Nightwish - Imaginaerum
A debate has raged for the best part of six years as to if Nightwish could really survive the momentous ousting of their iconic former vocalist. With Imaginaerum, I think the arguments can at last cease – and the answer is a definitive yes. Bigger, grander and better than anything mastermind Tuomas Holopainen has yet conceived, and that's even before the accompanying film has been completed, this is a record fans will devour voraciously. Long-time opposition is not suddenly going to be convinced by the aural theatrics and camp pomposity, but for all who do buy in, welcome to the show.
Held together by a loose concept of imagination and storytelling, Imaginaerum is a fantastical exploration of symphonic metal, a true and equal meeting of two not altogether different worlds; with Pip Williams again on board to steer the orchestral and choral arrangements, they are not tacky gimmicks stuck on to a metal album as is often the case. Other elements also seep in, whether it is the easy late night jazz of 'Slow, Love, Slow' that sees Anette Olsen at her most sultry, the cinematic ethnic instrumental of 'Arabesque', or the Celtic jig of 'I Want My Tears Back' that sees the brilliant Troy Donockley returning once again to add his myriad of pipes and whistles.
Anette's vocals on Imaginaerum are a real step up from the predecessor; with Tuomas now able to write to her range and strengths, and with the added confidence of having done a complete cycle already, she unleashes a virtuoso performance that ranges from sexy seductress to warped monster. Her beautiful voice is full of passion and emotion, and is now an integral part of the brush that paints these supremely vivid tales.
Imaginaerum is chock full of rollicking numbers that race along with melody and gusto, especially early on; the likes of 'Storytime' and 'Ghost River' gallop on the back of Emppu's distinctive riffing, with the orchestra swelling all around like some modern day Ride Of The Valkyries. This is done no better than on the twisted highlight of 'Scaretale', a bombastic blast through childhood nightmares that is Nightwish at their best as it shows off all the aspects of this musical extravaganza.
The centrepiece of the record is the epic thirteen minute suite of 'Song Of Myself', a very personal and introverted set of lyrics from Tuomas, set against a sweeping and hugely expansive score that swings from doom-laden heaviness via murmuring reflection to soaring solos with superlative ease. Finishing with a collection of spoken word fragments from family and friends, it is an exhausting emotive listen. The title track brings this crowning glory of the Nightwish discography to a rousing finale, a coda of many of the orchestral and Celtic refrains that ties Imaginaerum up with one last triumphant encore. By far the most ambitious record of their career, this is an engrossing and rewarding listen that is deliciously over the top. Though unlikely to win too many new fans over, it will rightly be celebrated by the converted.