken out of a dream, a fantasy world of wonder and beauty. It’s very calm, dreamlike; with an ending that not-so-gently fades into the dramatic intro of “Storytime”. The following song is very catchy, though average at best, and the band could’ve chosen a better opener to this album. However, it does present Anette’s voice very well – though I can’t say the same about the melody of the song. It’s been a while since the last time I heard a melody this catchy and this repetitive at the same time. The same goes for the lyrics and the chorus, and the soft choir in the background doesn’t really help. I’m sorry, Holopainen, but “Storytime” is average and a filler song.

“Ghost River”, however, has a bombastic intro: a heavy guitar riff and keyboards before going into a full-blown symph-metal, well, symphony. Anette and Marco sing on and off, switching between duets and solos. In true Nightwish form, it stays that way for a while, then switches things up with a choir and change of melody. What I really like about this song is the final chorus, sung by a children’s choir to end the song in a grandiose and properly symphonic way. “Slow, Love, Slow” is, as you might already have guessed, the soft ballad. It builds up very slowly to a climax that isn’t really there, and ends with a ticking clock. Is this mandatory for concept albums? Ticking clocks and suspense?

“I Want My Tears Back” is a bombastic, powerful song that really reminds me of Amaranthe. Had it not been for the uilleann pipes, I would’ve considered this an Amaranthe ripoff. Anette’s voice is sweet, light, and dreamlike, while Marco’s is a lot rougher and more powerful. I consider this a filler song, but wouldn’t mind it being say, a movie theme song. Troy Donockley, on the uilleann pipes, does a great job throughout the song, beginning with the introduction. The finish is powerful, strong and melodic; see Amaranthe’s 1.000.000 Lightyears.

I have but one word for “Scaretale”: sinister. It has a very dramatic introduction that eventually wanders off into a soft song, with humming and accompanying keyboard lines before the symph-metal gradually kicks in and the choir follows. It’s sort of dreamy and repetitive, the redundant riff lasts a bit too long before Anette makes an entrance, her voice harsh and grating. She keeps this style throughout the song, and at times she’s closer to screaming than singing. This song seems to drift back and forth between scenes, at times reminding me of an amusement park, followed later by a section that reminds me of the banquet/dining hall scene from the first Harry Potter movie. Then, as if doors close, all we hear is a lone man playing his instruments. Soon the same theatrical music returns, and it passes unnoticed into “Arabesque”. This one is an instrumental; and the name says quite a lot. As you might guess without my saying so, this song is very “Arabic tradition meets Finnish symph-metal style”, with the European choirs and instruments keeping the Arabic emotions and feel intact. This song is like a musical sandstorm backed by a choir. There are steady drums and clapping; clearly rhythmical. One thing I’ve noticed so far in this album is that there’s always a choir in the background of the songs. It makes Holopainen’s love for choirs clear, in case it wasn’t obvious on the previous albums.

There is a slow crescendo before “Arabesque” fades straight into the sweet, more-than-average ballad that is “Turn Loose The Mermaids”. Now, Anette’s cute, not-always-in-tune-voice sings of a dream the narrator shared with someone. The slow, calm, and acoustic instruments accompany Anette’s sweet singing. I don’t get the mermaid thing, though, it doesn’t seem to fit. This might be because it’s part of a concept album, or mermaids might be representing something else. Anyways, it’s a very catchy ballad with a chorus that’s repeated a few too many times. The violin part at the end of the song reminds me of traditional Nordic dances, though, which is strange. If this is going to be a soundtrack to the movie, I visualize a group of dancers and musicians up in the Nordic mountains…with mermaids.

“Rest Calm” is very dark, and heavily progressive, but it seems to be a filler, and I consider it such. But there’s a twist: instead of moving over to the heavy, bombastic and catchy chorus as I expected, it becomes a slower, much calmer vocal part with vague instruments in the background. The heavy progressive feel returns on several occasions throughout the song, and it goes back and forth between heavy and calm. This is still catchy, Holopainen, your melodies never fail to get stuck in my brain. Really though, all this song does is repeat itself with the occasional twist.

