Nightwish – “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” (Nuclear Blast Records)
Close to 2 million years ago, the first humans sat by their campfires staring at the night sky humming out the first tones that would become modern music. Close to 20 years ago, while sitting by a campfire on an island in Lake Pyhäjärvi, co founder keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen had a vision to create atmospheric ‘mood music’ that would be inspired by the greatest and most evoking film scores. Building his vision using orchestral aspects, femme vocals and most of all, deep emotional melodies, instantaneously catchy singalong choruses and hooks that would never, ever leave you for a lifetime, Nightwish began their quest. It would never be an easy journey as going through vocalists would attest, with some fans leaving and others disappointed along the way, but Holopainen et al stayed true to the dreams of their youth. Recruiting highly regarded Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen in 2013 and also famed English composer and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley whose Uilleann pipework can be heard on films like Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” in preparation for this 8th album, Nightwish have set the bar even higher than before. And it doesn’t disappoint. There are few, if any, albums that have brought me to tears (of joy) but this is no longer mere ‘mood music’ but ‘beautiful rock’. Holopainen is a master composer who has managed to get the best from his new talent, superbly visualizing their abilities while putting together his epic pieces around them. As such you are spared the question of whether is sounds like someone before and whether they were better but more importantly free to ask the all important question of whether it sounds like Nightwish and moreover, is it good – the answer in my opinion being a resounding yes on both cases! Despite the Darwinist theme, this time around bassist Marco Hietala has also assisted as second song writer, and although drummer Jukka Nevalainen is on sick leave, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” sounds like a true band effort and more so by even drafting in the likes of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins on some spoken word pieces. Musically it’s a bolder and better Nightwish using real full blown orchestras arranged by Pip Williams in their more symphonic parts that provide both a fuller and more bombastic sound such as on the opener ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’ – which you do indeed – complete with its roaring gothic choirs and flowing cellos. Floor Jansen was the perfect choice of the band, able to comfortably straddle both the operatic like on ‘Our Decades In The Sun’ and also the rockier elements of ‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ in offering power with finesse. An acclaimed song writer and fronting her own bands, she ironically doesn’t appear to have clashed with Holopainen as some might have expected, but rather worked in harmony to put in such a superb performance. Likewise, Donockley’s pipe work, along with tin whistle can be appreciated on the suave celtic folk rock of ‘Élan’ where accompanied by Floor’s delicately high range, turn this into another winner and is unsurprisingly one of the album’s singles. Moreover, those pipes once again grace the sad and moving instrumental ‘The Eyes of Sharbat Gula’ which Holopainen was inspired to compose a few years back after seeing the picture of an Afghan refugee girl made famous by being featured in National Geographic. Struggling to come up with lyrics that could match, Holopainen sensibly accepted Donockley’s suggestion to dispense with them and allow the music to speak for her. No wiser decision could have been made. With a theme of perfection running through the album the only possible flaw might have come in the grand finale of ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’, a perhaps grandiose 24 minute closer that goes beyond anthemic, beyond epic to actually become the film score music that inspired Holopainen taking in all the band’s styles along with Dawkin’s narrations to provide a reflective and poignant reminder to us all that inhabit this mortal world. With so much emotion, so much passion and yes, so much beauty Nightwish have taken away all the hate, pain and misery in a single stroke of brilliance that is “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”.