Legendary Finnish symphonic metallers Nightwish are back with a new album entitled “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”, their 8th studio album and first with singer Floor Jansen (a live album was released with her in 2013). I must admit that I’ve never been a big fan of Nightwish but I’ve liked some songs here and there. The addition of Jansen’s strong voice has allowed them to come up with a well rounded album that skillfully mixes the symphonic parts with more traditional metal, while keeping some of the operatic vocals they are known for.
The title comes from Charles Darwin’s 1859 book “On the Origin of Species”, in which he laid down his theories on evolution, and offers a loose concept for the entire album. The lyrics mostly deal with science and the beauty of nature, a fascination perfectly set by the opening track “Shudder Before the Beautiful”. Songs like the title track, first single “Élan” or the film score-like instrumental “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” (inspired by the young blue-eyed Afghan girl who graced the cover of the National Geographic Magazine in 1984) all express different aspects of this search for beauty and meaning. The concept culminates in a 24 minute long epic finale, “The Greatest Show on Earth”, based on a book of the same name by biologist Richard Dawkins, whose narration bookends the album.
On this record, Jansen’s voice is strong, full and offers much more variety of tone than she showed either with her former band After Forever, or with her now side project ReVamp. Personally, I prefer her greatly to both Tarja Turunen or Anette Olzon who preceded her on vocal duties, but I understand that Nightwish fans all have their preference and are very attached to one or another, so long-time fans might not share my opinion.
“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” features what is probably the strongest songwriting the band has ever had, and as usual it comes almost exclusively from band lead Tuomas Holopainen (with 4 co-writes from bass player Marco Hietala). Troy Donockley (who was made a full-fledged member in 2013 at the same time Jansen joined) contributes his usual exotic instruments, mainly uilleann pipes, as well as some vocals, and that can now be considered an integral part of Nightwish’s sound. The music is bombastic, heavy, melodic and dramatic, but it all comes together in a cohesive way that feels like Nightwish has reached a new level. Symphonic metal can turn off a lot of people with its vocal acrobatics and the heavy handed way emotions are expressed, but this album has crossover appeal: it should please fans of traditional metal, as well as fans of orchestral metal. Despite the brainy subject, it never feels too contrived, except maybe for a slightly corny section of “The Greatest Show on Earth” where animal sound effects are heard.
In conclusion: long time fans may beg to differ, but I think this is Nightwish’s best album ever, and a great metal album. And for those who would not like Floor Jansen’s vocals, the deluxe edition offers instrumental versions of each song. A multitude of vinyl versions are also available.
He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage