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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Tarja Turunen

My Winter Storm

Review by Rick Damigella

 Elsewhere in this issue of MSJ, I reviewed the latest album from Nightwish. Now we take a spin of their departed singer, the legendarily voiced Tarja Turunen. While not technically her solo debut since leaving the Finnish symphonic metal band (she released a single and a collection of Christmas songs in 06) it is the first proper listen to how the operatic angel flies on her own.

Released a little over a month after Nightwish’ latest, Dark Passion Play, with new vocalist Anette Olzon, My Winter Storm features a similar sound to Turunen’s former band, yet also manages to sound unique in and of itself. There are heavy moments, but there are many more operatic, symphonic and quiet moments. It is not really fair to label My Winter Storm as a metal album, symphonic or otherwise. It is a truly unique disc that has been wholly built around the soprano’s gorgeous pipes. This is the North American special edition release we are reviewing, with the last three numbers being bonus tracks and with a bonus DVD featuring several videos including a making of the album.

The album is not lacking in the musicianship area whatsoever. While it is missing the other two thirds of what made Nightwish incredible (Tuomas Holopainen’s expert compositions and the band’s passionate playing) Tarja has surrounded herself with a excellent players including bassist Doug Wimbish (from Living Colour), guitarist Alex Scholpp (of Farmer Boys), drummer Earl Harvin (Trevor Horn, Air, Seal), keyboardist Torsten Stenzel along with a cadre of orchestra musicians and choir voices. What is most apparent in listening to My Winter Storm is that Turunen seems to have set out to prove she is just as vital a musical force without her former Nightwish band mates, something which she proves with great success.

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
Ite, Missa Est
This is a very short orchestral introduction, quickly segueing into the first full song.
I Walk Alone
The album’s first single is Turunen’s declaration of sovereignty. She is no longer “the former voice of Nightwish,” with the intent of lyrical passages like “keep all the roses, I’m not dead” and “go tell the world I’m still around” supporting this even though she is not credited as a writer on it. A slower paced number filled with a mixture of orchestra and band elements, the song is not nearly the public bridge burning which “Bye Bye Beautiful” and “Master Passion Greed” are from Nightwish’ latest.

Lost Northern Star
The perfect song to follow the previous, this is again, a slower paced number which showcases Turunen’s vocal range quite well. This should be a future single release from the album.
Seeking the Reign
A less than one minute ambient number, this acts as a link between the previous number and the next.
The Reign
Oh, she found the reign (sorry, couldn’t resist). A much more operatic number, here her vocals truly soar. The orchestra elements are joined by tribal rock drums midway through to great effect.
The Escape of the Doll
Another short introductory piece to the following number, this time it is constructed with gothic keys and percussive ambience.

My Little Phoenix
You can actually detect a bit of her Finnish accent in some lyrical passages which are nearly spoken. The blending of beauty of the classical and the crunch of the six-string are very reminiscent of Nightwish.

Die Alive
The second single from the album, this one is about the rock. It's much more mainstream and uptempo than the previous numbers. The gothic tinged piano and guitar should help expand her fan base beyond the traditional.

Boy and the Ghost
A quiet, darkly beautiful piece, again right in the vein of her former band in its content, this builds to a crunchy operatic crescendo.

Sing for Me
Written by Kid Crazy, Christel Sundberg and Tracy Lipp, this one almost feels like an outtake from Phantom of the Opera, which is not a bad thing at all.
Oasis
The only song where Turunen is credited as sole writer, this is quiet and piano driven. It is truly a gorgeous piece of music, where Turunen vocalizes through most of the piece until the lyrics come in halfway through. This wouldn’t feel out of place on a New Age radio station, but don’t let that scare you. It merely shows the depth of her talent.

Poison
Excuse me while I grab a neckbrace for the musical whiplash. Not only was I not expecting to hear a cover of an Alice Cooper song on this album, coming in on the heels of the previous number was truly unexpected. Include the fact that the songs are coupled together with ambient sounds, one has to wonder what was behind this stylistic production choice. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic cover of an already fantastic song. The solo and bridge are particularly unique compared to the original. It still retains the pop sheen of the original with Turunen’s signature blend of dark crunch and angelic voice and arrangement.

Our Great Divide
Turunen returns to the ambience and pace of “Oasis” with this one. This, like several of the quieter pieces on My Winter Storm are actually quite relaxing and romantic to listen to.

Sunset
This is another short atmospheric intro number.
Damned and Divine
The romantically gothic aura is just as present on this number as on the previous pne. Again, a slower piece, this is driven by Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar, with great multitracked vocal swells helping to round out the sound.

CiarĂ¡n’s Well
Ah, someone put dropped D tuning in my goth chill out album! Have a second neckbrace ready for this one. What starts out with some very low in the mix percussive hits, turns into a metallic assault led by a male’s scream that feels like it was sampled from Nightwish’ latest. The yin yang interplay of the heavy and the angelic of her voice is done to great effect. It’s good to hear Turunen get a bit heavier with her music.
Minor Heaven
And once again we return to the barren, snow covered hills of Turunen’s world in winter. The first half is piano, violin and Turunen. This is simple - simply beautiful. Midway we get the expected expansion with orchestra and band erupting to fill out the quiet spaces. This should be a future single release as well.
Calling Grace
Acoustic guitar and Turunen carry the next piece nearly the entire time, until joined by strings late in the number. This should translate fantastically on stage.  

I Walk Alone (Artist Version)
This combines tracks one and two into a single piece.

You Would Have Loved This (Live)
The single from Turunen’s first solo album, Henkäys Ikuisuudesta (Breath from Eternity) is a gorgeous live rendition here. This is a heartfelt piece dedicated to the mother of Cori Connors, the American songwriter of the song. While it originally came from an album of Christmas music, it stands on its own no matter what time of year it is.

Damned and Divine (Live)
A live rendition of one the album’s stronger numbers, it is made even stronger here with a Sabbath-tinged guitar intro in the style of “EV150.” While My Winter Storm may have its quieter moments, as Turunen ventures onto the concert stage, expect songs like this to rock a bit harder.
 
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