Nightwish had been showing up on my playlist on and off since the last two years. It was the first band to captivate me (for obvious reasons, they are the most famous) when I began to be interested in folk and symphonic metal. Since then whenever I wanted something grandiose and orchestral yet still ‘metal’, Nightwish was usually the choice. But I admit I haven’t even heard a single full album of theirs properly before Imaginaerum. It was mostly an assortment of most famous songs. So I have no idea what I’m going to say, but listening to ‘Imaginaerum’ made me want to write something about it.
I’ve heard lots of places this album is different from all of previous Nightwish’s works. Well, usually this is said almost every time a big band releases something new, part of fan hype building. But when you see that the album starts NOT with the lead single “Storytime“, rather with the soft Finnish “Taikatalvi“, which also doesn’t have any female vocals, only Marco Hietala singing softly, and rather menacingly, you know this is different. In a way, this marks the perfect prelude to the pomp that we witness starting from ‘Storytime‘, and yet it’s the silent prelude that makes it different from other previous works. Considering the concept on which the album is loosely, it’s like the first few steps entering into the fantasy world, before everything comes alive, just like it shows in the album cover; dark, desolate, and silent, just before everything starts.
Then comes Storytime. The best song of the album, it’s the highest point, capturing the spirit of the album. A journey into the fantastic visions of the mind, a roller-coaster ride into an alternate world, I found this song slightly different from the other fantasy-oriented lead singles written by Nightwish, in that it had less an element of the fables and mythology and more the creative visions of the mind which redraws the conceptions of the existing world as we see. Which is only all the more awesome :). The lyrics by Tuomas Holopainen are awesome. He is fast turning into one of my favorite musicians. The vision has turned up another level, not limiting to explaining the painting, but creating one. The first stanza of the song
‘Twas the night before,
When all through the world,
No words, no dreams,
Then one day,
A writer by the fire,
Imagined all the Gaia,
Took a journey into the child-man’s heart
just blew me off! Totally cool! The lyrics, coupled with the rocking music, along with Anette’s balanced vocals (minus the irritating operatic pomp of Tarja) make up for a very pleasing song.
Ghost River is the next song, with vocals both from Anette and Marco. The lyrics of the songs are slightly confused and seem mixed-up. Thanks to Marco though, the ‘metal’ side of Nightwish remains intact. The last three lines, simple yet beautifully written, redeem the song in my eyes a bit :). Slow Love Slow is a surprise, deviating widely from the usual stuff of Nightwish. Inspired from the Jazz music, and the 1930s American nightclub music, the music is slow, the lyrics contemplative. While some may consider this a pleasant move, for me it’s only as good as it gets. I prefer their fantastic stuff. However the music really was good, and Anette is much much more flexible than Tarja, pulling this one nicely.
Another peak occurs with I Want My Tears Back. The wild, grandiose music returns, with well-crafted lyrics fitting perfectly into well-composed music. Marco’s lyrics seem to be tailor-made for his voice. That guy, with his typical Scandinavian beard, rocks :D. Also the music is denser, heavier and a LOT grander than the previous two songs, equaling Storytime.
Scaretale is probably the most ‘metallic’ song of the album. And surprisingly good. I didn’t notice it in the initial listenings of the album. But hearing it again and again has changed my opinion. Rife with metallic riffs and some mad drumming, the song has very interesting lyrics, it’s a treat to listen to Anette, especially where say screams “Squealing pigs” 😀 that was hilarious. Here too, the lyrics and the hop-along, tingling, and scary music fits perfectly into Anette’s and Marco’s voice. Arabesque is an instrumental made for a particular scene in the movie Imaginaerum, made along the album. The instrumental is fast paced and nice. Turn Loose the Mermaids is a ballad, consisting of vocals only by Anette Olzon, a rather slow and musical affair, with poetic lyrics and acoustic transcending music. Rest Calm is another heavy song on the list, melodic but heavy. With sombre and introspective lyrics. Not your usual symphonic metal stuff, nice little experimentation.
The Crow, The Owl And The Dove is the third, and rather unusual peak in the album. This the most acoustic song, the ‘anti-metal’ song on the album. The focus here is entirely on the vocal parts of Anette Olzon and Marco Hietala, and the lyrics, the music is mostly guitar and the flute playing in the background. The lyrics are probably the most mature and refined here. A song which you wouldn’t expect of Nightwish, yet they pulled it off very beautifully. Last Ride of the Day, the next song is the clear antithesis of The Crow, The Owl And The Dove, a symphonic extravaganza in the footsteps of Storytime and I Want My Tears Back. Song of Myself is another grand one, an epic song of about 14 minutes length. It too is one of those songs I like more and more as I hear it. The first part of the song is the metallic symphonic arena sound, that is Nightwish’s patent. It’s good, in the usual way. But in the second part, it contains monologues by various voices against ambient music that adds the philosophical air to the song that is it’s real beauty, the real thing, which adds a gloomy, sad, and serious air to the ending of the album(as it’s effectively the last song of the album). The last one, Imaginaerum, is an outro track, which is a kind of collage of the music of all songs taken together. Along with Arabesque, it’s the song which were inspired by the movie being filmed alongside or made for its purpose.
Imaginaerum has received universal critical acclaim. Magazines and reviewers have hailed it as one of the best albums of 2011 and one of the landmark albums of metal (and more specifically symphonic metal genre). I can’t say anything about this, as I haven’t heard any previous of Nightwish’s albums and also haven’t had much experience of this genre. But I can surely say that Nightwish has achieved a great feat by creating this album and this may soon become the set standards of how to create a good symphonic metal album. More than that, it experimented and gone out of its genre, adding more and more to their repertoire, and establishing their name as one of most significant of their era. Most specifically Tuomas Holopainen, whom I’ve come to respect and admire a lot, who was the driving force behind this, and for that matter that whole band, album. A treat for Nightwish’s fans, and a surprisingly amazing discovery for the uninitiated. 🙂