Metal-CD-Review: NIGHTWISH – Imaginaerum (2011)

Country: Finland – Style: Operatic / Symphonic Power Metal

1. Taikatalvi
2. Storytime
3. Ghost River
4. Slow, Love, Slow
5. I Want My Tears Back
6. Scaretale
7. Arabesque
8. Turn Loose The Mermaids
9. Rest Calm
10. The Crow, The Owl And The Dove
11. Last Ride Of The Day
12. Song Of Myself
Song 1: From A Dusty Bookshelf
Song 2: All That Great Heart Lying Still
Song 3: Piano Black
Song 4: Love
13. Imaginaerum

Foreword: Here we have the third of the newest and most mentionable Symphonic Power Metal albums of the late 2011, being released just a few days after Dragonland’s Under The Grey Banner and Ancient BardsSoulless Child. Well, talking about Nightwish compared to the two other bands you can be almost certainly be sure that their Imaginaerum will be the album that contains the least ‚Metal‘ – they are a more diversified, experimental and playful band indeed. So, this can be said in advance: if you are looking for a rather straight Symphonic Power Metal album with a female vocalist that almost permanently keeps it’s speed, power and epicness; you should definitely check out Ancient Bards. But if you indeed look for a true musical journey through many genres, an uncommon musical adventure; you should go on reading this review.

Review: Imaginaerum, an album that keeps its promise hidden in the title. Well, if you think about it this way, you will not be disappointed. Fortunately – since it has been some time that a metal-album is consequently ‚dreamy‘, using a certain musical mood to originate a rare impression that could be described as both lovely and scary. But hey, we are talking about Nightwish here – and this has been their intention from their very first spark. So it’s no wonder that the intro Taikatalvi takes off right onto that direction – introducing the listener to some samples of the finnish language and this very Danny Elfman-like choral ‚oohhhs‘ and ‚aahhhs‘ in the background. And, not to forget: the somehow emotional sound of a children’s music box. Once again we are at a point to conclude the intention of the overall Nightwish-sound: it’s all about one’s imagination, fairytales; but also nightmares here. Welcome to the wondrous dream-world theater of Imaginaerum ! (9/10)

And here we go – the opener Storytime is also the single Nightwish choosed to become adapted for the first music video of Imaginaerum. It truly is a very catchy piece, if not too catchy in the refrain – but its good they included some of their traditional ‚epic‘ arrangements and samples (at best used on Dark Passion Play) to round this one up and make it not too common-like at last. But I guess it was a choice that has also been made in terms of marketing: who would release the 1) longest, 2) most complex or 3) most uncommon musical piece for a music video extraction and representation ? Indeed, almost no one. So I can definitely adjust to this opener, delivering slight goosebumps in the ’scary‘ and ‚epic‘ moments, but cheering you up in the brighter passages and the rather friendly refrain. And, what about the lead singer ? Well, how often there are discussion on how A. Olzon is as good or not as good as her predecessor Tarja Turunen… and this is what I say: just forget about it. It’s Olzon now, and that’s all – we can not change it anyway. But it’s definitely right that Olzon is not comparable to Turunen at all – she has a totally different style indeed. A style that many people will like, and many people might dislike. I can only say this: she has improved a lot, especially comparing this performance to her’s on Dark Passion Play (which was a strong album anyway), slightly altering between this or that pitch of voice without a sign of effort. (9/10)

Her next chance to prove herself lies within Ghost River, the upcoming track #3. Well, here we have a so called ‚typical‘ Nightwish track with a charming lead singer who gets the support of some male vocalists also. And, what a relief: this#3 turns out to be an extraordinary strong track that manages to carry out many of the overall band’s strength. An impression that you might not get after listening to some sample of the track, the first seconds / minutes only, but certainly after a few complete run’s. That’s right, this track is definitely not as ‚catchy‘ as the opener, but I call this a positive aspect – such as the rare occasion to include a true children’s (!) choir. The difference to an adult male / female Choir is just unmistakable – and by including children, it definitely suits the overall album’s impression of a ‚dark fairytale‘. Thumbs up for this, and of course for this very brilliant track full of alternations and enlightening moments. (10/10)

What about Slow, Love, Slow then ? Well, you guessed it – this track comes along rather slow. And somehow uncommon – all you can hear is the almost-whispering voice of Olzon and some soft piano tunes – not to forget the almost jazzy-like Bass in the background. In the refrain she is once again joined by one of her band companions, what makes this one a ballad – also and especially by referring to the lyrics. But well, this is a totally unusual one, so to speak… there are almost no sings of ‚Metal‘ in this one (until later on), this is some kind of a Jazz-Softrock-Soul-like intermezzo. They are even joined by a trumpet ! A courageous measurement if you’d ask me, however, this will certainly not become my favorite on the album. Technically spoken, it’s out of any quality question – but referring to the genre, they leaned themselves very far out of the window. Well, this is getting everything but uninteresting ! (7/10)

With I Want My Tears Back Nightwish return in full density and, naturally: with a lot of power. A very soft way of singing is round up with a catchy refrain, appealing lyrics and some more traditional sounds. I can definitely think of this track as the second video single, by the way. However, there is no doubt that this one is again a bit ‚harmless‘, not bringing in too much diversification. The true fun comes back when an instrumental passage occurs, where the ‚traditional‘ elements are mixed up with the ‚epic‘ ones – but the refrain, well; it’s a bit too ‚cheesy‘, even for this album and the genre. (7/10)

