Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Nightwish Endless Forms Most Beautiful cover
Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Nuclear Blast
Nightwish, that by now have been going on for nearly two decades, reached their eighth studio album, with “Endless Forms, Most Beautiful” their first album as a sextet, the debut of current ReVamp and former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen and longtime session uillean pipes player Troy Donockley as permanent members, and the introduction of Kai Hahto (Wintersun, Swallow The Sun, long time NW drum tech) in the place of Jukka Nevalainen, behind the drumkit, as a temporary (?) replacement, as the latter seems to be battling a heavy form of Insomnia that has caused him to go into spasms, thus hindering his performances greatly.
The whole album is loosely thematically linked, with most of the songs, addressing, the beauty of life and how through science and observation we can understand ourselves and get in touch with the miracles of life. The theme of evolution is also quite prevalent, as the title of the album comes from a Charles Darwin, book and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, is featured on two songs.
The aforementioned Dawkins, actually reads a quote prior to the furious opening of “Shudder Before the Beautiful”, a song that finds Nightwish, re-energized and carefully balancing between the style they had on “Once” and “Dark Passion Play”. Jansen who did prove her ability, on the live album “Showtime Story-time”, effortlessly floats on glides on top of the rich and splendorous arrangements, electing not to copy Tarja’s overbearing pseudo-operatic style, but also being a mile ahead of Olzon, who she substituted, in terms of vocal ability. She’s being her own woman, if you will, using her own voice and it fits the music, quite nicely. Whether she sings solo, or leading the choir of voices, in this tempestuous and highly symphonic number, she’s superb. A beautiful, dynamic opener.
“Weak Fantasy” with its heavily rhythmic and percussive intro reminded me a bit of how “The Elvenpath” begins, but in a way more grandiose way. The truth is that Holopainen has turned into a masterful arranger, writing parts specific for the orchestra and not afraid to mix the band’s performances lower, so as to really “use” the orchestral effect to the max, a thing that bands like Blind Guardian, seem to miss entirely, just mixing themselves on top of orchestras, thus “negating” the whole orchestral effect. “Weak Fantasy” is weird as it seems to mix the symphonic atmosphere, with a little folk, mandolin or Irish bouzouki, or sth like that, seems to creep in various places, while Jansen, offers both sweet as well as some pretty harsh almost all out metal vocals and everything in between, with a little aid from Heitela, coming in during the song. Also pretty good, and more metallic in places.
“Élan” is the first track, from the album, and reminded me greatly of a softer more symphonic “Amaranth” with a less bombastic chorus. A few people felt a little divided, upon hearing it, as it’s not that immediate, but in the context, of the album, it works much better. Floor, offers another, exemplary performance on vocals and while, maybe it’s one of the less “immediate” Nightwish singles, it’s definitely a grower.
“Yours is an Empty Hope” is a very contrasting song, very dynamic, very symphonic, with the performances by both Jansen and Heitela, being almost antagonistic between each other and a raging orchestra, which mixed fantastically with the band, who is a lot more “present” in the mix on this one. Heck, Jansen, almost sounds, like an extreme metal vocalist meets Doro, screaming out the chorus towards the end, along with Heitela, Nightwish as you haven’t quite experienced them before. Still familiar and overall not going for any greatly new tricks, but surely utilizing their old ones, in new and interesting ways. Evolution, baby!
“Our Decades in the Sun” is a soft ballad, with beautiful orchestrations, with Jansen, starting of timidly and then progressively, going almost semi-operatic and ethereal in a very tasteful way. She’s easily the most versatile and probably the best vocalist, Nightwish ever had.
“My Walden” is a lot more folky, with a playful melody during the chorus, again reminiscent of the style that “Amaranth” introduced, but also mixing it, with both previous and later, Nightwish trademarks. Its melodies are more inclined towards, early Nightwish, but, Troy Donockley’s pipe parts really give it a slant, reminiscent of “The Islander” etc. as well. A perfect example of the past and present meeting in harmony and shaping the future.
The title track “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is a cornucopia of all things, Nightwish, is heavy, it’s symphonic, it’s bombastic, celebrating, all of the bands strengths, again, the band is very present, but mixing perfectly, with the orchestra hits, strategically placed, against the bands phrases, creating a huge melodic wall of music that assaults the senses and conquers the listener, with relative ease. It’s beautiful. And a lot of this new found excitement has to do with the Flying Dutch Lady, which from what I understand now is a Finnish resident. It was almost too clear, from that first, After Forever album, all those years ago, that she’d go a long way. I also feel quite vindicated, having written in one of my previous “reviews” of a Nightwish album, that, instead of Ozlon, I’d have liked Elize Ryd (Amaranthe, Kamelot) or Floor Jansen (After Forever, Revamp) in her place and it turned out that the former, did try out and substitute an ailing Ozlon, on tour and the latter ended up, in the place. Nostradamus, bitch you’ve got nothing on me! :D
“Edema Ruh” is a song, based on some fantasy novel I think and it’s about some traveling bards, I suppose that Holopainen, sort of tries to draw a thematic parallel here. It’s a less bombastic song, a more temperate, song with the guitars, surprisingly cutting through the mix and virtually no orchestra, or if there are orchestrations, they must be very low on the mix. It’s nice, enough.
