FOUR years after their highly acclaimed album 'Imaginaerum',Suomi symphonic metal heroes Nightwish return with their eighth studio album, and the first to feature current vocalist Floor Jansen - 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful'.
The title is taken from a quote in Darwin's 'On the Origin of the Species' and sets the theme for the album which is an exploration of life, evolution, science and the origins of Earth and Mankind.
Opening with 'Shudder Before the Beautiful' (and an opening narration from evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins) Nightwish are on top form. Everthing is there, the orchestration, choir, frantic keyboards and fantastic guitar riffs; and, it's a great scene setter for what's to come.
'Weak Fantasy' is the metal side of Nightwish and Jansen shows her vocal quality which can be aggressive and sensitive in equal measure. Dealing with dark subject matter including being governed by the dead this is the first song Marco shares vocal duties on. The guitar work is heavy and menacing as befits the song.
Just when you think this is all out assault on your eardrums they change pace with the catchy melodic 'Elan' which has Nightwish's now familiar Celtic vibe to it featuring low whistles but also with a great riff throughout and a nice acoustic finish.
This is followed by 'Yours Is An Empty Hope', a return to the darker more metal sound with a nasty riff to start and featuring heavy guitar work throughout. Dealing with pain and truth it has vocals by both Floor and Marco which are more angry and aggressive in parts and suit the song perfectly.
'Our Decades In The Sun' is a love song but differing from the usual as it deals with the love for parents. A moving song which apparently had the band shedding tears in recording as Floors emotional rendering absolutely nails the essence of it! Great guitar licks and a haunting choir vocal only serve to enhance the emotion.
Next up is 'My Walden', another song with a Celtic vibe with showcases the other new permanent member of Nightwish, Troy Donockley, who displays an ability to play an array of musical instruments including, on this, the uilleann pipes and bodhran. A soft vocal delivery by Floor during the verse before a massive chorus gives this song a nice up tempo feel.
Title track 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful' starts like the soundtrack from a movie chase scene before one of the nastiest riffs ever kicks in. It then develops into a song full of operatic vocals, orchestral keyboards and crunching guitar work from Emppu. A highlight of the album so far.
The 'Edema Ruh' were a nomadic tribe of entertainers, storytellers,actors and musicians fabled in 'The Kingkiller Chronicle' written by fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss and the song is a melodic and beautiful telling of that story. Featuring a more classical metal riff and bass line with a chorus impossible not to sing along to and a bit more Celtic influence to keep it moving nicely.
'Alpenglow' is a dramatic, catchy tune. It's another love song with a varied vocal performance from soft to gritty to operatic combined with melodic guitar work. A dramatic key change at about four minutes lifts Floor's vocals a notch and helps the song build to an atmospheric climax.
The penultimate track 'The Eyes of Sharbat Gula' is an instrumental and is Tuomas Holopainen's attempt to convey the feelings he had on first seeing the photograph 'Afghan Girl', an award winning photo that graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985.
A delicate and spiritual folk song that is piano driven to start with a hypnotic drum beat, pipes and orchestration which includes a childrens choir for vocal effect. A wond composition that takes you right to the refugee camp where Sharbat was found.
Finally, the last track, 'The Greatest Show on Earth'
This song probably deserves a review all on its own as it clocks in at 23:58 mins!
Divided into five parts it has as its basis the book of the same name written by the aforementioned Dawkins and charts his theory on life and evolution by natural selection.
It is everything that Nightwish are in one song, atmospheric, symphonic and aggressive in equal measure; with sweeping melodies and some great guitar riffs. It starts with a simple piano and cello intro leading us to the 'Big Bang' theory. From there it takes us on a dramatic journey through time culminating in another narrative from Dawkins quoting Darwin's Origin of the Species.
The word Ethos was used by the Greeks to refer to the power of music to influence its hearers' emotions,behaviours and morals. Nightwish embody that word totally.
An unbelievably good album that could quite simply be described as EPIC!
Review by Andy Gillen