Nightwish can proudly look back on a massive discography with an astonishing number of successes. All of their studio releases either ended up at Gold or Platinum levels. Or both combined. They were and – in a way – still are one of the leading bands in all things Symphonic Metal.
At least until recently.
Same as any long-standing outfit, Nightwish went through a few eras. But over the last decade or so they slowly drifted towards a more cinematic style. One filled with loads of epic bombast and plagued with somewhat of a cookie-cutter approach to the rest of their music.
This also meant that this playful, refreshing, and lively attitude towards Symphonic Metal, filled to the brim with a certain cheekiness, vanished. Not to be seen again since Imaginaerum happened. In its stead, we found ourselves on a loosely themed road to confusion. One where metal only exists to remind us of a Nightwish of the past.
In other words, a lot of the formerly abundant oomph somehow left the building. And was replaced by something that started to resemble some sort of a soundtrack. Well suited for the mainstream, but without any excitement for new-found metallic delights. Pretty butterflies that flutter by on a canvas of bright, sugary colors.
This lack of bite really rubbed us the wrong way on Nightwish‘s 2015 epic Endless Forms Most Beautiful. So, we hoped that five years of wait will get us less of that grandiose bluster and more substance.
But the band chose yet another naturalistic theme called Hvman. :||: Natvre. Which – I guess – should probably mean something like humans vs. nature, judging by the monologue much later in the record.
And I never knew that Nightwish could be so kvlt. Doing the v-thing in the name messed up many a messenger’s grammar. Meaning, they mostly got it wrong. There’s even a godawful confusion on Nuclear Blast’s and Nightwish‘s own sites. But hey, it won’t signify.
Because we’re here to look at the music, right?
Once Hvman. :||: Natvre. spreads its wings, you get served with that sense of déjà-vu. A crafty mix of old-style Nightwish of the likes of Once and Oceanborn, kind of in cahoots with the excellent Dark Passion Play. This somehow mingles with this sweetish and somewhat condescending flavor of the aforementioned Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Which is not necessarily a good thing.
In a way, the record very much represents a new(ish) Nightwish. Firmly ensconced mostly in a past before Imaginaerum with some new, pretty bombastic ideas. All of that glides along on a more cinematic trajectory that started with Holopainen‘s excursion into Scrooge’s money vault. And truly, tracks like Pan sound like something Disney Studios may have concocted for one of their soundtracks.
The record also contains a fair amount of stomping about the soundscape, somewhat in the vein of Heilung and their ilk. But why do we always either get fake African or the ubiquitous and westernized cuts of North American wild men? It may be the overly stale saga of the noble savage all over again. You know the one in sync with Gaia. Only that here, in the totally plugged universe of Nightwish, such themes often drown in cheese.
Yet, Hvman. :||: Natvre.’s first glimpse – Noise – already gave us hope. With a pretty unchained Floor Jansen on full display, a new-found Power Metal scream, and a refreshingly meaty Nightwish tune to boot. But – alas – this track is only one of two that were really able to convince RMR’s deck crew. And the Winkler-esque metal scream only happened once, which is not the message the trailer conveyed.
Now, the first track Music already suffers from this strangely breathless lengthiness. Too many melodies and sub-themes mingled into a strangely meandering mess. And it takes Ms. Jansen way too long to chime in and call this whole thing to order some.
Speaking about which: Floor Jansen really outdid herself on Hvman. :||: Natvre. From metal to classic, she masters it. Gone is this feeling of an underused vocalist that was so prevalent on the former record. Still, I get the feeling that she has more to give. But that would be almost impossible on a record like this.
Harvest gets us this Celtic flavor with Troy Donockley on full display, yet you should be careful not to slip on that cheese that’s strewn about everywhere. We did take a certain liking to Tribal, though. True to its name, the track gets us a theatrical depiction of some tribal dance with powerful drum work not usually native to Nightwish. This one made us chuckle by the way, it sounds so Deathless Legacy and Steva-ish at times.
The slightly metallic Shoemaker with its lightly progressive airs truly got on our good side, too. At first. Until about halfway down the track. This is when they forgot that this is not an opera. Its sometimes overly sweetish flavor was a bit too starry for my taste. With way too much chocolaty cheese woven into its shiny classically-tainted fabric.
If only the record would not contain these duds like Endlessness that almost bored us to tears with its simple airs, things would actually look a bit more lively.
Yet, once you thought that after some 50 minutes or so Hvman. :||: Natvre. would draw to a close, you are sadly mistaken. In the vein of its predecessor, we get served with a pseudo-classical instrumental of some 30 minutes. Boy, this sounds like those film scores hatched by the likes of Hans Zimmer. Disney all over again, by Loki’s sad minions. But this whole concoction makes little sense on a Nightwish album.
Yet again, with metal firmly out of the way, this soundtrack majestically flows forward on a pretty even, yet very professionally executed keel. No instrument out of place, if you get my drift. If anything, it showcases Holopainen‘s many talents at work. With that very expressive monologue provided by Geraldine James to make things complete. A set of tracks in search of a friggin’ movie, if you get my drift.
So, let’s wrap this up some.
Hvman. :||: Natvre. serves us a load of pretty savvy Symphonic and Cinematic Metal in the first hour or so. Something that sails dangerously close to Power Metal of Avantasia and their ilk. Some of it with promise, yet tortured by fillers that did not find their way out the door. And then, to roughen things up for the rest, the band smothers all those positives in a lengthy excursion into pseudo-classical Hollywood soundscapes.
Yet again, Hvman. :||: Natvre. is a bunch of perfectly crafted and executed songs and melodies, interpreted by a master vocalist at the height of her trade. No contest there, albeit that a lot of that boasts that sugary, sweetish flavor we don’t appreciate too much.
This saddles us with a never-ending story of some 81 minutes. With tunes that don’t only resemble past delights from across a score of Nightwish records, but they also cruise insanely near to some friggin’ fantasy movies and computer games.
So, in a way, I am disappointed. This is the second Nightwish record in a row that doesn’t really talk to our inner self. A record in search for itself, with a strangely unfinished air that left us puzzled.
But as to the direction that this is taking, maybe Holopainen should indeed get with a few contacts in the mighty film factory in Hollywood. He would perfectly qualify for an OST for some franchise.
Zimmer might need some competition, who knows.