Nightwish - Dark Passion Play
Record Label: Roadrunner Records
Release Date: October 2, 2007 (US)
As with many of my reviews, let me begin with a brief preface: I have never heard Nightwish with Tarja Turunen singing. This review of their new album, Dark Passion Play, is based entirely on the merits of the band as it stands now, from the viewpoint of a new fan. I have heard plenty of debates about how new vocalist Anette Olzen stacks up to (or falls short of) Turunen, and I am choosing to ignore them. So for those fans out there who hate the band now (or love them more), please refrain from commenting about the past/future.
Nightwish are yet another band in the rather large, if still somewhat overlooked, genre known as power metal. This style of music, which often involves loud, bombastic guitar work, soaring vocals, often fantasy themed lyrics, and the occasional keyboard (or orchestra) is extremely popular in places like Scandinavia, and almost unheard of here. The success of bands like Evanescence and Dragonforce are both rather rare in the genre and do little to elevate their peers. And many of the fans of this style of music also tend to be more than a bit stereotypical (read: geeks, old school metal-heads, Dungeons & Dragons players, and "vikings"). So this is almost certainly a recipe for obscurity for many of these extremely talented and ambitious bands.
Dark Passion Play is, by all means, a very ambitious album. In addition to possessing an amazing guitarist - Emmpu Vuorinen, who could give Thomas Youngblood of Kamelot a run for his money - they also employ a full scale symphony orchestra and not one, but two choirs. The amount of music potential here alone should automatically guarantee excellent music that will blow the listener away. And it does, at times. The album opener, “The Poet and the Pendulum,” is one such track. At nearly 14 minutes in length, it plays out like a typical symphony, complete with unique movements and varied intensities. Based solely on this song, the album is worth the money and time taken to appreciate it. Vocalist Anette Olzen has a truly lovely voice reminiscent of Within Temptation’s Sharon del Adel that sweeps at the right time, wails at others, and complements the music well.
After the explosive opener, the album proceeds with “Bye Bye Beautiful,” “Amaranth,” and “Cadence of Her Last Breath,” all of which could be singles and are possibly the best songs on the album. Whether this has to do with their following of the opener is debatable, but both songs are brilliant representations. The subsequent tracks all follow a typical power metal lineup - “Master Passion Greed” swaps Olzen for a snarling male vocalist, Marco Hietala, who sounds like Symphony X’s Russell Allen. It's here the one main flaw of Dark Passion Play is revealed; like many other power metal albums, it gets overblown on its own ambition and creativity. By the time track seven rolls along, your mind is swollen and you don’t want to listen anymore. For longtime fans of the genre, this is easy to overcome with repeated spins, but for new fans it can, and most likely will, wear on them. This is unfortunate, because the last seven songs are just as good as the first, especially the beautiful instrumental "Last of the Wilds."
Dark Passion Play is a truly excellent album. The few flaws found in it are all easily attributed to the nature of its style, the desire of its artists, and the limits they wish to pursue. But even then, there is much for music fans to latch on to. With many of the individual songs being over five minutes in length and the expansive opener, the value of the album is easily seen. And for an album that clocks in at an hour and fifteen minutes, it makes the most of its time.