“The Crow, The Owl And The Dove” starts with the chorus and is more like a regular rock song than a power ballad. Anette sings softly before both join in a sweet duet at the chorus. Marco clearly shows us how softly he can sing in a Nightwish ballad. All is sweet, calm, and relaxed before “Last Ride Of The Day” starts with a powerful blast. It’s straight on with a full choir and all instruments. In this one, Anette really shows us the diversity of her voice. Aside from that, there’s nothing special about it (see “Storytime” in case you’re curious). The ending is abrupt, clearly following the Nightwish recipe, and creates a good intro for “Song Of Myself”. Now this song is Imaginaerum’s “The Poet And The Pendulum”, with all the epicness, catchy melodies and spoken poem parts. Its intro is dramatic and operatic, building up to an increasingly powerful chorus. Some parts are clearly melodic, and the chorus definitely could be better: note the choir lines “All that great heart lying still and slowly dying/All that great heart lying still on an angelwing”. These lyrics couldn’t possibly be more typically Nightwish. Concerning the lyrics, the song consists of four separate parts, each with its theme. After a while this mix of various musical styles gets repetitive, but the strong choir lines remain. It’s a very upbeat song that eventually turns progressive and somehow reminds me of Dream Theater.

Holopainen, a sweet voice laid on top of heavy progressive riffs isn’t always a good solution. All respect to you, though, because this is more diverse than I expected and it’s good to hear heavy stuff along with a deeper-than-Tarja female voice. However, the middle part of the song is more filler, playing the same riff over and over again. Luckily it takes a few breaks just as my ears start becoming tired. It would possibly be good for the background music of a movie, perhaps a dramatic scene. Only as I started thinking of skipping the rest of the song, it calmed to a dreamlike keyboard solo before the spoken part. Here it becomes a very touching and personal song, mirroring tragic interpersonal relations and the struggles of modern society. It’s like a journey through lives and a mind. And this, my dear friend, is what brings my mind back to Dream Theater’s “Repentance”. For comparison, this is clearer, more audible, and a bit more understandable.

“Death is the winner in any war
Nothing noble in dying for your religion
For your country
For ideology, for faith
For another man, yes”

This part brings my mind back to the over-philosophical lyrics of MaYaN’s Quarterpast. But luckily it’s not overdone. I’m also reminded of the spoken part in Epica’s “Obsessive Devotion” With several personas, the spoken part (entitled “Love”) shows an understanding of human relations and personal struggles deeper than at least I have seen in earlier Nightwish lyrics. This is reality, not fantasy: Holopainen, what happened? Did you grow out of your imaginary world? He does criticize Christianity, which is quite a change from all the Christian-style themes of the previous albums. There is also no talk of “ocean souls“ in this album, and that surprised me. It seems to have been Holopainen’s keyword for lyrics.
The end of “Song Of Myself” stretches out a bit. I always think it ends at “…all your bible-black fools living on nightmare ground”, while it actually carries on for longer. It’s almost like they thought it was OK to end it there, but decided to make it longer and end it at “And there, forever remains. That change from G to E minor.”

Yet there’s something strangely familiar with this whole poem thing. It’s been done before, both in Century Child and Dark Passion Play. What surprises me, however, is that I can’t seem to find any references to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Instrumentally, the end is very quiet and all focus is on that lone Scotsman’s voice.

Finally, the title track is a very enjoyable instrumental. It starts off bombastically before calming down to a slower, ballad-like part. Overall it resembles a dream. A dream that goes from good to bad, but also brings back the more catchy melodies we’ve already heard on this album (starting with “Storytime”).

On the whole, I’d gladly give Imaginaerum a higher score, but after a few listens it gets boring.

Tora’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5