Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nightwish - Imaginaerum

When Nightwish fired their vocalist, Tarja Turunen, there was a complete outrage amongst the metal community. Although I understand completely why they would fire an over-egotistical sexy female vocalist, her voice was most of what made Nightwish’s music so amazing. Now even though I discovered Nightwish after they had released Dark Passion Play, the first album I heard by them was their 2004 masterpiece Once which was the last Nightwish album that Tarja appeared on. I was amazed by Once, and set out to find some of their other material, but the only albums I could find at the library (which was where I got a lot of my music at the time) were Century Child and Dark Passion Play. Yet again, I loved both of those albums. So now that I have been listening to Nightwish for almost five years, I’ve become extremely familiar with their music as well as their history. And here comes their long-awaited 2011 album, Anette’s chance to prove that she truly belongs in Nightwish; to prove that Dark Passion Play wasn’t just a fluke. Turns out that it wasn’t a fluke.

I’m going to start off with a topic that I bet a lot of you love getting involved in. Who is better: Anette or Tarja? Tarja is a classically trained singer, so her vocals tend to have a more operatic sound most of the time which is what causes the utter beauty and musicality of her voice. She also has a very unique sound and a wide vocal range. Anette’s vocals aren’t operatic at all. She has more of a traditional singing style; but she still is very well in-tune and has a beautiful crisp sound. Also, Anette’s harmonizations are very clean with a little bit of an edge which is helped with a wide vocal range that mainly goes to the higher ranges. Notice that I did nothing but list the qualities and traits of the two singers; I didn’t say either one was better than the other. Here’s something that you might not have noticed before: the entire band’s music from when Tarja was singing is a lot different than the music that backs up Anette.

In all of the albums before Dark Passion Play, the guitars were very loud and had an extremely dirty and crunchy distortion that sometimes even overpowered the rest of the band (like in the song Nemo). The music was faster and more aggressive and the music was also filled with lots of powerful sounds that come from an orchestra. Tarja’s powerful operatic vocals fit the music perfectly therefore making her the only vocalist able to sing along with the older songs and still have the music sound amazing.

In Dark Passion Play, the guitars still have a deep growl sound, but it’s a much much cleaner distortion. On top of that, the guitars are turned down a great deal to balance out the rest of the music. The music isn’t as fast, and has less of an aggressive sound; but still has an unbelievably amount of power that it puts out. The songs have a more traditional radio-friendly structure (not necessarily a bad thing) but still have a good length. The operatic instruments (played on the keyboards by Captain Jack Sparrow) are turned down a great deal, focusing more on the atmosphere that the music creates rather than complicated orchestral arrangements to back up the music. The only vocalist that can sound good with this album is Anette with her crisp, high-pitched (but still powerful) voice.

What I’m trying to get at is that ever since Wishmaster, Nightwish has always sounded good, even though they have been going through several major and minor shifts in their musical style. So neither vocalist is better than the other because they’re both amazing; just amazing in two different ways.

So the writing process of the new album was delayed by resting needs of the band members and Anette’s pregnancy. So the writing process of Imaginaerum started in late 2010 and was finished fairly quickly. Unlike their previous album, Nightwish didn’t make constant updates on their website about how the production and such of the new record was going; they stayed pretty low for the majority of the process, probably still pretty exhausted from all the media attention following Tarja’s departure. I’m still confused about what record label they’re on because on Spirit of Metal it says that almost all of their albums were released purely under Nuclear Blast, but when I looked on the Nuclear Blast website, it said that Nightwish was a “former” artist and that they were on Century Media (Nuclear Blast’s lesser partner). But then I saw under Nuclear Blast that they were releasing Imaginaerum so I don’t know it’s too confusing to even bother with it.

Nightwish uses Imaginaerum as an experimental album because they had been playing the same general sound for about eight years, making several minor changes in their sound in 2007. But they still needed to show that they could still be inventive and come up with something new. Imaginaerum is what they used to explore different musical realms. Throughout the record you hear other genres and elements being toyed with like folk, jazz, acoustic rock, alternative, new age, and even some screaming being done by both Anette and Marco. For those of you that are thinking “SCREAMING?? You can’t be serious!” Look up the song Ghost River. You also hear a lot more of Marco’s voice than in any of the other previous albums (probably because of Tarja’s ego and huge need to be the center of the music).

If you are a music fan at all, you should already know that there are a few songs out there that put a big huge smile on your face and give you butterflies no matter how many times you listen to it. You should also know that these particular specialties are extremely rare. Nightwish has already come out with two songs that create that kind of emotion in me and those songs are Dark Chest of Wonders and Amaranth. Well, let me tell you that there is one song on Imaginaerum that yet again creates that emotion, that song is the one that has a strong folk metal-induced sound, I Want my Tears Back. When you listen to this song, the crunchy guitars at the beginning take you back to the “Tarja Era” to then be sucked into a familiar form of vocal harmonization being done by the female and Marco that was in I Wish I had an Angel. After that you are immediately pulled into a melodic power metal sound surrounded and empowered by the sounds of bagpipes and flutes.

There is one song that was a major disappointment for me and that is the ballad that comes right before I Want my Tears Back. The song is beautiful, but the drummer completely ruined it. In this song the drummer uses those metal brushes on the symbols and snare, and he’s completely lost and out of time. It just completely ruined it to the point where I just skipped to the next song. Other than that, this album is a masterpiece that deserves much credit. Being a true album of creativity and experimentation, Imaginaerum gets 19/20. 

I also want to show you what the full picture on the album cover looks like: