Label: Nuclear Blast 2011
Review by Alan Holloway
You have to admire the massive brass balls on Nightwish’s creative force Tuomas Holopainen, a man who refuses to sit on his laurels and rake in the cash. After the furore that was the departure of lead Diva Tarja Turunen, he escaped with just a few death threats, a first class new vocalist (Anette Olzon of Alyson Avenue) and the best album of his career in “Dark Passion Play”. This is not a man you want to be sitting at a poker table with.
Things rarely get more Gothy and up their own arse than a band called Nightwish calling an album “Imaginaerum” (a made up, pretentious word). The only way to make them seem more aloof would be to make it a concept album. They did? Oh…. Well, it had better be fucking good, is all I can say.
Okay, so that’s the background out of the way. What we have here is a concept album that at some point next year will be accompanied by a full length movie, although it has been designed to stand on it’s own two feet and should not be considered a soundtrack album. This, of course, has not stopped just about every reviewer referring to it as one, but they are fools, fools I tell you!
“Imaginaerum” is an album of quite a few layers, and is not something you’re likely to fall instantly in love with. This is deliberate, and you really should expect to slog through it a few times before you are able to appreciate what has been done here, something it has in common with lots of other concept albums. Starting off with a gentle, Finnish language and soft music intro, the first real track is the stormingly good single “Storytime”, but don’t expect a whole album like this. There are a few basic, upbeat tracks thrown in like the wonderful Celtic influenced “I Want My Tears Back” and the more power metal sty lings of “Ghost River”, rounded off by the dramatic but furiously catchy “Last Ride Of The Day”. These tracks are Nightwish barrelling along with catchy hooks and tons of attitude, really ramming home why they are sometimes referred to as “ABBA Metal”. Hey, ABBA wrote some damned catchy songs!
Elsewhere there’s a couple of good instrumentals, notably the closing title track, in which Pip Williams gives us an orchestral medley of all the previous tracks. It’s something that’s been done before, but sounds brilliant. The orchestral side on the album is pretty big this time round, and those involved get full marks for integrating it so well into the guitars, drum and bass that are the anchors of the Nightwish sound. Alongside the instrumentals and foundation stompers we also get a jazz/blues ballad (“Slow Love, Slow”) that is surprisingly effective thanks to Anette’s sultry vocals and the expected long track (“Song Of Myself” which rolls in at 12 and a half minutes) that I was hoping would equal the previous albums awesome title track but loses points because the second half of it is deep, meaningful (and depressing) spoken word stuff that is eminently skippable if you’re not in exactly the right mood (although up to then it is great). There’s also a nice pipe led ballad in the shalpe of “Turn Loose The Mermaids”, plus a longer, deeper slowie, “the Crow, The Owl and The Dove”.
Yet another journey through the twisted mind of Tuomas Holopainen, “Imaginaerum” is not the masterpiece it wants to be, yet it has a great many things in it’s favour. Best appreciated in a dark room or through earphones, it’s a grower that continually rewards the listener yet will alienate those after a quick fix. However you look at it, it’s not as good an album as “Dark Passion Play”, but it’s no less of an achievement. If you get it, I would advise getting the version with the instrumental bonus disc, as it allows you to enjoy the album over again in a different way, and it also means people still banging on about Tarja can pretend in their tiny heads that she’s singing and then go on message boards to tell people how awesome it would sound.