Endless Forms Most Beautiful is the eighth album from symphonic metal icons Nightwish, and the first to feature new vocalist Floor Jansen since she replaced Anette Olzon in 2012. With Floor’s incredible vocal talent and the way she settled in so well when performing live with the band expectations were high for the new album, especially with a singer whose powerful style fits much better with the sound of the Tarja-era Nightwish albums than Anette’s more poppy voice ever did. With Tuomas’s ability to write great symphonic metal songs, combined with the voice of a singer who’s shown her great talent overa career fronting After Forever and her solo project Revamp, one could even have expected that this would be the best Nightwish album to date. Well what they’ve released is a solid collection of symphonic metal songs, but while definitely a good album, it unfortunately falls short of being the potential masterpiece we envisaged.
For any songwriter having Floor Jansen singing your lyrics must be a dream. She can sing softly and beautifully, or powerfully like a rock goddess; perform operatically like part of a heavenly choir or growl like a beast. And with a songwriter like Tuomas who frequently adds choirs, orchestral elements and spoken word, as well as the Celtic pipes from new member Troy Donockley one would assume he’d use those vocal talents to their full ability. However, compared to her performance on her last album, Revamp’s Wild Card she sounds very reigned in. She rarely belts it out at her most powerful, and her only growls are low in the mix under Marco’s singing on Yours is an Empty Hope and and on Greatest Show on Earth. Perhaps most disappointing is that her only operatic vocals are a handful of lines at the beginning of The Greatest Show on Earth. Having released five albums where Tarja sung in that style in the past it’s a surprise that they didn’t go down this route a little more. Instead its mainly the same pop-rock vocals of Anette, albeit Floor’s voice is more powerful and fits the music better. You can’t deny she puts on a great performance, but when you know what this woman is capable of you are left expecting a little more – it’s akin to having Lionel Messi in your team and playing him in defence.
But while vocally Nightwish don’t repeat past glories with those operatics, in terms of guitar riffs they do tread past ground almost to the point of self-plagiarism. Too many of the riffs chug along similarly to that of Master Passion Greed and Dark Chest of Wonders, and there aren’t as many strong guitar melodies as one would like, it would have been good to see a lot more variety from Emppu. However, the choirs and orchestra are more dialled back than the proceeding album Imaginaerum and used much more tastefully than the kitchen sink approach of that release, but the melodies are never as strong as on Once’s Ghost Love Score. They’re used as a nice addition to the metal sound a lot of the time, rather than overbearingly over the top, and don’t pull the album’s focus except at points on the more film score-esque closer The Greatest Show On Earth. Troy’s pipes are most the same, a nice addendum to the band’s sound but not overused or a focal point.
In terms of songs, like most of their albums there are a lot of good songs, but there’s also filler to be found. The album opens up well, with the first four being the best in the release. Shudder Before the Beautiful is a great opener, heavy chugging riffage, powerful vocals and a strong catchy chorus -and the dual in the middle between Thomas and Emppu trading keyboard and guitar solos is great, something not seen since the days of Wishmaster. Weak Fantasy is a great darker track with a great sense of drama coming from the orchestra, and some powerful snarls from Floor. The single Elan is the softer catchy one on the album which has a really strong melody from Troy, and a beautifully stirring performance from Floor. Yours is an Empty Hope is the album’s heaviest track, as well as being the best thanks to the heavy chugged riffs, Floor’s gruff yells and the brash sound of the brass instruments in the orchestra. By far the best part is Floor growling like a demon under Marco’s trademark powerful wails in the chorus. With choirs and strong keyboard melodies its varied and paced really well throughout.
The album starts to lose steam from this point though, and even follows up the album’s best track with the worst, the ballad Our Decades in the Sun a forgettable track which other than a few powerfully performed lines from Floor and some pretty keyboard melodies doesn’t really go anywhere, especially with the disjointed orchestral parts and weak lead guitar. And then some of the tracks are just cheesy, particularly My Walden, with the chanting in the beginning and the folky instrumental part being overbearing, while the drums and guitars plod along in the background in dull fashion. Edema Ruh and Apenglow are two more mid paced catchy tracks, and while pleasant definitely come across as filler in comparison to the preceding title track and are pretty forgettable. More guitar centric with heavy riffs throughout, and with dramatic keyboards and symphonics, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a good rocking song, and one which Floor sings well with a strong performance, but again disappointingly not giving the storming power the track deserves and that we all know she can deliver.
Then there’s the 24 minute closing track The Greatest Show on Earth. Now Nightwish have done a ten minute plus song on each album since Once, whether the brilliant Ghost Love Score and Poet and the Pendulum, or the less impressive Song of Myself, but haven’t released anything this long before, taking up the whole D side of the double LP. Unfortunately it’s closer to the latter, a song which starts well but ends up far too drawn out and boring by the end. A simple but lovely piano melody drives the first few minutes of the piece along with the strings, sounding like part of a film score, an influence on Tuomas’ writing. Then we get just a few lines in Floor’s operatic style we all know and love, and some spoken words from the song’s guest Richard Dawkins about the beauty of life on Earth. It sets up the track really well, but it’s still over five minutes before the rest of the band joins in, with Floor singing against more chugging riffs and dazzling orchestral parts. But then there’s some really stupid sounding animal noises in a break that detract from the rather wonderful dramatic symphonics, before coming to the highlight of the track – Marco joining in and duetting with Floor in one of the best moments of the album. The track should have stopped at the sixteen minute mark though, because all that’s left is Richard Dawkin’s overbearingly saccharine speech about life on earth over equally saccharine symphonics. His spoken words at the start of the track were useful in setting the scene for the great symphonic metal that came after, but here it’s almost unbearable. It goes on for eight minutes, but after that the rest of the band doesn’ teven come back in, it just tails off into silence and ends. So in 24 minutes, we really only have around 10 minutes of Nightwish, the rest just the orchestra or spoken word – which at the start of the song works well, but after the vocal duet is just a waste of time. After one or two listens most will just turn the album off once the band stops playing and Richard Dawkins takes over. A shame, ending at the sixteen minute part would have made it the best track on the album, instead it just descends into eight minutes of pointless pretentious drivel.
Overall it’s a good album from Nightwish, with only one bad song in the form of Our Decades in the Sun, with the first four songs and the title track being particularly good and are sure to go down well live. Unfortunately it just didn’t live up to the expectations many had for the album and while it’s a very good listen on it’s own terms it’s not the masterpiece it could have been – which is a big disappointment for Nightwish fans.