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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Nightwish

Dark Passion Play

Review by Rick Damigella

The band who is at the forefront of the current European metal scene has returned after far too long a break since their last release. Nightwish infamously parted ways with their original singer following a concert in 2005. With Dark Passion Play, their first new album in three years, Nightwish continues to blaze new trails over the familiar ground of metal. Gone are the soaring operatic vocals of Tarja Turunen, replaced by the decidedly more mainstream voice of Anette Olzon.

Other changes evident are the further exploration by leader Tuomas Holopainen of the melding of old and new styles of music with some truly inspired and epic blends of metal with opera and a rocking sea shanty. The real triumph here is Olzon, who succeeds in filling her predecessor’s shoes while instantly establishing herself as the voice of this second phase of Nightwish.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Poet and the Pendulum
There is really no better way to declare to the world that your band is very much alive after the changing of the vocal guard than by opening with a nearly 14 minute long metallic opera assault. This isn’t your father’s heavy metal. This is a dramatic narrative in search of a movie or stage production with which to meld as its soundtrack. Created with layers of drop tuned metal meshing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a choir, Holopainen has managed to create a perfect blend of the classical and modern musical worlds. The listener will be hard pressed to not feel the passion behind the creation of this piece.
Bye Bye Beautiful
The first of a pair of “screw you” kiss-offs to Turunen on the album features some truly angry co-lead vocals by bassist Marco Hietala played off against an alternately pretty melody and angry guitar assaults.
Amaranth
This, the second single released from the album is a truly amazing listen. Straightforward metal riffs are accentuated by the orchestra and Anette Olzon’s hauntingly beautiful voice. The singer shows a great vocal range in the well crafted melody of the song’s chorus. If you download one song from this album make it this one.
Cadence of Her Last Breath
Once again the use of choir and orchestra behind the band transforms what would ordinarily be no more than an Evanescence sound alike into a Nightwish number.
Master Passion Greed
The second song in the pair of Tarja Turunen bridge burning numbers is easily the angriest song Nightwish has committed to disc. This is the only number to not feature Olzon singing. Hietala and Holopainen growl out their anger in a fit of metallic primal scream therapy.
Eva
You might feel a bit of a jolt in the shift from the vehement anger of the previous number as it segues to the pretty piano opening of this next one. Without the constant snarl of distorted six strings, Olzon’s vocals are free to expand and soar as the song builds.
Sahara
The keys and orchestra opening are quickly punctuated with a ferocious metal riff. One thing can definitely be said of Holopainen as a producer. He has an uncanny ability to perfectly mix the heavy guitars with his lighter keyboard melodies. It is rare to hear a metal band with a keyboard player pull this off with such consistency. As the song nears the climax and Olzon vocalizes along with the beat, one is reminded of previous trips into the rock desert by the likes of Zeppelin and Iron Maiden.
Whoever Brings the Night
Yet another thing Nightwish has done exceedingly well with this album is to use dropped tuned guitars in a way that doesn’t sound like every other d-tuned excuse for a band out there. Olzon sings with particular strength here and the speed metal-meets-choir bridge is something which Nightwish continue to display their mastery of.
For the Heart I Once Had
Olzon’s higher range is tested from the first note and again Holopainen’s production skills are shown to great effect with multi-tracked vocals, orchestra and band blending into a perfect gothic power ballad.
The Islander
Big props to composer Holopainen for having the guts to set aside amps and power chords in favor of a nearly straight up folk number that long time fans of Steeleye Span would easily enjoy. Even bigger props to backing vocalist Marco Hietala who proves he can purely sing and not just spit venom as in his earlier performances here.
Last of the Wilds
A peel of thunder blends this and the previous number together. This time out it is the album’s lone instrumental, again with acoustic guitars, but this time juxtaposed with the electric crunch the band is known for. A masterful violin takes on the vocal portion of this song which builds to a violin/electric guitar duet. Among the three best performances here. This is what Captain Jack Sparrow might listen to the next time he sails the seas.
7 Days to the Wolves
Another mini opera, this one clocking in at half the length of the opener, but filled with epic instrumental breaks, co vocals from Olzon and Hietala and some serious skin pounding by Jukka Nevalainen.
Meadows of Heaven
Opening with piano and violins in a very balladic style, the song builds much more slowly than some of the other numbers yet is a welcome break from the heavy metal gallop of the previous cuts. Not many bands with a unique and influential vocalist such as Turunen could survive such a radical change.
Reach (Amaranth Demo)
It is always fun to hear a song as a band developed it from its origins into its final version. A bit more raw, though not unproduced, this version features Marco Hietala on vocals. It lacks the passion filled chorus and orchestra of the final version which metamorphosed this original song from a simple metal chug into the beautiful and glorious butterfly of the final product.
 
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