|Operatic Power Metal, Symphonic Power Metal
Nuclear Blast Records, Roadrunner Records (2012)
November 30th, 2011 / January 10th, 2012
Release length: 1:14:15
I have gone on record proclaiming a breath of fresh air, and almost a grand, dramatic rebirth of the stagnant, quickly growing mainstream sound Nightwish had been putting out through Roadrunner Records along the time of Century Child and Once. While the albums were far from horrible, it was undeniable that they had lost a lot of what made their music so magical in the first place, and with the departure of vocalist Tarja and introduction of Anette Olzen in 2007 for Dark Passion Play, I was caught up in the beauty of the music, the reinvigorated and energetic performances, and rich, epic sounds that paled in comparison to their previous efforts. With that album, it was clear that Nightwish had finally ascended to the level they always should have been at. But, when the band issued “Storytime” off Imaginaerum, many of us dedicated fans were at a loss. Was this a sign of terrible times ahead for this upcoming full-length, the seventh to be released by the band since 1997?
It’s actually had to sit here and have an opinion on the album at this time, whether personally or critically. Imaginaerum is actually a full-length soundtrack for the group’s own upcoming [at the time of this review] film of the same title. It’s a musical that also stars the band members of Nightwish as specific members in the cast with a story that revolves around an elderly musical composer named Tom, who suffers from “severe dementia.” Essentially, the movie is a “journey between two different dimensions. Tom travels through his imaginary world seeking answers and finding memories, while his daughter, Gem, tries to recover the band she had once shared with her father in the real world,” according to the Internet Movie Database. With that comes a hint of mystery towards the music and how the varying sounds throughout it work out in context to the film considering this is not an actual album in itself, but rather a representation of a final product not yet available, but due to be released in 2012.
Regardless of that fact, you can only really judge this album by its contents, and try to approach it understanding each track has a purpose for its varying styles. Of course, given this is going to be in a film that more than likely will be of a high-caliber, the music is also of a top-notch sound. If you have heard the band’s more recent recordings, especially Dark Passion Play, you know what you’re getting into here. The keyboards that given the Symphonic can feel to the music are booming over pretty much everything, but not enough to drown any instrument or singer out. The guitars have a decent amount of distortion on them, being of a mid-range with a little sharpness to them. The bass does ground things a bit to give off a blunter side to the music, but overall these instruments do introduce enough of an edge that you’ll find yourself wrapped up in the music nicely. The drumming here is about the same levels as the guitars are, having a strong cymbal crash and natural, sometime hollow sounding snare sound that adds to the Symphonic sound of the music during more of the epic bridges, but largely just enriches the music outside of these moments. The bass kicks have a relatively louder click to them, but they don’t really come through as well, and can be drowned out by pretty much everything else if the music becomes loud or large enough. The vocal range here also shows some nice variety, but overall feels a little restricted and out-of-place to the band’s rather Operatic sound, a gripe many had with Anette that sadly shows it’s wear here greatly.
Imaginaerum starts things off with “Taikatalvi,” which, knowing it’s part of an upcoming musical, makes sense towards setting up the album. This introduction starts with lyrics in Finnish instead of the English language that does come through on other tracks. The performance is lower and sounds more frail compared to the rest of the song as it is performed against the music of a recently wound music box before the song’s more majestic and slightly Folk driven sound begins to build and bleed into the lead single “Storytime.” While this is far from the band’s best performance, it does end up being one of the better songs off the album, as well as a track that will grow on the listener. The safer approach Nightwish incorporates is met nicely with some subtle Symphonic elements that does create enough of a beauty to it, and the additional somewhat operatic vocals that do appear in the background do work to give it a more dramatic impact. Vocally, it does feel more like a traditional female fronted act than anything else, and while the whole song will end up having you bob your head along at times, the overall effect seems to be more geared towards the listener just blanking his or her mind and picturing what the scene(s) from the film will look like against this song. Considering the “imagination” theme of the album and film, it really seems to be a subtle, possibly unrecognized foundation for the song, and in the end makes it a better suiting track to the Nightwish musical history than much else here, and becomes a song you really need to let your mind wander to instead of just approach it casually. Sadly this doesn’t really carry over to the other songs.
