I recently obtained Nightwish's new album, "Dark Passion Play" (DPP for short). For those of you not in-the-know, Nightwish is a Finnish symphonic power metal band who on all previous albums was fronted by a female operatic vocalist, Tarja Turunen. If they aren't the first, they are definetly the most famous band of their kind to use such vocals.
Due to internal issues, the band replaced Turunen with a more 'traditional' sounding vocalist, Anette Olzon. Fans have been pretty divided over this, even before hearing Olzon sing. Originally I was put off Nightwish because I thought it strange to have opera singing with metal. But once I got beyond that, I fell in love with the music and came to like Turunen's voice just fine. Though I had no allegiance to Turunen I was worried that a non-operatic voice would not be able to withstand the power and bombast of Nightwish's sound.
I was wrong. Gleefully so.
Musically, the album is Nightwish. That is who it sounds like, no one else could of created this album. When put into their discography chronologically, I can see how it logically flows out of their previous album, "Once". DPP follows the heavier, more aggressive, crunchier sound of "Once" and one-ups it. "Once" also was the first album to try to utilize a full orchestra and choir but DPP multiplies that by 10. Where "Once" had an orchestra backing up the songs, the orchestra IS the songs on DPP, making the album a gigantic monstrosity of dynamic sound. Some versions of DPP come with a second CD of just instrumental/orchestral versions of the songs. I've heard a few of these and it is amazing how well they stand up without lyrics or lead guitars to carry the songs through, each song standing well on just the orchestra/choir.
Vocally I think Olzon's voice does just fine. Vocal duties are split evenly across this album between Olzon and bass guitarist/male vocalist Marco Hietala. Hietala previously primarily sung back-up/duets with Turunen but never really got to shine on his own. And shine he does - the man sings as well-if-not-better than the best of them. Aside from adding to the dynamic quality of the album, spreading the vocal load between the two voices helps to ease Olzon's new sound into the music and into the aural image of the band.
Comparitavely, Nightwish still does not sound like anyone else out there. Some fans accuse them of sounding more "pop-ish", likely due to Olzon's more traditional singing style and the 'catchiness' of a few of the tunes ("Amaranth" is the only one that comes to mind). I have to argue with this and point out that this is by far the heaviest, most aggressive album they've made. Furthermore, Nightwish is a symphonic power metal band - by definition power metal is epic and melodic, often more "positive" sounding. I can pick out a dozen pre-Anette Nightwish songs that could be considered "poppy" but aren't by diehard fans simply because the vocals are operatic (and in itself, operatic vocals are not traditionally "metal" either). So I think the argument is largely based on the fact that people just hate change.
Personally the album makes sense to me. There are songs on here Turunen could of sung but others I just don't think she would of worked out for. Olzon's voice adds an element of flexibility to Nightwish; there are just some songs that would be crushed under the weight of operatic vocals. And with enough attitude, a more traditional vocalist can fill the gap left by the missing "epicness" of operatic vocals. So I am perfectly happy with Olzon's voice. I also like that we get more of Marco's vocals on this album as well - and that's saying something for me, since I normally prefer female vocals.
Conclusion: I love this album. I don't have to stretch to accept it at all - it just makes sense in the flow of Nightwish's growth. The album works on a whole and most of the songs stand alone on their individual merits. We'll see how it stands the test of time but after a few days of listening to it, it is swiftly becoming my favorite Nightwish album.
Bye Bye Beautiful - obvious lyrics spitting with anger. I wish I could write songs this well for the people who have done me wrong.
Amaranth - catchy or not, this'll be one of those concert favorites like "Nemo", "Bless the Child", and "Wishmaster". This is the song people are judging the whole album on, which they shouldn't, but it's still a great song.
Sahara - I like the subtle nature of this song. The chorus has this understated power that love. I think Olzon's vocals shine best on this track.
The Islander - written by Hietala, an accoustic sea ballad. It gives me chills. There have been a few other accoustic songs in Nightwish's history and this is the best. My favorite track. Olzon's backing vocals are the cherry on top.
Last of the Wilds - instrumental Celtic influenced song with fiddles and pipes. A rousing song - something Runrig may of done if they were metal. Love it!