Nightwish - Imaginaerum
Nuclear Blast
Symphonic Power Metal
13 songs (1:14:50)
Release year: 2011
Nightwish, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Cory
Major event

When you look at the discography of Nightwish, it is easy to surmise that at some point the title Imaginaerum would come into play. It is the best word I can think of to describe what everyone of their records, and the band itself, have been about; an escape into fantasy worlds led by twisting melodies, infectious choruses, and of course the former vocals of Tarja Turunen and current vocals of Annette Olzen. While countless bands try to stake their claim in the female-fronted metal world, it is safe to say that at least in terms of commercial success they all look up at Nightwish and what they have accomplished in their fourteen year existence. Nothing, not even the turmoil caused by the firing of a diva once thought irreplaceable, has been able to derail the Nightwish train, and Imaginaerum is an album that further cements their exit from stormy, drama ridden waters of the past into the far calmer territory of the present.

First and foremost, surely you all are aware that Imaginaerum is only one half of main songwriter Tuomas Holopainen's vision this time around, with the other being a feature film due later this year. That said, no review of this album can be truly complete until weighed against the film because in reality Imaginaerum plays out more like a movie score than it does a traditional Nightwish album. There are some moments, particularly in the latter half, which come across as overly dramatic and uninteresting from a listening perspective (particularly in the use of spoken word passages on Song of Myself), yet I would like to believe that once I see the film Tuomas’s vision will be realized, and quite possibly my opinion will change, so I do not hold it in too harsh of a light. However, I can easily state that Imaginaerum is a very strong entry in the Nightwish catalogue, with some of their finest music since Century Child on display for your pleasure. Many are complaining about the polished and highly produced nature of Imaginaerum, and indeed it is packed with everything but the kitchen sink from a compositional standpoint, but that is no different than any other Nightwish album I have heard in the past decade. If you find fault in that, my question for you is why are you still listening to Nightwish?

Now let’s get the most divisive element out of the way. I would hope that those still bemoaning the departure of Tarja have long since jumped off the wagon and taken their slandering and harsh criticisms of Annette with them, because where Dark Passion Play was obviously about a singer trying to find her way in a world that wasn't ready to move on from Nightwish’s past glories, Imaginaerum is about that same singer firmly establishing her place in the band, and leaving no doubt of who does or does not belong in that spot. Imaginaerum is custom made for Annette's lower (by mortal standards) vocal range, and lends strength to the warmer aspects of her voice and abilities that I don't believe Tarja would be capable of. If you read any one of the many interviews done with the band in the buildup to this album, you will note a common theme is the sheer verbal abuse thrown Annette’s way from their rabid “fan” base, and how it nearly caused an emotional breakdown due to the stress of being in that harsh spot light. Well here we are with Imaginaerum, and I say with conviction that Annette absolutely shines on this album in ways that should dispel any doubt of her place in this band, and anyone that thinks Tarja would have done a better job is not listening to the same album I am. (This does not take away from Tarja, who is also having a fine solo career in her own right).

With the obligatory Annette vs Tarja paragraph out of the way, let’s get to the album itself. When it comes to songwriting, Tuomas has a well known knack for awesome moments (Seven Days to the Wolves, Dead to the World, Ghost Love Score) and those moments where his ambition gets the best of him (The Poet and the Pendulum). Imaginaerum is no different, bearing all of the band’s trademark sound while exploring new ideas here and there, both hit and miss. Following a spoken word introduction we get the first single Storytime, and I personally think it is an excellent tune full of energy, more so than its predecessor Amaranth from Dark Passion Play. Ghost River, on the other hand, doesn’t quite do it for me. Marco Hietala's vocals are always a welcome addition, but structurally the song just falls flat once the chorus hits. However it does recover nicely towards the end after a flurry of cool songwriting, leaving me with a song that is good some days and forgettable on others, depending on the mood. Thankfully Slow, Love, Slow is next and man do I love this track. Nightwish doing a slow jazz tune is certainly a departure from familiar waters, and there is no way they attempt this with Tarja at the mic, but Annette and Marco are awesome in their duet, and the tune itself is just a pleasure to listen to. I Want My Tears Back brings the listener back to a more upbeat Nightwish sound, and has a folkish vibe to it that is pleasing to the ears. Very good song. Scaretale is when things start to get theatrical, with an orchestral arrangement prior to launching a fairly aggressive riff with Annette doing some interesting vocals full of over the top dynamics, then followed by a rather odd circus romp that eventually leads back into the riff. Not a great track, but interesting. Arabesque is an easily skipable interlude that I think is there for the sake of the movie (I would hope). Turn Loose the Mermaids is a pleasing ballad that highlights Annette’s emotive qualities, far better than Eva did on the previous album. Rest Calm is a kick ass tune, with Marco taking the lead in the vocals and Annette bringing in a pleasant chorus between his more aggressive verses. The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove is a somber tune, with a pleasingly subdued atmosphere, and I feel this is a wonderful track that is destined to be a concert staple for some time. Last Ride of the Day is a more standard Nightwish rocker, but a good one filled with energy. Finally that leads us to Song of Myself, and much like The Poet and the Pendulum it is a tale of two halves. The first seven minutes is great, with the best mix of Annette, Marco, and the choir yet. Heavy, bombastic, and interesting, it sucks you in and causes the time to just fly by. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, when I actually see the movie), this leads us right into nearly seven more minutes of spoken word passages, and while in a movie context it might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, on Imaginaerum as an album it hits the mood pretty hard, and ends things on a low note. The final song, Imaginaerum, is another track that is made to be skipped. I have never understood why some artists put orchestral versions of songs you just spent the last hour listening to at the end of an album. At least in the case of Alice Cooper on Welcome 2 My Nightmare last year it was done in an eclectic fashion that also incorporated some of his earlier works, but here it is just like listening to a hyper accelerated version of the album one last time, and I think it is unnecessary. One final note on the music; I haven’t mentioned very much in regards to the drums, guitar, bass, choirs, and so on because honestly it is Nightwish. If you have ever listened to them before, you know what you are in for here. Everyone is excellent and professional, but there is honestly not much else to say about it.

So time for the bottom line. Imaginareum has its faults, but how much of that is because I am only getting half of the experience so far I cannot say. What I can say is those faults do not detract from an overall quality album that falls right in line with everything they have done before, and even stretches their boundaries a bit (Nightwish and jazz is a good mix, try it again sometime). Annette shines perhaps brightest of all, and I truly hope she gets the credit she deserves and that she has a far better experience on tour this time around. I would tell you to buy the album, but odds are you already have it, so enjoy it for what it is and try not to waste time lamenting what it is not. Well done, and certainly worth your attention.

Killing Songs :
Storytime, Slow Love Slow, Rest Calm, The Crow The Owl and The Dove, and Last Ride of the Day
Cory quoted 84 / 100
Other albums by Nightwish that we have reviewed:
Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Nightwish - Oceanborn reviewed by Cory and quoted 91 / 100
Nightwish - Dark Passion Play reviewed by Marty and quoted 92 / 100
Nightwish - Wish I Had an Angel reviewed by Ben and quoted no quote
Nightwish - Once reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 98 / 100
To see all 16 reviews click here
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