Meditative Musical Musings-L. Hughes’ In-Depth Review of Nightwish’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”



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Endless Forms Most Beautiful 

Nightwish

11 Tracks
Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Overall Score: 10/10


Review written by: L. Hughes

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – Charles Darwin

Writing a review of a Nightwish album is a bit daunting. Like an Epica album, Nightwish albums are rich in layered music and detailed lyrics. It often takes several listens to truly grasp what it is you are listening to, even if your first instinct is to love it.

But before I get into the detailed review, here is a bit of background on my personal history with Nightwish, to set-up why I feel how I do about this album. I discovered the band in 2006, around the same time that I became a fan of Within Temptation. At the time I discovered Nightwish, I was unaware of the open letter with Tarja, resulting in her firing from the band. For all I knew, she was still their singer. I only knew about their music that I was slowly discovering through the album Once. Eventually my interest led me to discover more of their albums, and eventually I learned a bit more about the band itself, including the fact that Tarja was no longer their vocalist. I read the open letter and it left me unsure how I wanted to handle their music. As is obvious, I still listened to them, despite my then opinion that Tarja was a diva and it was good they kicked her out (an opinion which has since changed). Then, in 2007 they announced their new singer Anette Olzon and then released the albumDark Passion Play. Anette’s vocals differed greatly from Tarja’s. Anette was not a classically trained singer, and her style was what many fans called “Pop.” Although that definition is wrong, the musical dynamic of Nightwish did change with the new vocals. While many fans threw-up their hands and abandoned the band, I followed along for the ride, because of songs like “The Poet and the Pendulum,” and “Master Passion Greed.” Anette was a breath of fresh air at the time, and it was easy to see that with how everyone got along.

The following year I finally saw Nightwish live, and despite my unsure opinions about how Anette handled the older songs live, I still enjoyed the show and was humbled by how nice the band was. The album itself had its moments with “The Poet and the Pendulum” and “Master Passion Greed” but certainly did not live-up to the grandeur that was Once. Come 2012, they released their best album with Anette, Imaginaerum. Anette really had a chance to show those who hated her that she could certainly sing well, and the album was Tuomas’ pet project, so it was a bit different, yet still a very good album. I saw Nightwish for the third time that year, but only 2 weeks after I had seen them, Anette was fired from the band (due to various reasons, many still unconfirmed). So the drama of Nightwish continued. They also announced Floor Jansen would replace her on tour so that they could finish it and then the new vocalist would be decided. I was shocked about Anette (sort of, she made a bad PR move on her blog a week before, so some of it was not a total shock), but then I couldn’t help but be thrilled that Floor was joining them on tour. I had discovered Floor in 2007 when I became a fan of After Forever. I was in awe of her incredible talent, and quickly bought-up the discography. When After Forever called it quits in 2009, I was devastated. But very soon after, she formed the band ReVamp and was able to continue where After Forever left off. I had always felt Floor would be a perfect front woman for Nightwish, long before it was even a thought that she would sing with them. So, this was a literal dream come true.

By 2013, being a Nightwish fan was quite exhausting. The drama within the community was intense, and so was the drama with the band. Anette vs. Nightwish became a real media thing, not just a fan drama. But, in2013, the band announced that Floor would be their official new singer (they also announced that Troy Donockley would be a permanent member). This leaves us with the release of her first album with Nightwish, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, which I will now review.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful opens with a bang. “Shudder Before the Beautiful” has a distinctive connection to “Storytime” at first listen, but that was overcome for me after several listens, and the grandeur of the lyrics and the heavy guitars concerned me more. A perfect way to open an album that will remind listeners of Nightwish’s previous work much more than the last album did. The follow-up song, “Weak Fantasy” takes a stab at religious extremism. In this sense I was quickly reminded of the many times Epica has approached the issue through music. I applaud how blunt Tuomas is about the issue, and the music itself is heavy and very “Nightwish.” Floor’s vocals are heavy and go between a nice calm voice and her more “rock” voice. A lot of emotion can be felt in this song from her.

“Élan” is the third song on the album, and the album’s first single. While it angered many Nightwish fans because it is not very heavy and is focused on Troy’s beautiful pipes, and most of all because Floor was not singing in her well known powerful voice, I find the song to be a beautiful and very “Nightwish” sounding song. It flows very well within the album, and although Floor doesn’t hit those powerful notes, she still shows her level of talent to be able to sing in so many different ways.

