Well, it sure is hard to be a NIGHTWISH fan sometimes. Much like BLIND GUARDIAN, they nearly always release quality albums, but boy do they take their sweet time composing and recording them. At the end of this record, my first thought was literally: “Oh look at that, the album’s over… that means it’s going to be another four years without a NIGHTWISH album? Damn it!”
I’ll say it right off the bat: I’m a big fan of both the Tarja and Anette eras of NIGHTWISH. As much as I love the former’s operatic voice, I find the latter’s energy and overall attitude has influenced the band in a very positive way. I loved “Dark Passion Play” their first album with their new singer, but I felt that, much like a sophomore effort from a new band, their second album with Anette was going to be a “make or break”. Now that this album, called “Imaginaerum” is finally out, I’m glad to say that the wait was worth it: The album is just as good as DPP, although in very different ways.
Lyrically speaking, recurring themes have always been a part of NIGHTWISH's style, but this is their first full-fledged concept album, telling the story of an old composer on his deathbed, reminiscing of his youth. You don’t need to know this (or care) to appreciate the album – to me, it’s an added bonus. For example, “I Want My Tears Back” is about wanting to feel some emotions again. A few songs later, during “Turn Loose The Mermaids”, a song about reminiscing childhood during your later years, one line of the lyrics stands out: “the mermaids you turned loose brought back your tears”. Without paying attention to the story, this line cannot have the same impact.
“Taikatalvi” is a nice quiet intro sung in Finnish, but the album really starts with the first single, “Storytime”. An excellent track, by far the best single NIGHTWISH ever put out. It’s then followed by “Ghost River”, which will be no doubt the first of many WTF moments for more than one fan – very dark, probably the darkest in the band’s history… yet. As Marco sings with a beautiful children choir: “He will go down, he will drown drown, deeper down…” Still, there is one darker place this album will go.
“Slow, Love, Slow” is my least favourite track on "Imaginaerum," which is a shame because I can appreciate the effort and Tuomas (Holopainen, main composer) trying something different. This is a slow, crooner-like song with a very jazzy feel and solo. Said solo stands out, but I couldn’t get into the songs as I didn’t find the verses musically interesting or catchy. “I Want My Tears Back” has already been unofficially announced as the next single, and indeed this is one of the most immediately accessible tracks. I was initially put off by how poppy it was… Until I heard the bridge/solo, which is a battle between guitar and pipes reminiscent of the instrumental “Last Of The Wilds” from their previous album. This makes this track stand out greatly, and I now find it impossible to listen to that bridge section while standing still!
I mentioned there would be an even darker moment in this album than “Ghost River”. “Scaretale” shows the band visiting childhood nightmares and it is not only my favourite song on the album but also the most surprising. The song has no chorus to speak of, which in itself is surprising by NIGHTWISH standards. but it becomes simply crazy in the middle section where the band becomes a twisted Circus of Fear. Believe me, I never thought I’d make that comparison, but it reminded me of Canadian avant-garde band UNEXPECT!
Next comes “Arabesque”, a nice interlude. “Turn Loose The Mermaids” is a good ballad, showcasing Anette Olzon’s vocal abilities. “Rest Calm” is overall a very good mid-tempo song, but it does drag on at the end for too long. “The Crow, The Owl And The Dove” is likely to be the most pop track on album, which is ironic since it’s the only one written by Metalhead Marco Hietala. The song could be more complex than it sounds, though: I found myself liking it more and more after each listen.
“Last Ride of the Day” is just as excellent as “Storytime”, a pure NIGHTWISH-style upbeat song. Then there is the album’s epic, “Song Of Myself”. Unfortunately, as much as I want to, I can’t say this suite is as good as “The Poet And The Pendulum” from Dark Passion Play. Don’t get me wrong, the song isn’t bad (in fact I wouldn’t call any song on this album “bad”), the “song” part of it is great, but it ends by six minutes+ of spoken word poetry. The poetry is good, but you will tend to skip it if you’re looking for music. The album ends with the title track, which is an orchestral medley of melodies heard throughout the albums, like closing credits of a movie. Some people will love it, some won’t. I’m in the former category.
Overall, “Imaginaerum” is a truly great album, with only a few weaknesses that bring it down from a 10 to a 9. A few songs drag on for a little too long, and there is a single composition ("Slow, Love, Slow") I simply could not get into. Still, I love this album; I highly recommend it and huge props to the band for trying new, different music in it, more than once.
(Online January 3, 2012)