This becomes immediately evident with “Ghost River.” Another good song that feels a little more downplayed to better suit the less powerful female vocals, as well as allow the more aggressive, yet still somewhat unimpressive mixture of shouting and harmonized male vocals. It’s clear that the emphasis here is on the performance from Tuomas Holopainen, who is probably one of the bigger leads in the film than Anette who actually feels like she’s taking a backseat to his shorter outbursts. Again, the music has a really catchy beat, and carries with it a slightly darker beauty this time. But the music does continue to slow down for the aptly titled “Slow, Love, Slow.” The track takes a bit of a dark, gangster style film in the same mob-era fifties style vein of Dick Tracy when cops had to rely on intelligence and not DNA and computers to find the bad guy. This really does present a dark, sleazy club effect in your imagination immediately, establishing a very burlesque setting that grows with passion amid the slower performance. The only problems are how much it does not fit against the other tracks offered, as well as the rather epic build towards the end that does not at all seem like something a backing orchestra for a small dive like the one you can picture, and more than likely will be included in the film, would have the capabilities to create. It’s also clear this song concludes with a ticking of a grandfather clock that bridges both the memory world, and real world in the film given the transitioning effect on that sound and how long it lasts before exploding into the energetic and slightly Folk influenced “I Want My Tears Back,” another one of the band’s better tracks, though not the greatest with a slightly more mainstream feel that ends up finding Anette putting another strong vocal performance forward and putting her back in control of Nightwish despite Tuomas performing alongside her in the chorus.
Finally, Nightwish does start to bring things back around to what this album at least started off with. “Last Ride of the Day” picks things back up into the Symphonic Power Metal sound, but again doesn’t quite retain that magic the band is known for. There’s no denying it’s still a powerful song that is catchy and with a great beat to get you instinctively head banging along to the heavier moments, and even what seems like a bit of a Hard Rock input at one point later in the song. Vocally, it’s again a little restrained and nothing is really belted out with the strength that Anette has shown, but it does seem to put everyone back in their places to lead into “Song of Myself,” the longest track of the recording that clocks in at over thirteen and a half minutes. This track is cut up into four different parts, and each one of them ends up being rather clear as to when they start and end thanks to the subtle shifts in musical direction. “Last Ride of the Day” does an excellent job warming the listener back up to how the band should sound, and this track really puts the true Nightwish sound in a better spotlight. The atmospheres found throughout the track really do stick out well, setting up both a nice beauty and wonder, while at times also a very dismal and even somewhat scary tone that more than likely would be better represented in the film than on here. In the end, it’s a song that clearly is hidden, and acts as a suitable climax to the concept of this release by capturing much of what made some of the better songs on here so great in the first place. Of course, there’s a lot of spoken word elements going on towards the end of the song, and it really just goes on for way too long, enough to make the listener completely lose interest before “Imaginaerum” takes hold and basically gives a different rendition of the earlier tracks of the album, largely “Storytime,” clearly acting as the music the film will fade out to the credits on.
Unfortunately, after all is said and done, while the mental visuals kind of stop, or are at least weakened aside “Slow, Love, Slow,” you can’t help to find the rest of the album after it to be rather lacking. Perhaps in the context of the film and how the songs will play into it, these songs will come off a little more intriguing, but at this point much of Imaginaerum does suffer from a more generic sound. “Turn Loose the Mermaids” ends up being an acoustic piece with a slight Folk hint to it once more, just handled in a slower pace. Around the half-way point, the song starts to get richer and build up into some more orchestral elements, but it just doesn’t work too well. In fact, you can’t help but feel as if you are in the wild west thanks to some of the notes played by the keyboard, but also as if you should be in the middle of a bull-fight at key moments. This build up actually feels pointless, and the closing increase in richness that hits rather quickly at the end does a better job, carrying that Folk sound a little more without completely throwing you into a different setting entirely for a short period of time. Again, it’s not bad, but it’s far from anything really impressive. The same goes for the similar “The Crow, the Owl and the Dove.” The main difference here is that it has a little faster pace, and actually feels like something you’d expect to hear on an Ayreon album atmospherically instead of Nightwish. Again, it’s not bad, but overall just rather generic and nothing close to special.
