Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful - (9/10)
Published on March 25, 2015
A new beginning.
Whenever a new Nightwish album rolls around, the internet is abuzz with discussions. Will the new album be as complex as the previous, will it sound more like the old Nightwish and so on. Ever since the band and original singer Tarja Turunen went separate ways in 2005, a lot of these discussions revolve around the vocals and Turunen’s successor Anette Olzon did not (and still does not) really fare that well, so when the Finns made former After Forever front lady Floor Jansen their permanent vocalist, the anticipation for album number eight, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, skyrocketed.
In some ways, the new album is a continuation of the band’s evolution over the past few years, away from the more power metal influenced regions and closer to a symphonic metal pasture that puts more emphasis on the symphonic portion than heaviness at times. A side effect of this, though, is that Holopainen and band manage to avoid just treading water and continue to explore the bordering areas of their chosen stylistic spectrum without wandering off too far and alienating their fans.
And not unlike the last two albums Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is not an album that will reveal all of its details and flow at first or second listen, instead it will take the listener probably a few sessions to really comfortably find a spot to fully comprehend and enjoy the more than 78 minutes of music contained here. The single Élan has had a very mixed reaction among the fans, not least due to being a balladesque-to-mid-paced song, but opener “Shudder Before the Beautiful” actually shows that Nightwish have not forgotten how to keep the heaviness intact, but padding it with more extensive symphonic orchestration, which sounds fuller than ever and gives Floor ample space to let her vocals shine. Speaking of which, while she can pull off Tarja’s soprano without any problems, as proven live, she obviously has not been drafted in to emulate the old operative style, but instead surprises with a very powerful and varied performance that greatly aids in propelling the songs forward. And staying on the vocal side, bassist Marco Hietala has taken a step back in the overall mix, leaving the stage to Floor more, acting more as support and strong accentuation than an equal.
And within the context of the a bit heavier “Weak Fantasy” and faster and a bit more aggressive “Yours is an Empty Hope” suddenly the calmer “Élan” makes sense and it is something that Nightwish have always had, calmer, lighter songs throughout the albums, which continues here with “My Walden”, which is the probably catchiest of all the tunes on Endless Forms Most Beautiful and might very well be a bone of contention with some… The title track on the other hand is straighter, with more bombast in the chorus and great dramatic dynamics, which greatly help it reach the upper echelons of Nightwish’s creative output.
Undisputed, though, should be the closing duo “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” and “The Greatest Show on Earth”, with the former being a moody instrumental, which kind of acts as an intro to the 24-minute monster that is “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Said epos takes its time to get going, with soft piano and then some light orchestration as well as light female vocalization and a quiet folky touch, but once things kick in around the six minute mark with double-bass driving the same folky melody forward, Holopainen treats the listener to a very varied and dynamic track that sees Floor’s most inspired and soaring performance of the album in the chorus, which forms a strong contrast to the darker verse, before the bridge starts to pick things up again, leading into the chorus, forming a strong and dramatic closer to the album.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a grower, so much is for sure, seemingly unspectacular and somewhat subdued sounding at the beginning, it starts to reveal more and more details with each repeated listen, showing a lot of different nooks and crannies to explore and discover, making it the overall maybe most intricate Nightwish album to date without forsaking their past or seeing a drastic change of style. Can it rival the likes of Oceanborn, Wishmaster or Once? That strongly depends on your point of view, which era of Nightwish you prefer, but Endless Forms Most Beautiful definitely is another strong addition to Nightwish’s catalogue and while she may have been used in a more efficient way to showcase the full range of her voice, it also is a first proof that Floor Jansen might be exactly the vocalist the Finns need for their future.
Maybe not their best album, but a very strong effort that will be high up on year-end lists all over.