Nightwish – Imaginaerum
Label: Roadrunner/Nuclear Blast
Release date: November 30, 2011 (EU), January 10, 2012 (US)
With the depth of influence Finland’s Nightwish has had on the symphonic metal scene, one would think that they’d have a catalog of albums in double digits. However, the band’s latest opus, Imaginaerum is only the group’s seventh studio release. It’s rather ironic that as many fans and critics wrote the band off with the changing of vocalists in 2007, Imaginaerum finds the band setting a new standard of success.
The album, a concept affair, is based on the musings of an old writer on his deathbed remembering his youth through a twisted haze. The atmosphere of the songs range from upbeat and melodic, to jazzy and alluring, to somber and despairing. The sonic tapestry all comes together in what is arguably the band’s most well-rounded and impressive offering to date. Even though Imaginaerum was only released overseas a month ago (North America must wait until later this month), many magazines, and websites have already tabbed it as one of 2011’s best metal albums. It took the number eleven spot on Metalholic’s list, and repeated listens may prove even that to be several spots too low. Keyboardist and principal band composer, Tuomas Holopainen, has truly outdone all previous efforts here.
The table-setter is the track “Taikatalvi” which is performed entirely in the band’s native tongue by bassist and male vocalist Marco Hietala. “Taikatalvi” means magic winter. This lead’s the listener to “Storytime”, the album’s lead-off single, and a joyous up-tempo piece that is a collision of all the album’s many voices. Sort of an encapsulating and addictive piece, full of Emppu Vuorinen’s crunchy guitars, massive melodies, and a delightful soaring chorus. For many bands a song like this would leave the rest of the album in its wake. That does not happen here.
“Ghost River” kicks off with a tasty riff that segues into an almost Tim Burton vibey eerie epicness. There exists the feel of a dark carnival here. A twisted clown on stilts barking from distorted heights. Then a children’s choir, followed by Olzon’s lilting voice. A very intriguing track.
The most unusual track on the record is the jazzy, almost torch track, “Slow, Love, Slow”. The fact that it comes as such a change for the band, and is so unique makes it one of the album’s standout moments.
Next up the band offers up another likely single, with the infectious “I Want My Tears Back”. Great uillean pipe work from Troy Donockley, who also appeared on the band’s previous effort, Dark Passion Play.
“Scaretale” begins with ominous orchestral build up before slipping into the sounds of a haunted playground. This is has great guitar riffs and grandiose moments. It must be noted that Pip Williams and the London Philharmonic Orchestra truly helped bring this vision to life.
“Turn Loose The Mermaids” is a beautiful Celtic ballad, while “Rest Calm” is anything but. This is a heavy doomy almost oppressive track, yet still full of melody.
On and on the albums goes, track by brilliant track, leading us to the album’s apex. “Song Of Myself” is an entire stage play within a four-part song lasting nearly 14 minutes. The track is full of theatrical heights, emotive vocals from Olzon, and immense, even imposing choral moments. A single song EP within the context of the album as a whole.
Imaginaerum runs the gamut from mind numbing highs to melancholic, even tragic lows. A fantastical sonic tale, poignant and at times aggressive.
Nightwish has created an album both elegant and enchanting. Imaginaerum is a fearless spectacle. A stunning, nay, breathtaking sonic expose’ that is a gift for music fans of all genres. Expect to see this album return to the 2012 Best of lists next winter.
While there may be no such thing as a perfect album, Holpainen and Nightwish have come damn close.