The wheel of time turns and ages come and go, and Nightwish have finally released a new album. Coming a solid four years after 2007's Dark Passion Play, Imaginaerum has been a long time in the making. This is the second album to feature vocalist and frontwoman Anette Olzon, who replaced original Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen. While I've always had a fondness for her, particularly after seeing her perform live three times, the improvement in her voice from Dark Passion Play is impressive. Olzon comes across cleaner and brighter, with much less of the gratuitous vocal layering that plagued Dark Passion Play. The entire album is actually much better engineered than Dark Passion Play, but it's most noticeable in the vocal department, something that also applies to secondary vocalist and bass player Marco Hietala.
Marco gets one song to himself, the brief album opener Taikatalvi. I hesitate to call it an intro since, despite clocking in at under three minutes, I think it stands on it's own as a song. Marco's voice is clean and melodic, with the entire track written in Finnish. The orchestrations and keyboard are beautiful here, enough so that Taikatalvi also works wonderfully as an instrumental. The second dish of the album's special edition features instrumental versions of all songs as a bonus disc.
Storytime, the next track and first single from the album, captivated me from the first time that I heard it, and has spent a lot of time on repeat. It's catchy but not cloyingly so, and features fantasy inspired lyrics that immediately fit in with classic Nightwish. Olzon shines against the orchestrations, while guitars all but disappear for the length of the song. Or, as it turns out, for the length of nearly the entire album.
Ghost River opens strong with oft-absent guitarist Emppu Vuorinen playing a neat little riff before kicking into Olzon's vocals and then making a surprising transition into one of the heavier songs on the album. My first description of it was along the lines of, "It's like The Siren, only badass." Marco's vocals are the real star here, exchanging his screams with the short interjections of 'Snow white' and 'Heavenwards' from Olzon before getting into the song's sinister chorus. Marco's spot on vocals make the lyrics, "He will go down, he will drown drown deeper down / The river wild will take your only child," genuinely convincing and when a children's choir comes in taking on the same motif, the effect in genuinely eerie. Ghost River then flows into a brief bit of Olzon's singing, thankfully so as it's one of her weakest moments on the album, before going back into a repetition of the chorus and opening riff. A very solid and diverse track.
Nightwish performing something along the lines of lounge jazz is certainly unexpected, but it's exactly what we get from Slow, Love, Slow. While this is certain to be a polarizing track within the Nightwish fanbase, I would say that it comes together perfectly. Olzon's vocals are flawlessly suited to the song, which makes a perfect showcase for them, as well as actually backing off with the orchestration for once - at least for most of the song. It also features an actual guitar solo, which is a nice change, and the melodic solo suits the mood of the song perfectly. By the end, the song has kicked into a more bombastic mode, with orchestration and power chords coming back into the picture, and Olzon playing with the phrase 'slow, love, slow' to fill in the last moments before the song ends with trumpet over a ticking clock, which serves as the transition back into the more typical Nightwish fair that comes next. Unfortunately, there's about four seconds two much of the ticking and it just becomes annoying and overdone.
I Want My Tears Back is much better than the title led me to expect. It falls half way between Last of the Wilds and For The Heart I Once had, a combination that didn't seem that impressive at first but has grown on me to become one of my favorite tracks from the album. The verses are perfectly acceptable if not memorable, but I Want My Tears Back has a killer chorus, managing to make the title actually not seem silly anymore, and Troy Donockley's uilleann pipes are interesting and fun.
In my opinion, Scaretale is without question Imaginaerum's weakest moment. The circus-themed track has good moments, but fails to come together as a whole to make an interesting track. The novelty of Olzon's rougher vocals wears off after the first half dozen listens, while the gruff circus ringmaster just comes off as obvious and unconvincing. The fact that there's actual potential here that Scaretale fails to live up to makes its weakness even more frustrating than if it were just a disposable track, because it's not just that generic track that pushes the album along. The problem is, in all reality, it's not actually that good either. Not awful, but decidedly not that good.
Scaretale leads into the surprisingly well executed instrumental track Arabesque. The two fit together perfectly, and while Arabesque's scant three minutes are not something that I'm likely to seek out to listen to on their own, it's lively and fits perfectly into it's place in the album, which would be significantly weaker without its inclusion.
Another track with a silly title, Turn Loose the Mermaids immediately brought Blackmore's Night to mind. In a good way. It's another shining moment for Olzon, with a beautiful melody, and stands as an excellent ballad.
There are two things that I need to be upfront about. The first is that I love Rest Calm. The second is that Rest Calm does basically repeat the same thing over and over again for three straight minutes, with variations, at the end. Honestly, it doesn't end up mattering, because the repetition works and the song is actually stronger for it. This is, presumably, the doom metal influenced track that it was promised would appear on the album, and I can see where that's coming from, though with emphasis on influenced. Without a doubt, this is the heaviest track on the album, featuring chugging guitar and more of Marco's rough vocals. The song, standing at just over seven minutes, makes heavy use of a repeated chorus. Thankfully, the chorus in question is inspired and as it is repeated over and over at the end of the song, new variations are applied with each repetition. It's very effective and keeps the track fresh and thoroughly interesting.
Much like The Islander on Dark Passion Play, The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove was written by Marco Hietala, the only song on the album not to be penned by keyboard player and songwriter Tuomas Holopainen. The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove is the other ballad on the album, along with Turn Loose the Mermaids, though the two have very different feels. It's a very solid track and is well placed as a break between two of the album's more intense tracks.
I'd say that Last Ride of the Day has ended up being my favorite song from Imaginaerum. It features one of the best choruses in Nightwish history, my favorite lyrics from the album, and is just an all around fantastic song. It's everything that a Nightwish track should be, except that the lyrics are actually good. 'Such an incredible high' sounds about right for this one.
Song of Myself is Imaginaerum's answer to Dark Passion Play's fourteen minute The Poet and the Pendulum, though in all reality, other than the length, they have very little in common. Song of Myself features infinitely less bombast, with the exception of the use of choirs, though it is divided into four distinct sections. If anything, though, the better comparison is to Beauty of the Beast from the album Century Child. Most obviously, the two both end with a poem, but the overall feel is more similar as well, though again less bombastic than Beauty of the Beast, if no less pretentious.
The music that precedes the seven minutes of spoken poetry that makes up the second half of the album are solid, if not exceptional as major Nightwish songs go, and then we get to the poem, a section of the song labeled as 'Love.' While it may not all be high poetry without the context and accompanying music, I found this section of this song to be inspired. Okay, I didn't entirely appreciate the part of about the 'obese girl enter[ing] an elevator with me' who is dressed up to go to dinner alone. I understand that it was intended
to be positive to her, a recognition of fat shaming in society, I don't think it comes across well enough to be a necessary inclusion. The poem section is a mixed bag, but mostly good, and introduced me to one of my new favorite phrases: "A sight to silence the Heavens." ("In the early air of the dawn of life / A sight to silence the Heavens.") It's something that I aspire to be. The end result of the song is touching, and much better than just the sum of its parts.
Imaginaerum finishes with its title track, an orchestral melody of the major themes of the album. It fits perfectly as a continuation of Song of Myself, I think the two really belong listened to together, and is an excellent and fitting closure to an excellent album.
This is certainly my favorite Nightwish album at the moment, and I don't think it would be overreaching to call it their all around best, though with the very high quality of some of Nightwish's other albums, it's not easy to make comparisons of them. Except for maybe one, that Imaginaerum is a welcome comeback to excellence after the solid but less than memorable Dark Passion Play.
TL;DR: Imaginaerum is awesome, except for Scaretale, which is just okay.5/5