By Matt Kastner
One of the biggest questions that has been asked over the past year and a half is about to be answered. That question is will Nightwish be able to carry on without singer Tarja Turunen? That answer is this: Absolutely! The band has outdone themselves on so many levels with Dark Passion Play. Though under heavy criticisms from the fans already, Anette Olzon steps up to the plate and hits a home run as the band’s new vocalist. Though she isn’t an operatic singer like Tarja was, her vocals compliment the songs perfectly. I cannot wait to hear her take on their older material live either. The band seems to be in very good hands.
Musically, this album blows everything that the band has previously done away. Tuomas Holopainen (the band’s primary lyricist and songwriter) reaches new peaks with this release. Gone is the boy who had dreams of writing his own music. Now, we have a grown man who can stand proudly with the greatest names in the history of music. The orchestrations are epic. If by some curse Nightwish were to fall apart, Holopainen would have a bright future in score composition and could most likely stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer.
The album opens up with the epic “The Poet and the Pendulum” and with good reason too. There are only two words that can truly describe this song: musical perfection. Imagine the song “Ghost Love Score” and give it balls. That is how incredible the song is. I once said that “Ghost Love Score” was the best song Nightwish has ever done and I am very glad to be proven wrong as “Poet” surpasses it. It’s almost like your ears are having an orgasm as you listen to this song (as a matter of fact, they are!). It’s that good.
“Did you ever hear what I told you? Did you ever read what I wrote you?” These are the questions the chorus asks in the next song, “Bye Bye Beautiful.” If you haven’t guessed it already, the song is about the band’s former singer, Tarja Turunen. With the masterpiece that is “Poet” leaving you wanting more, “Beautiful” is able to fill that hunger. It is very catchy and is definitely ‘single material.’ Almost the album’s equivalent to that of “Wish I Had an Angel” off of 2004’s Once. The next song, “Amaranth” is just as catchy, if not more, as “Bye Bye Beautiful” is; and rightfully so, these two tracks are being released as the other two singles for the album.
The rest of the album will have you in a musical trance equivalent to that of a powerful high. We are taken on a journey with songs such as “Master Passion Greed” (about Tarja Turunen’s husband, Marcelo Cabuli) and “Whoever Brings the Night” (the first song in the band’s history written entirely by guitarist Emppu Vuorinen), which are some of the heaviest the band has ever done (“Master will leave you headbanging like there’s no tomorrow”), to a solemn and peaceful mood with “Eva” and the outro song, “Meadows of Heaven.” Another section of the album worthy of praise is the trio of songs, “The Islander,” “Last of the Wilds,” and “7 Days to the Wolves.” “The Islander” is a great ballad with a heavy Celtic influence and “Last of the Wilds” is an instrumental continuing with the mood that “Islander” sets. The transition from “Wilds” into “7 Days” is nearly perfect. You’re in one mood and then the bombastic intro of “7 Days” completely changes that into another and you’re back in a heavy bliss. The chorus of this song will also have you singing along just as it did with “Poet.”
This album is sure to both gain many new fans as well as lose some for Nightwish. If you look past the vocal differences between Tarja and Anette, you get one amazing album. Unfortunately, there are and will be many people who will be unable to accept this fact simply because the vocals are completely different from what we’ve heard in Nightwish before. Bassist Marco Hietala even sings the entire song of “Master Passion Greed” and his and Anette’s voices compliment each other very well. The band has clearly grown past the need for operatic vocals on this release. They are also one of the few bands who can blend the use of a full orchestra together with metal music. There seems to be an overabundance of bands who make poor attempts to combine the two just so they can have them together. The drumming from Jukka Nevalainen is also spot on as his parts are constructed to compliment the song, not show off like many drummers seem to attempt.
So with Dark Passion Play, not only does Nightwish meet all expectations, they exceed them. What we have is a “no holds barred” metal album that proves you don’t need blast beats or growling vocals to be heavy. Continuing in the direction they started on Once, they take it and run. The door that was once thought to be a very, very dark future for Nightwish is now opened to a greener pasture on the other side. Does Dark Passion Play have my nomination for Album of the Year title? Absolutely.