“Alpenglow” might have something to do with the Alps, or not. It’s an extremely, contrasting number with Jansen, displaying a really great vocal ability as she switches, from an “extremely” bitchy-witchy vocal, on a verse, almost instantly into a far more melodic and mellow vocals for an extended bridge, chorus. It’s probably one of the most impressive songs Nightwish have done in terms of dramatic and theatrical elements, with Ms Jansen, just doing whatever she wants with her voice.
“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is an instrumental, based around some soft piano and some delicate arrangements over a very spartan and transparent percussion and only a Children Choir, vocalizing towards the end. It originally was supposed to be a proper song with lyrics, about the sort of hardships, of children during times of war, and was inspired by a quite famous photo Tuomas, saw on National Geographic which moved him, greatly. In the end and because the lyrics were proving to be quite a struggle to write, because of the delicacy of the subject, the idea to leave the song without any of them and just use some choral arrangements, in their place was elected. It’s a very tender, but slightly sombre piece, that’s quite great.
Lastly there’s “The Greatest Show on Earth”, which is a complete overkill, on many levels. It’s a five part, twenty four minute suite, the longest composition ever by the band, but it’s greatly uneven. Part (I) “Four Point Six” is a soft piano intro, which almost goes on for four to five minutes, with only a daring orchestral hit somewhere in the middle. Slowly the song segues into part (II) “Life” with Jansen vocalizing and then chanting some lyrics in a highly operatic style. There are some pipes going on and another quote spoken out by Dawkins, while the pipes are joined by the band and the orchestra. Then the main part of the song begins with some very dark, almost threatening, female vocals, which after a while, give way to classic, “Nightwish” operatic metal vocals, then back to the dark ones and forth again, between verse and chorus. It’s basically the “core” of the composition lasting until almost the middle of the song, with various sound effects of rabid animals, seguing the song to its next part (III) the very dynamic “The Toolmaker”, which begins between the eleventh and twelfth minutes, utilizing both Jansen and Heitela, over another antagonistic part. The very next part (IV) “The Understanding” begins with an almost techno bit, that follows a bit of classical music, that Tuomas borrow, it only lasts only momentarily but it’s enough to change the “flow” but not the grandeur. As in this part, the atmosphere is turned from dark and brooding into almost celebratory over some really dynamic parts. Finally from roughly the seventeenth minute the final part (V) “Sea-Worn Driftwood” takes over, with a soft musical landscape, another Dawkins quote, spoken over it, about how beautiful and precious life is and how lucky we are to be alive, against insurmountable odds, during our conception, this goes on for about two or three minutes, with the final four, being a rather ambient soft outro. The scope of the song is great, but it’s so “long” it sort of becomes a bit, “Spinal Tap-ish”. I’m fairly sure, a 10-12 minute version of this song, could be edited out and it would have been a lot tighter and possibly easier to perform, live. It’s the only song on the album that’s kind of hit and miss and that principally because of its duration, as its middle section (“Life” etc.) is rather brilliant.
Nightwish, returns, highly re-energized, with an album that feels more even than the last couple of albums, certainly a lot more mature and evidently deeper and quite more rewarding, than their previous ones. It might not be as immediate, as some of them, but it’s definitely a lot more enjoyable and thought out, than them. Floor Jansen, is a huge asset to the band and feels really natural, offering the most varied performance on a Nightwish ever. Props to her, for also not pulling a Tarja, trying to flat out emulate her predecessor. She can definitely, replicate these vocals, as it’s evident by her previous albums/bands, but she chooses not to do so, but to introduce, her own style, that basically, combines elements, from all the previous eras of the band, filtered through her own personal style. A beautiful job, by a lovely person. This third reboot, of the band, seems like a definite one, but, in any event, “Endless Forms...” definitely reignites the passion for the band, in a great way, that was seemingly dying out, after the overtly ambitious and overindulgent “Imaginaerum” that did seem to fail to deliver as a whole and only had a couple of interesting singles to offer. Well done.
PS: It’s highly likely that Nightwish’s “Oceanborn” was the first review I ever wrote, in a published, publication and also they were the first interview I did, other than one with Virgin Steele, that went terribly wrong, when a dehydrated, star struck me, had a bit of an issue, back in the day... stammering through half of it (lol) so, they do still have a special place in my heart, as what they did back in the late 90s was really original and ground breaking and then copied, to death. Obviously female vocals in metal are a lot older and probably Kari Rueslatten, was one of the first females to earn some serious prominence, with the 3rd And The Mortal, thus opening the floodgates, but it’s due to those pioneering acts that the whole “female fronted” scene, exists today, for better or for worse (too many corsets and not as good vocals!). But these guys and gals were among the originals and responsible for popularizing this trend, so props to them.