But then we have the Scaretale, brrrr. Listening to this one, everybody will get to know why Nightwish are often referred to as bloody epic. At the same time this is one of the most ‚imaginary‘ tracks on the album, which could make it the secret title-track. There is a complete short movie running in front of your imaginary eye, well; again a little clumsy one, but it works out. One can certainly argue about Olzon’s way of singing here (indeed, like a ‚freak‘), but the following passages that will make you feel like you are in a dark but somehow epic circus-freakshow are definitely redressing this. As always top-notch: the nicely integrated Symphonic / Opera elements. (8/10)

Arabesque, a title that again holds what the title promises: we can now hear some oriental sounds, embedded in an epic surrounding. It works well as an interlude without any vocals. Later on we have some drums, making this one another interesting experience. But it certainly is not as impressive as the other tracks on this album. (6/10)

Turn Loose The Mermaids is the next title to follow, another track that could be referred to as experimental. Well, if you get a hold of Imaginaerum, you’ll definitely get some entertainment for you hardly-earned money. And, some interesting tunes and arrangements that you will certainly not have heard before – ever ! This track acts as a soft piano-orientated ballad as well as an instrumental entertainer (with some tunes that make you think about a western-city with cowboys and saloons, by the way). More than respectable: the performance of Olzon, which is very charming and appealing here. Thumbs up for the entertainment factor, the successful experiment and the emotional journey ! (9/10)

Next one to  follow is Rest Calm. It’s rather slow-paced, all the Symphonic elements are being held in the background, while Olzon and her partner get all the attention. However, it is not as emotional as intended, it rather feels a little dreary. Its good to hear some hard riffs combined with a solid male singer, but the refrain and the rather unattractive instrumental parts of this one (compared to the other titles) are not bringing in too much of a new. It’s all about resting calm indeed. A calm before the (mighty) storm ? (5/10)

Well, not with The Crow, The Owl And The Dove; which again is a ballad.A slow-paced one, unfortunately without a true highlight or any reference to the overall genre, which still is Symphonic Power Metal (only exception: a little choral background in the first passages). Or should be. However, this one rather sounds like a typical hit that you could also hear within the common charts. Acoustic, with some soft guitar tunes and very (!) softly presented vocals. Without a doubt, with this title the ’soft side‘ of Nightwish is represented. At least this is the only track that goes into this direction that explicitly. Not my cup of tea. But maybe your’s… ? (4/10)

Finally, it gets more interesting with Last Ride Of The Day. But, what a rare occasion: the orchestral elements sound rather insincere here. It’s rare since Nightwish normally sound ‚epic‘ when using epic elements – but in this case… well, not really. For the other aspects, there is nothing new to announce – the song is structured like a typical Nightwish song, but certainly more like the more common ones. (6/10)

Now we have Song Of Myself, a song that is over 13 minutes long – and therefore divided into 4 parts. It starts off very moody, bringing some soundtrack-like and orchestral elements in, just when lead singer Olzon starts to tell ‚her‘ tale. Well, it works out very nicely – Olzon gives everything she has without sounding too unnatural, the instrumental is epic enough to fit for this tale, the song’s structure is not too simple at all. However, what works well for the first parts, e.g. the first 6 minutes; turns out to become a rather longish measure in the end. Here we have several narrative speaker joining in, of which not all seem to be well-chosen. Whether it is too much of an accent, or different qualities; it just does not sound too professional and fitting at all. A strange experience that is ! (5/10)

Last but not least comes Imaginaerum, the title-track. It does not contain any vocal performances, but an instrumental, certainly new arranged compendium of the 12 tracks before. It is nice and moody, and just the fitting outro-piece for the album. But again, it is lacking a certain epicness or true fascination. (6/10)

Conclusion: Imaginaerum starts very strong, literally dragging the listener into the wondrous and mystical world of a surreal circus performance. The alternation between different moods, styles and paces works out nicely – there are true and catchy hymns, Symphonic blasts and interesting intermezzos that play with the genre, making all usual definitions crumble. However, there is a slight turning point which is reached towards the middle of the album. The ‚experiments‘ are taking over totally, making it impossible to refer to the heard as ‚Metal‘ from any standpoint. Well, these ‚experiments‘ may not be uncommon for Nightwish, but it’s not only the more ballad-orientated pieces. There are also some tracks that feel like being a product of reprocessing, being put together out of already existing elements; lacking pure innovation. therefore I can – unfortunately- recommend Imaginaerum to fans only. The album aroused my interest with the first tracks, certainly leaving me impressed – what was a shoot in the foot; since the quality and level of inspiration could not be maintained to the very end. It is not a bad album, but it can certainly not be attributed as one of 2011’s best either.

An advise: If you are looking for the actual masters of a female fronted Symphonic Power Metal, you should definitely check out Ancient Bards. Or, if you favorite a male-fronted Symphonic Power Metal band which is strong and epic beyond any limits, take a look on Dragonland’s Under The Grey Banner, which comes with a full package. They all can be found here on my blog, too.

Buy this CD on Amazon.de:


Nightwish: Imaginaerum (2011)

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