Nuclear Blast [Release date 30.01.15]
Delain’s April Rain (2009) was my introduction to symphonic rock/metal, and Within Temptation The Unforgiving (2011) completed my education. I’ve subsequently discovered that a little ‘symph’ goes a long, long way. Metal meets Eurovision is a brittle combination, and the lack of distinction between the purveyors a little alarming.
Formed in 1996, some might say ‘accept no substitute’ as far as Nightwish are concerned when it comes to ‘symph’. They more or less invented the genre and were the first to conquer America with their 2004 release, Once. A metal machine, not even the departure of lead singer Tarja Turunen in 2005 could stop the juggernaut, although fans were mixed in their appraisal of replacement Anette Olzon who fronted Dark Passion Play (2007) and Imaginaerum (2011). But falling pregnant in 2013, she found her services no longer required.
While I’ve only dipped into earlier Nightwish releases and found them a little ‘formulated’ Endless Forms Most Beautiful introduces Dutch singer Floor Jansen as Olzon’s replacement and Troy Donockley (uillean pipes) as a permanent member. Jansen is less operatic and more ‘earthy’ than her predecessors and has, I think, the talent to take the band to new levels – if they’re prepared to compromise their modus operandi.
There are aspects of Endless Forms Most Beautiful that still raise my hackles – the passé narration and the worst excesses of the genre – ‘orc’-like grunted male vocals, excessive shredding, rib rattling riffs, and unrelenting symphonic punctuation. But, hey, I’m a grumpy old fart, and thankfully they’re deployed only intermittently.
What perhaps impresses most – Jansen’s performance apart – is the sheer cinematic power of the combined band and orchestra. The dramatic ‘Weak Fantasy’ is a prime example that would enhance any blockbuster movie – something like Terminator 2, for example.
No question, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a polished product – as good as, and probably better than, any symphonic release you’ll hear in 2015. It puts pretenders to the throne to the sword and will, unquestionably, sell by the ship load. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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