When the news broke Tarja Turunen had parted ways with Finland's very own Nightwish, fans of the band were left wondering what the future would hold. Enter Anette Olzon. A far cry from Tarja's operatic talents, Anette wasn't (and still isn't) completely accepted by rabid Nightwish fans the world over. But with the release of "Dark Passion Play" in 2007, she turned many skeptics into believers.
Masterfully sculpted symphonies lead the albums opening track, "The Poet & The Pendulum." The band leads with strength, showing versatility and creativity in their new direction. The drums come at you, fast and furious, and keyboards lay down the orchestrations. Anette enters, in a voice that is both soothing and accessible. She blends in, rather than taking center stage. Bassist Marco Hietala furnishes the gritty male backing vocals, which offer the perfect compliment. The track slows to a beautiful crawl, before horns take the song down a darker road. Back and forth, the tempo continues to change and evolve.
"Bye Bye Beautiful" allows Anette to show off her own talents, carrying a melody with bass and drum backing. Crunchy guitars enter to lead Marco through the chorus. His vocals are often forgotten, but cannot be ignored on this track. "Amaranth" offers a chorus that defines enchanting. The guitars offer distortion throughout, but plays off the hollow thud of the kick drum and the flowing basslines. Band mastermind Tuomas Holopainen plays a delicate set of keys, worthy of classical comparisons. There is a far more sinister tone to begin "Cadence Of Her Last Breath." As has always been the case for Nightwish, storytelling takes a key role. Amidst the crushing breakdown, Anette croons "Sometimes a dream turns into a dream."
Marco sees lead vocal duties on "Master Passion Greed," a track that contains a glorious double kick stomp, but all the while paints a symphonic picture. Darting guitar solos trade off with keyboard runs in an evil sounding give and take. "Eva," the first of several ballads, is soft and delicate. Strings and horns provide all the backing Anette needs to spin a tale of cruel children. The orchestral arrangements should be celebrated. Holopainen continues his mastery of the ivory with a brilliant intro to "Sahara," reigniting the fire of the album. The heads start to nod, fists reach high into the air, and Nightwish show they still have a heavy side. Guitars chug along and horns blare, with a smooth bass line leading into a soft reprieve. Vocals are strong, showing that you don't need to have Tarja's range to be powerful.
The band carry through the winding "Whoever Brings The Night" and the emotional "For The Heart I Once Had." But the star of the album's second half is the acoustic genius of "The Islander." Marco again takes the lead, with Anette supporting. Musician Troy Donockley appears on the track in a variety of ways, from the Uilleann Pipes to the tin whistle, all of which are key to the success of the song. The song is a folk masterpiece, with each note bringing a chill. The beauty continues into "The Last Of The Wilds," a fully instrumental piece that shows off the bands use of unique instrumentation. Donockley rehashes his role on the Uilleann Pipes, taking the melodies to new places, all the while highlighted by a flurry of guitar work and orchestrated synths.
The ominously named "Seven Days To The Wolves" fires on all cylinders, pairing Anette's heavenly voice over scratchy distortion and a raspy Marco-led refrain. There is simply no weak link here, with each instrument filling a necessary role. Everyone gets a chance to shine, everyone is equally important to the whole. A fitting closer, "Meadows Of Heaven" is a sweet after dinner mint after a filling buffet. While Tarja possessed a voice that could peel paint from a wall, Anette has sheer emotion to rely on. This is never more evident than on this piece, showing her range, her character, and her belief in the music she is a part of.
Many people argue that Nightwish is better, or worse, without Tarja at the helm. After traveling through their catalog, you may find yourself leaning one way or the other. But preference is not an absolute. And while Tarja gave us signature Nightwish tracks like "Nemo" and "Wishmaster," Anette has very quickly asserted herself as a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps they are not better, or worse. They are simply different.
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