Written by: PP on 27/12/2011 05:57:38

Oh my. It's been a while since I've heard an album as all over the place as the seventh Nightwish album "Imaginaerum". There are so many things wrong with it that it's difficult to decide where to start, but lets start with its hopelessly ambitious premise: it is a concept album that has been produced alongside a fantasy-adventure film with the same name, so much of the album both sounds and feels like a film score instead of an album. Let's just ask ourselves at this point that how many of us listen to the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack outside of the moments we are actually watching the film, let alone in regular rotation? To base an entire premise of an album on the idea that it is a film score is fundamentally flawed, and one of the key reasons why "Imaginaerum" fails to live up to the consistency we are used to hearing from Nightwish. But it is but one of many, many reasons that when eventually combined drag the album down to a muddy level I didn't think was possible from Nightwish, despite all the Tarja drama from a few years ago.

Now before I go any further I must express puzzlement in how many large publications have hailed "Imaginaerum" as an album of the year candidate, sending pretty much universal acclaim its way. Just because it's easily the most theatrical and most dramatic Nightwish (and simultaneously any gothic metal) album to date does not automatically equate that it is amazing. To return to my previous point, it really does sound like a film score at times, for so over-the-top is the ambition level when it comes to the orchestral sections and monumental keyboard/synth passages that completely overshadow the traditional instruments in the mix, much more so than on any previous Nightwish album. While they are impressive when separated from other instruments, they are also soulless and predictable, merely sounding grand and majestic without actually contributing to the quality of the song. They are simply too grand for their own good, resulting in an album that's symphony from start to finish and nothing else.

Then there are Anette Olzon's vocals. Some argue she has really come into her own on this album, because she certainly sounds a great deal different than on the excellent "Dark Passion Play" from four years ago. The pressure of replacing Tarja probably caused her to deliver a performance as close to her as possible to give the fans a soft landing, but that pressure isn't there anymore as the years have gone by, so now she's able to project her own personality onto their sound. Unfortunately, her re-discovered identity is a rather annoying one. Her high-pitch singing no longer has the class of a classically trained vocalist to it, now instead sounding awfully produced and ultra-poppy in places, which takes away all the believability from her voice in this scribe's ears. Even on album highlight "Storytime" she delivers a pitch way too squeaky for her own good.

Then let's get to the songs themselves. "Slow Love Slow", for instance, is a full-fledged jazz piece with progressive undertones that slowly introduce symphonic elements and classical piano on the background as the song goes forward. Let me just pause there and ask the obvious question: what the hell is a JAZZ song doing on a bombastic, theatric, overtly dramatic symphonic metal album? Just what on earth is going on here? But as if that wasn't enough, then "Scaretale" ruins the otherwise good impression "I Want My Tears Back" had by attempting to clone the atmosphere from an 1800s themed horror movie by inserting some annoying children's choral sections to start the song, and then in a later section of the song, by throwing in some god-awful vocals that are meant to sound playfully scary, like in a children's movie or something. Some folkish instrumentation is thrown in, but for some reason the whole track starts to sound like a freaking circus show at this point and fails miserably in what it is trying to accomplish.

Next question: why is there a track with oriental sounds in it ("Arabesque")? I could swear I'm listening to a soundtrack to The Mummy or even Aladdin in some places, which can also be interesting, but what is it doing on a Nightwish album?

....and I could keep dissecting the album apart like that for the next few paragraphs but you get my point. "Imaginaerum" is the perfect example of a grander sound is almost never a better sound - although mainstream critics will almost always tend to disagree with me here. If that was the only problem with "Imaginaerum", however, I could let it fly. But since the problem is that in between each decent song Nightwish has included a song that should've been binned in the studio at the very latest, it becomes much harder to do so. Even the decent songs sound average in comparison to the Nightwish classics, or even "Dark Passion Play" which was a (relatively) similar-sounding album. At some point between deciding how colossal the next orchestral symphony should sound like, Nightwish forgot to actually focus on writing songs instead of creating background music for movies. "Imaginaerum" is perfectly suitable for the latter, but as a stand alone album for a metal fan, even a gothic metal fan...well, calling it the album of the year means you're either incredibly biased, you've been paid to say so by someone, or you simply haven't heard more than a dozen albums this year.


Download: Storytime, I Want My Tears Back
For the fans of: symphonic film soundtracks, grand ambition that goes nowhere
Listen: Facebook

Release date 30.11.2011
Nuclear Blast / Roadrunner Records

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