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Nightwish - "Imaginaerum" (CD)

Nightwish - "Imaginaerum" CD cover image

"Imaginaerum" track listing:

1. Taikatalvi (2:35)
2. Storytime (5:22)
3. Ghost River (5:28)
4. Slow, Love, Slow (5:50)
5. I Want My Tears Back (5:07)
6. Scaretale (7:32)
7. Arabesque (2:57)
8. Turn Loose the Mermaids (4:20)
9. Rest Calm (7:02)
10. The Crow, the Owl and the Dove (04:10)
11. Last Ride of the Day (4:32)
12. Song of Myself (13:37)
13. Imaginaerum (6:18)

Reviewed by on December 7, 2011

"... the latest masterpiece from Nightwish is a sonic journey through a character’s imagination that tempts the listeners to open theirs. There are songs that combine strange, bold, daring, sensual, bombastic, and above all epic elements."

Somewhere in a small Finnish town, a bizarre carnival of the mind exists. It is filled with death-defying feats of both wondrous and terrifying acts. It is a fun house of horror and macabre that forces the mind into a roller coaster of cascading terror. You turn to face the room of mirrors only to see images of crazed clowns, zombies on stilts, and a rag tag carnival barker that would make Beetlejuice squeamish. The barker is Marco Hietala, the band Nightwish, and the latest soundscape is “Imaginaerum.” This album easily ranks in the top albums of 2011 and represents one of the finest works of music of all time.

Born from what will eventually be the “Imaginaerum” movie, the latest masterpiece from Nightwish is a sonic journey through a character’s imagination that tempts the listeners to open theirs. There are songs that combine strange, bold, daring, sensual, bombastic, and above all epic elements. The album opens its “winter magic” with “Taikatalvi,” sung in Finnish by Marco Hietala, who has an underrated vocal style that has become as much a trademark of the band just as either Anette or Tarja. The song commences with the foreboding sound of a music box crank, winding up the album for the “Imaginaerum” to come. It has an air of Finnish tradition not unlike “Islander,” a sound that makes a few appearances later on the release.

“Storytime” is the first single and has the typical Nightwish sound most fans expect. The riffs have that heavy crunch as keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas sets the bombast levels clear past 11. As soon as Anette Olzen begins to sing, I can tell she seems much more comfortable on this release. She still sounds “cute” in contrast to years of the deep operatic vocal style of Tarja, but any shortcoming she may have is made up for with pizazz. With so much pressure on her trying to fulfill the role of Tarja on “Dark Passion Play,” Olzen really lets her hair down on “Imaginaerum.” This album was made for her vocal style and there are even songs on here that I cannot imagine Tarja singing.

“Ghost River” takes a slight turn which can only be labeled as “controlled chaos.” Once the verse kicks in and Marco takes a slightly harsher vocal approach, it takes a minute before you can understand the direction. It is not a “mess” by any stretch; it just takes you a little off guard. Once the chorus kicks, the song opens up and you realize that this is one of the most interesting songs the band has ever written.

“Slow, Love, Slow” is like transporting back to vaudeville in the ‘20s. During the slow piano infused jazz number, you can envision Anette sprawled out on a piano. An infectious and sensual ballad, the song tests and breaks down the nearly limitless boundaries of Nightwish. The song ends with 30 seconds of clock ticking, like a timer to one of the album’s best tracks. “I Want My Tears Back” starts with Marco belting out the chorus of a typically huge Nightwish anthem. Just when you expect a driving guitar riff, a bagpipe plays out the melody. The bagpipe returns for a solo sounding a bit like Nightwish playing with Alestorm during a performance of Riverdance.

“Scaretale” is an immensely gripping tale that is the defining track on the release that best represents this immensely talented lot of musicians. The song begins with a movie score intro morphing into a flashy and very crunchy riff, but then ruptures into what sounds like a narrated nightmare come to life. Anette, who hosts the nightmare, really elevates her vocal delivery (especially, with the “squealing pig” line). The pinnacle of the song ranges from the 3:58 mark until the 5:32 mark, where Marco sings the part of the carnival barker as the band does a musical interlude reminiscent of the Tim Burton musical “Nightmare Before Christmas.” This song has to be one of the band’s greatest achievements.

“Arabesque” is a bombastic instrumental with elements drawn from movie classical, African tribal, and Middle Eastern elements. It is a thrilling score with incredible drum beats that that should introduce a heavier number, but it turns out to be a standalone track just prior to a big ballad. Strange… but then that is the true theme of “Imaginaerum.”

“Turn Loose the Mermaids” sounds like the sequel to “The Islander,” one of my cherished favorites. All the elements are there, the sea, the folk style, but no Marco on vocals here. There is a whistling portion that adds a touch of “spaghetti western” to the mix. A similar track, “The Crow, The Owl and The Dove,” is a mostly acoustic ballad that is just as catchy as “The Islander,” invoking Marco’s emotional vocal style.

“Rest Calm” is anything but. One of the albums heaviest numbers, Marco and Anette duet here in a seven minute song that rides an emotional roller coaster switching to and fro from the heavy verses to the quieter and “calmer” chorus. The addition of the boys’ choir adds a nice touch. “Last Ride of the Day” is the most Nightwish sounding song of the album, it’s an up tempo cruncher sung beautifully by Olzen as the haunting choir sounds chant behind her on the chorus.

“Song Of Myself” is a thirteen plus minute opus that has thrilling choirs and enchanting music gargantuan riffs. However with second half of the song comprising of mostly narration, it would have been perfectly fine as a seven minute number. Winding out the album is “Imaginaerum,” a classical “wrap up” of the album in movie score style, which would have been better served up as a single bonus track rather than an album regular.

Nightwish’s “Imaginaerum” can be best described in one word: epic. Like fine wine, the songwriting and musicianship of this mostly Finnish quintet simply gets better with age. The band has an ability to do what few can: progress within itself. There is some material on this release that will test the boundaries of a fan’s expectations, but no one could ever question that this is undoubtedly Nightwish in its prime!

Highs: A progression of the Nightwish sound

Lows: "Song For Myself" runs way too long with 6 minutes of narration. The song "Imaginareum" is superfluous.

Bottom line: Take a trip into your own "Imaginaerum," a carnival bizarre you won't soon forget!

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)