Again, much like with Dark Passion Play, a special edition of the album does exist, and it’s a similar format, except this time in a somewhat ass-backwards digipack. The package itself opens up from the back, not the front, exposing disc two first, and makes you open the next panel for disc one. This is just a mild irritant towards common sense and if you happen to be a bit restricted, such as changing discs in the car or something. The booklet is in the middle of the digipack with slits on the sides, contains the lyrics, and photos of the band in their “Storytime” music video costumes. But aside the general necessities, you also get a bonus disc, which is much like the last album offered. This bonus instrumental disc actually works in the favor of Imaginaerum, as there are still some really well done songs here that sound great without the less-than-inspiring vocal performances, though some such as “Ghost River” do benefit a bit from the aggressive male vocals, but overall it feels like a rather fluid and varies musical score instead of Nightwish trying to weave an epic album to coincide with a forthcoming musical and toning down the vocals which, admittedly, really seem to get in the way of many of the songs here. Really, just sitting back with this bonus disc is fantastic, and a whole new journey/experience in itself that actually greatly trumps the original pressing of Imaginaerum and allows your mind to just go running even more wild in some tracks than before. Perhaps this is why disc two is the first to greet you and the digipack is not as poorly constructed as anyone would believe?
With Imaginaerum, it’s really clear to see that, for this soundtrack at least, the band winds up butting heads a bit musically. While the album brings in a good deal of variety, with some songs working a lot better than others, it’s easy to spot that Tuomas and Anette end up shifting spots as the leader of the band to better fit the roles of the film, and this really does cause plenty of issues. Due to this, the power, beauty, and dynamic impact Nightwish clearly has the potential to bring to their releases is lost to some confusion over the band’s formation and approach. If that’s not the case then the band really just restricted themselves, musically and vocally, leaving behind a lot of talent and potential to make a phenomenal album to coincide with its concept in film format. Imaginaerum really does just feel like the biggest letdown from the band, largely because of all the potential that this album had, and how microscopic the recognized amount incorporated into it is. But while it’s a dramatic letdown, it’s also not one of the worst albums you’ll ever come across for its style, and it does still offer up some solid tracks that even the most devout Nightwish fans will enjoy if they can just understand that this is a conceptual piece for a project not yet released. Will Imaginaerum sound better once that film is done? More than likely, as seeing the music against the story and how one song and scene plays into another will also benefit what is presented musically. But that will take some time. Right now, all we have is the album, and at this point, Imaginaerum really just doesn’t live up to the fan’s expectations.
01. Taikatalvi – 2:35
02. Storytime – 5:22
03. Ghost River – 5:28
04. Slow, Love, Slow – 5:50
05. I Want My Tears Back – 5:08
06. Scaretale – 7:32
07. Arabesque – 2:57
08. Turn Loose the Mermaids – 4:20
09. Rest Calm – 7:03
10. The Crow, the Owl and the Dove – 4:10
11. Last Ride of the Day – 4:32
12. Song of Myself – 13:38
Â Â Â – From a Dusty Bookshelf
Â Â Â – All that Great Heart Lying Still
Â Â Â – Piano Black
Â Â Â – Love
13.Imaginaerum – 6:18
Bonus Disc: Instrumental
|Overall Score: 5.5/10
Overall Score: 6.5/10
Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.