Dark Passion Play (2007 Review)
The departure of Tarja gave me a mixed-feelings response. She was definitely becoming a problem as far as ego is concerned. But at the same time, she was also the strength, as she was arguably the best of the operatic vocalists in the Euro metal scene. Even though keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen is the primarily songwriter, it was Tarja’s voice that defined the Nightwish style.
Prior to the announcement of the new singer, I had little hope for Nightwish. I really couldn't stand Once, because it relied heavily on single power, and some of the tracks were either fillers or completely unlistenable. Best seller of their careers, yes. Outstanding singles, yes. But IMO, their worst effort as a collective-whole.
Enter 2007. Out of nowhere they come out and announce their new singer: Anette Olzon, formerly of Alyson Avenue. I’ll say it again, that is probably the most unlikely choice I expected. Yet at the same time, it made perfect sense. If Nightwish wanted to be more commercial, they needed a clean vocalist. Likewise, no other opera singer could possibly fill the shoes of Tarja.
My renewed enthusiasm for the band made me go back and listen to their back-catalogue, and I nearly forgot just how great they were. Goth/metal bands have come and gone, but none of them have written as many superb albums as Nightwish have. ’Oceanborn,’ ‘Wishmaster,’ and ‘Century Child’ are still possibly the best 1-2-3 punch that’s ever come out of the Euro metal scene.
Now, a new chapter begins for Nightwish with their new album ’Dark Passion Play.’ Even a week into the release, it’s already projected to be a bigger seller than ’Once,’ Deservingly so. If a below-average album in ‘Once’ can sell as many records as it did, then certainly a quality release as ’DPP’ should be able to sell triple. Regardless of what the die-hard Tarja fans say, they’re now in the minority, and Anette is here to stay.
On to the track listing:
The Poet and the Pendulum – A bold statement to start an album with a 14 minute epic. Normally, I like epics at the end of the album, so that if it’s a clunker, I can just stop the disc. But this is a monster introduction to their new singer. It's a shame the choir sings the opening soprano, as I would've freaked if that was Anette singing. Excellent start to set up the rest of the album.
Bye Bye Beautiful – 3rd Single. This album’s equivalent of ’I Wish I Had An Angel.’ Soft verse followed by an aggressive Marco-sung chorus.
Amaranth – 2nd Single, and even with 3 months to spare, this is my song of the year! I’ve had the video on my myspace since its release, and I’ve played it every time I check my e-mail. Catchy as hell. Easy to sing (more on that later.) And shows exactly what Anette can bring to the table from the commercial standpoint.
Cadence of Her Last Breath – Another well written track, which demonstrates that Anette can indeed sing the occassional operatic vocal, but cleaner and more understandable.
Master Passion Greed – An almost completely Marco-exclusive vocal, and the heaviest track Nightwish has ever written. No doubt could be a fan favorite of the Tarja fans who believe Marco should’ve taken over all vocal duties (more on that later.)
Eva – 1st single. I don’t think a ballad should’ve been the first single. However, coming from an AOR background, a song like this caters to Anette’s strength, as she lays on a very beautiful vocal that could very well convert some melodic rock fans. I can now say they’ve finally written a ballad that’s better than ’Sleeping Sun’
Sahara – Another track showing the transition that Nightwish has taken. They’re as bombastic, yet have become much more melodic.
Whoever Brings the Night – Heavy. Powerful. Do I sense a trend?
For the Heart I Once Had – I want to say that Emppu was still in Brother Firetribe mode, but he didn’t even write the song. This song seems the most out of place. Yet, it’s a guilty pleasure. How to describe it? Just add a cup of Anette vocal, a dash of crunchy guitars, and a bunch of Nightwish bombasticness. The best way to describe it? Alyson Avenue on steroids! It almost hurts to call this the filler track, because it’s such a freakin’ cool song. Melodic Rock fans will love this song.
The Islander – Almost as out-of-place as the previous track. An acoustic Marco-penned/sung track. I could see this being used on an Ayreon album for some reason. But hey, I’ve been bombastic’d to death up to this point. This is a nice break for what has already been a very long adventure to this point.
Last of the Wilds – An instrumental track, and the first since ‘Moondance.’ If anything, this could almost be a sequel to it.
Seven Days To the Wolves – Of the non-singles, this is my favorite track. This is exactly what I was preaching, how Nightwish has become more melodic, even better songwriters, and yet maintained their bombasticity.
Meadows of Heaven – You’re kidding me? What is it with Euro bands and ending albums on a ballad? I give up preaching the ‘Bang not Whimper’ theory. I certainly would’ve switched the last two tracks. ’Wolves’ should’ve been the statement track to end it all...but I degress. It’s still another excellent demonstration of Anette’s ballad strength despite a lengthy 7-minute end.
Reach – Bonus track to the limited edition disc. Some die-hard Tarja fans believe that Marco should’ve taken over all vocal duties. IMO, Marco is a good complimentary vocalist. A change-up, if you will. But I don’t think I could listen to him all the time. This is the demo version of ’Amaranth’ sung completely by Marco. All I can say, is Thank god they changed the chorus, for the single would’ve been a complete disaster if they didn’t.
Finally, to conclude, the limited edition disc comes with instrumental versions of ’Dark Passion Play.’ I’ll say it again, it’s SHEER GENIUS, and I wish more bands would do this! So the die-hard Tarja fans think Anette isn’t a good choice? Let’s see you do better! That’s how I see it, and I’m sure that was the band’s intention. Anyone wanna crash a kareoke party?
Final Score: 100 / 100
Conclusion: Screw Tarja. Screw the die-hard Tarja fans. This is a huge statement return for Nightwish. Once was a hiccup. Now they’re stronger then ever. There are no bad tracks to speak of. Even the 80 minute album length doesn’t bother me, because there is no point where this album bores me nor loses my attention at any point. Even with 3 months to spare in the year, it is my 2007 Album of the Year, and it’s a no-contest! More so, it’s my New #1 Favorite female-fronted album of all-time! Yes, someone has finally toppled Within Temptation and it was the original band that got me interested in Euro Metal in general. Congrats Nightwish!
(I just wish I could go see them live this year. Perhaps they’ll do another US tour and come further north.)
'All these years you spoke me, to my heart, to my sanity. Revealed to me all my deepest fears, and brought me down, soaked in tears.' -- Sirenia