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Nightwish - Dark Passion Play CD (album) cover

DARK PASSION PLAY

Nightwish

 

Progressive Metal

3.83 | 153 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

russellk
Prog Reviewer
4 stars A review about many things, some of which are the music on this excellent album, some of which are not.

A note about NIGHTWISH's album ratings, for those of you who care about such things. While fans have great respect for their debut album, 'Angel Fall First' is hardly their best work. It rates highest because it is generally rated only by fans, whereas the later albums are heard and rated by a broader cross-section of listeners.

Sometime after 'Once' the other four band members dismissed their charismatic and distinctive lead singer, TARJA TURUNEN. The public spat was acrimonious and it took the band some time to recover, and to select a replacement. The chosen singer, ANETTE OLZON, is a good replacement without having the dynamics of TURUNEN. How much will it matter?

Not. At. All.

NIGHTWISH's true power is in its songwriting and production, not in the vocals, good as they were. Within moments of the album's start we are reassured: things are fine, she can sing. Oh, but we are assured of far more than that, as the finest song the band has ever constructed bursts over us like a thunderstorm. 'The Poet and the Pendulum' is a 14 minute concept piece that is cinematic in scope, but in quite a different way to 'Ghost Love Score' from their previous album. It begins ominously, piano, orchestra and whispers, then explodes in stabbing chords reminiscent of much of their earlier work, but with even greater vigour. The instrumental lead-in is majestic, almost embarrassingly so: it takes a great musical moment to bring me out in a sweat, but I had to go change after one listen. Pushes all my buttons, I'll admit. But this song is much more than atmospherics. It has a genuinely great hook in the chorus, compelling fans to bellow along with the singer. This must have been enormous fun to write and play. NIGHTWISH continue to set new standards in the genre.

It's apparent that the singer doesn't have the power we're used to, but the band members have, with great care, created sonic space for her vocals, and have employed substantial backup for her. Within minutes we no longer miss the former vocalist. This is NIGHTWISH, not TARJA TURUNEN's backing band.

And there's still nine minutes to go in the opener! A gentle orchestral section, complete with soaring pure vocals, leads us back to the song itself, incidentally a tale adapted from Poe. I'm not a fan of the 'raped again and again' lyric - it jerks me out of the song every time - but I'll not quibble. Various sounds remind us of the song's cinematic pretensions. HIETALA gets to scream - this track has everything you could imagine - and the sound of the pendulum falling at exactly ten minutes is spine-tingling and signals the end - except for an etude or outro of over three minutes, simpler in style, reflective, allowing the listeners to check their pacemakers. Utterly satisfying. An album of this and I'll be in heaven.

One song over, and you just know the rest of the album can't compete. They've frontloaded the album as a deliberate statement to their fans - and their former vocalist - that they're still in business, bigger than ever. Righto, the next four songs are no match for the opener, but they're still outstanding, two of them about (surprise) their former vocalist ('Bye Bye Beautiful', in the style of 'Wish I had an Angel') and her husband ('Master Passion Greed'). No holds barred, raw, emotional and very intense. Five songs in and this is looking like an unmitigated triumph.

We've had over thirty minutes of pure passion, and 'Eva' gives us a rest. A chance for me to go change my shirt again. Fine, but the listener to this album struggles to rise from his/her metaphorical knees. Like 'Once' this album could have done with some judicious editing. There's just too much to digest! 'Sahara' is a powerful, eastern-influenced track, but already I need a rest: there's already been over 40 minutes of music. For the first week after purchasing the album I listened no further...

So here's my review on the second half of the album. It doesn't match the first, not surprisingly, but the band has been clever, nonetheless, to offer a variety of moods, to interrupt the diet of melodramatic metal music. 'Whoever Brings the Night' is another cinematic song, sounding like a score to '300', perhaps, or 'Van Helsing'. 'For the Heart I Once Had' is a welcome change, with quite a different rhythm, which is not to say it's outstanding; far from it. 'The Islander' is a celtic track, filling a similar role to 'Creek Mary's Blood' from 'Once', and is very satisfying, again without being spectacular. The instrumental 'Last of the Wilds' carries on the celtic theme, albeit with more power: to me it functions like the heavier second part of 'The Islander'. '7 Days to the Wolves' returns to symphonic metal, offering something almost as good as 'Ghost Love Score', and the album finishes with 'Meadows of Heaven', a powerful ballad. More than noteworthy on its own but both as a reviewer and listener it's hard to sustain the energy.

So have NIGHTWISH 'progressed' in three years? Yes and yes. They are even better now at what they do. They write compelling material. The album has a wider variety of styles. They have not fallen into the trap of over-soloing and retain a clear sense of what makes an excellent song. This album is comparable to 'Once' but also different in many ways - its more progressive, for one. It's not a repeat, in my view.

That said, I did struggle at times with this record. There's a lot to digest. I've had to divide the album in half to cope with it. HIETALA is given too many vocals, or perhaps the wrong sort. And the frontloading makes the album seem hopelessly lopsided.

In many other reviewers' hands a mixed review like this would accompany a four star rating. However, I've always rewarded brilliance. The opening sequence of this album is sheer, unimprovable brilliance - I want to award the full five stars - but I must discipline myself to award fewer than five stars. There are many albums I rate more highly, but none in the symphonic metal genre, with the possible exception of 'Once', their previous album. Get 'Once', and if you like that, get this.

russellk | 4/5 |

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