Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015) – Review

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They kept their brand alive, yet again. My fears that this time we would be faced with something entirely different did not materialize. But this very same and familiar style is presented with an added edge to boot.

The album is darker and more direct, a tad louder than before. You will also find a distinct or – shall we say – pretty heavy use of symphonic and folk elements. Which is yet another hallmark of their 8th full-length studio album Endless Forms Most Beautiful. So, this is undeniably Nightwish, but refreshingly different from their last record Imaginaerum. This whole concoction reminds me a bit of Dark Passion Play, but only just.

The production also sounds tailor-made to the voice of their new (well kind of new…) front vocalist Floor Jansen (ex After Forever and ReVamp). Floor replaced Nightwish‘s former singer Anette Olzon after the latter’s somewhat bitter and caustically unwilling departure in 2012 for the rest of the Imaginaerum World Tour. Floor was taken on board as a full member of Nightwish in 2013 together with Troy Donockley, the man for all kinds of flutes and pipes.

So, all happy and groovy? Well, it appears that Floor Jansen did not take part in the songwriting. If this happened willingly or not is a matter of debate. Yet, she commented kind of pointedly in some interviews as to how this was of no consequence to her.

Well, yeah, right.

Perhaps the denials were a bit too pointed to my taste! The band needs to pay attention to this or they will lose another of their front ladies real quick. And this one is a good one. Of course, the market bears a large mass of girls of ubiquitous quality out there. And most would just love to come on board Tuomas Holopainen‘s flagship, the spiritual master behind all this stuff. 

Remarkably, it appears that Holopainen worked on Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and simultaneously on his solo project The Life and Times of Scrooge that came out back in 2014. Marco Hietala again strongly contributed to the quality of this album and also acted as co-author of some of the tracks. And I do appreciate his efforts. His work adds a lot of spice to the productions of Nightwish. And it helps to keep the operatic elements at bearable levels.

And there’s drama. Who would have thought that with Nightwish?

The band’s long-time drummer Jukka Nevalainen took the decision to temporarily (?) abandon his long-standing role in the band due to health reasons. Problems with insomnia, so I understand. Kai Hahto (Wintersun, ex Swallow the Sun, ex Rotten Sound) took on the challenge – for Endless Forms Most Beautiful at least.

Nevalainen‘s use of the word ‘temporary’ did however not resound too strongly in my mind. I am pretty adept at coffee reading in the morning and this does have a more final ring to it.

The album itself follows a loose theme based on Charles Darwin’s theories (good grief..). Commented in some instances by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins directly, who is a fervent defender of evolutionary theories – evidently. A funky idea, by the way. But hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

To the tracks!

It is one of the strengths of Nightwish to reinvent themselves continually. Changing themes and directions, but not the overall style too much. And this is what made them very successful – and will continue to do so. They subtly change, but never forget where their roots are. And this becomes very evident on this record. 

Shudder Before the Beautiful – the track – is perfect proof of that. Much to my relief, the track steps right into the deep, down, and dirty. Without any extra loop coming to us via an intro. The track speeds off pretty energetically, using a lot of distorted guitars and dark bass to a pretty stiff start of this album. Unfortunately only after a somewhat cringe-worthy verbal introduction. Weak Fantasy kinda follows in the footsteps of its big, former brother. Which again points to one of the weaknesses of this record.

Nightwish always displayed this tendency to kinda cut their tracks from a similar cloth. So that you would not and never forget who they are. Yet, you always found some variation. New ideas, but presented in this distinct wrapper the band’s essence was made of. Endless Forms Most Beautiful will attempt that strategy as well. But – alas – does not quite succeed. Fast and furious for some, check. But always down the same lane. And then you get attempts at differentiation, which reek of blandness. And that’s a real pity.

Which gets me to one of the real disappointments in Endless Forms Most Beautiful. This one costs them at least one star from the rating, and it is Elan. Yep, you heard that correctly. This track is just straight boring! And I get it, okay? The melody is kind of alluring, but it truly grinds to the masses.

Some sort of a super-weak intermezzo written for the commercial masses. With a dangerous lack in spice and – I daresay – imagination. 

Speaking of same.

The whole album is commercialized to a dangerous extent. So much so that Nightwish could be considered part of the mainstream, not leading it anymore. I am NOT impressed.

Our Decades in the Sun is a welcome reprieve from the fast and furious tracks that came before. A very well executed, slow, and greatly arranged ballad. Hot and cold – but still rocky, just the way I like it. And what a change from their aforementioned flagship track they commercialized so hard. 

The Walden appears to go down the same direction at first for a few moments. But – despite its apparent blandness – embarks on a sudden change of direction and goes all folksy/rocky on you.

The next track Endless Forms Most Beautiful (the title) is quite rocky and fast, but – yet again – nothing to write home about, unfortunately. The track almost reminds me of some more electro-pop metal concoctions that we have recently seen appearing lately.

Now, what devil rode them to saddle us with a 24-minute monster at the very end I cannot tell. But fear not, the last piece The Greatest Show on Earth is intriguing to a point, but never boring. I was a bit worried when I saw that one, but I stand corrected. Pretty good, whereas at times this whole Chabang teeters on the edge of being overdone in terms of musical style elements thrown into the fray.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful still is a good album, but nothing more. It misses some real crunch, some of the passion and spice that was so prevalent before. Loosely themed, nicely followed through, it appears deeper and darker than former works. And – of course – technically outstanding, as can be expected from a band of the caliber of Nightwish.

In the end, the album presents a welcome change away from the more flashy former record Imaginaerum, but – again – not much more. Even with the imagined and starkly painted grandeur the record displays, it still kinda left me cold. Thus, I do still rate Dark Passion Play higher than this one.

Ed’s note: The review made it onto the first ever Intermittent Best Of of the RockmusicRaider blog. Congrats!

Record Rating: 5/10 | Label: Nuclear Blast | Web: Official Site
Release date: 27 March 2015

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