In recent years I have defended Nightwish since parting with Tarja Turunen (who has not impressed me in her solo career). Despite my smattering of knowledge about their back catalogue, I still have a clear idea where the Finns were coming from, via their past videos. I’m fully behind no-longer-new vocalist Anette Olzon, and it looks like they’re ready to experiment further with filmmaker Stobe Harju, who directed the steampunk video for “The Islander”. Their vision is to create an entire movie alongside the album, which is almost what Within Temptation tried for The Unforgiving last year (something else I wasn’t into). And while I appreciate the ambition of Nightwish on their latest, Imaginaerum feels top-heavy and ultimately misguided.
They certainly try things you may not expect. Hell, the album starts with Finnish poetry recited by bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala, perhaps underscoring his importance in the band. It’s the harbinger for lead single “Storytime”, which made me anticipate a carnival bizarre or twisted cabaret, with the video in particular.
So… Cirque de Soleil, only darker, Finnish, and metal? Yes, please!
It seems that’s not the case, but I was quick to forgive, because the dynamic “Ghost River” converges into one of their best efforts across their last two albums. Then they convincingly shift into lounge jazz for the first time, with Anette pushing her limits on “Slow, Love, Slow” (a skill more sharply honed by Agnete Kirkevaag of Madder Mortem or Julie Kiss from To-Mera). “I Want My Tears Back” has greater depth with its Alice in Wonderland-cum-Sleeping Beauty undercurrent, although I wish it was less esoteric. “Scaretale” actually does work in the creepy themes I’d hoped for—even calling their madhouse “Cirque de Morgue”—and Olzon truly sounds a little crazy here; this is a good thing.
“Arabesque” is an energetic midalbum instrumental bridge between the two halves, but dudes, “Turn Loose the Mermaids” gets straight goofypants. From the title itself to the lilting flutes to Anette’s reeever pronunciation to the Beavis and Butt-head-worthy line “weary traveler rest your wand”—I just couldn’t take it seriously. And while they do build some momentum across the three following songs, after that …ughhhh …just …END already!
Well, maybe not so hastily; the “Song of Myself” is a strong closer, if you kill it halfway. However, should the forthcoming movie have this overwrought, heavy-handed, six-minute multilogue of preachy prose followed by the orchestral “Imaginaerum” within the film itself, I call bullshit. It’s ridiculous enough that Nightwish first felt the need to clumsily soapbox—but man, the audacity of the so-called title track… lovely, yes, but it belongs over the credits.
After a few spins, only half sticks. Hooks hold fast, melodies are memorable, and Nightwish is learning how to transform into this new band they aspire to be. A gradual metamorphosis for sure, this feels like an awkward phase that would have benefitted from editing (c’mon, under an hour—you can do it!). Nonetheless intriguing, I think an all-original companion EP—without alternate takes or demos or live versions—could better flesh out this macabre madness for the gobbling throngs. Let’s tap some fucking id.
03. Ghost River
04. Slow, Love, Slow
05. I Want My Tears Back
08. Turn Loose the Mermaids
09. Rest Calm
10. The Crow, The Owl and The Dove
11. Last Ride of the Day
12. Song of Myself