“Yours Is An Empty Hope” also opens with a guitar bang. For Nightwish fans that missed that, they will love this song. I was reminded of “Dark Chest of Wonders” with this song. The chorus can be repetitive, but Floor’s vocals are once again phenomenal, especially those splendid moments where she really screams into the song. A new element to Nightwish that I think will be appreciated.

“Our Decades In this Sun” is a ballad dedicated to parents. According to interviews I saw, Tuomas stated that there were tears during the recording of this song. It is indeed a beautiful song and Floor’s soft voice fits it wonderfully. I think of all of the songs, this one still has to grow on me the most, but I have no doubt that it will “click” here soon. The folky song “My Walden” is a chance for Troy to shine again on this album, and is a great song for fans of “The Islander” or “I Want My Tears Back.”

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is a fantastic and heavy song. The chorus can easily get stuck in your head, and the music is wonderfully heavy. It took some time to grow on me, but now I love it. It would be a fantastic live song. “Edema Ruh” was the original first single of the album, until Tuomas was convinced to release “Élan” as the first single. The tone of the song does have an old school Nightwish feel and will be a song fans can appreciate once it has really grown for you. “Alpenglow” is a song that Tuomas described as “classic Nightwish.” I didn’t hear that right away, but after several listens I do hear it now. For fans of the past albums, this song is for you. In fact, I have heard several fans already call it Nightwish’s best song. I don’t know if I would rank it that high, but it has grown high on my list for favorite songs of this album. A fantastic song and a great song to end this portion of the album with, because “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is an instrumental that is almost like a breather before the big storm.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” had me within the first key. It opens with a splendid and breathtaking piano piece combined with a violin. Those two minutes in itself is simply gorgeous, but then it opens with a bang into the heavier moments of the song. A lot of guitar, then flows back into the gorgeous piano. The moment of beauty continues into Floor’s beautiful classical vocals (the only time we hear those with this album).  Which is a wonderful lead into a song that is about 24 minutes long. Biologist Richard Dawkins speaks following the opening, and then the sing really takes off. Wonderful guitars, more of Troy’s pipes, and then there is Floor and Marco’s vocals. I could go on too long about this song at this point, so I’ll simply conclude that is the major highlight to this album and if you can’t take in how rich this song is on first listen, it is worth many more.

It should be noted that regular drummer Jukka does not appear on this album due to health issues, and drummer Kai Hahto plays the drums for this album. He certainly does a fantastic job.

As far as I feel about this album overall, it is simply fantastic. It harkens back to the Nightwish that I first discovered in 2006, mostly because Floor Jansen is capable of so much as a vocalist. She allows Tuomas to essentially write whatever he wants and she can sing to it. But the album also has a lot of experiments to it, which is much needed for Nightwish to evolve. The album focuses on evolution, and beauty in the natural world, but, I also think that it is meant to be about the evolution of Nightwish. They are on their third singer, and as a band, they have gone through a lot of changes. They continue to adapt and to survive, and I think that this album also represents that sort of evolution. As a science geek, I am also in love with the fact that the album is about evolutionary biology as well. It is time some beautiful music was created to acknowledge the beauty of the natural world.

Nightwish is a unique band. Setting off a trend in music that is being emulated by many fantastic bands today like Epica and Xandria. Tuomas has proven to be the Maestro of this era. The music he creates is often deep and meaningful either to him or to the world. Tarja and Anette both were important contributions to the band, and each of their respective eras should always be remembered as important parts of the band’s history. Floor Jansen welcomes in a new era of Nightwish. One that I think will prove to be the final evolution of the band. Her versatility as a singer, skills as a songwriter, and history as a musician which allows her to know all too well what it is to be a singer in the metal world means that she is more than capable of leading a band on the grand scale of Nightwish. I look forward to many more albums with Floor Jansen at the helm.

Favorite Songs: “The Greatest Show On Earth,” “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” “Alpenglow,” “Élan,” “Weak Fantasy,” “Shudder Before the Beautiful,” and “Yours Is An Empty Hope.”

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