It’s been four years since Imaginaerum gave the world the most bonkers record of 2011 and now Finnish giants Nightwish have gone all Darwin on us. Taking inspiration from the naturalist’s seminal work ‘On the Origin of Species’, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is the band’s eighth studio effort, based around the ‘very loose’ concept of ‘[the] beauty of life, the beauty of existence, nature, science’. As is well known, it’s the band’s first album with new singer Floor Jansen who replaced Annette Olzon in 2013 and with pipist/flautist Troy Donockley. It’s also the first record without regular drummer Jukka Nevlainen, currently taking a break from the band whilst he battles insomnia, so Wintersun drummer Kai Hahto has come on board in his place for the album and current tour.
If there’s one thing to expect with any Nightwish record nowadays, it’s pomp, circumstance and a huge, grandiose album with as much bombast as can be crammed in, such is Tuomas Holopainen’s brilliant imagination. From that point of view, it’s business as usual here; the rousing ‘Shudder Before the Beautiful’ opening proceedings with gusto and presence, closely followed behind by ‘Weak Fantasy’ which twists and turns through Celtic symphonies and heavy riffs. Lead single ‘Elan’ holds a similar structure to ‘Amaranth’ from 2007’s Dark Passion Play, but that’s where simplicity ends. For the most part, the album is rich, densely layered and will give something new on every listen, not least on epic closing track ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. At 24 minutes it’s the longest track Nightwish have ever brought out and sees special narrations by Professor Richard Dawkins, who’s well spoken, smooth demeanour adds a considerable amount of atmosphere to proceedings.
Naturally, a lot of scrutiny will be on Jansen and how she fits into the Nightwish setup. The truth is, she has the best of both worlds in her vocals; her voice has the range of Tarja but the style of Annette. What it means is Nightwish have put out their best studio record for over a decade; creatively they’ve been given more room to play with than they had with Annette but they keep an accessibility factor that was missing with Tarja, where they could sound arrogant and aloof, almost trying to state that they were to be listened to by the above-average-intelligent metal fan. Yes, the music is more complex and progressive than before, but it’s a lot easier to listen to. They also sound like they’re having fun and that’s very important; when there’s tension in the ranks it seeps into the record (Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, anyone?), and this is certainly the ‘happiest’ Nightwish record for a long, long time. Finland’s biggest band have finally got to a good place, and we’re all the more better for it. Bring on Wembley Arena in December already.
Floor Jansen – lead vocals
Emppu Vuorinen – guitars
Marco Hielta – bass, male vocals
Jukka Nevalainen – drums, percussion (Currently on hiatus)
Tuomas Holopainen – keyboards, piano, synthesizers
Troy Donockley – uilleann pipes, tin whistle, bodhran, backing vocals
Kai Hahto – drums
Shudder Before the Beautiful
Yours Is an Empty Hope
Our Decades in the Sun
Endless Forms Most Beautiful
The Eyes of Shabat Gula
The Greatest Show On Earth