Released: 2015, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Between the release of Imaginaerum and their latest album Endless Forms Most Beautiful, rather fittingly Nightwish have undergone quite a bit of evolution themselves. Firstly, just as Anette had started to grow on people she suddenly and unexpectedly exited the band. Almost immediately Floor Jansen took over live duties, and was later announced as a permanent member along with Troy Donockley who'd had a recurring role in the band since Dark Passion Play. Another unexpected exit was taken by Jukka who had become increasingly run down by chronic insomnia. Unable to take part in recording duties, he was temporarily replaced by Kai Hahto of Wintersun.
The album has a loose concept based around the beauty of life in all its forms and inspired by the work of Charles Darwin, the title being taken from a quote of his. The opener “Shudder Before the Beautiful” starts with some spoken words from Richard Dawkins, whose participation in the recording was met with much confusion by fans. The opening riffs and melodies bear a striking resemblance to those of “Storytime” and the lead vocal melody feels generic and unispired. The song is saved by the epic choirs and Wishmaster-era sounding guitar solo.
Starting with some heavy chugging, “Weak Fantasy” briefly reassures those that miss the heavier side of Nightwish, before shifting suddenly into a flamenco-sounding acoustic guitar melody. The song switches between these two styles throughout, and I'm not too sure it works. The play-off between Floor and Marco's vocals is strong, and they harmonise much better than previous vocalists.
The lead single “Élan” opens with one of Troy's celtic pipe melodies, that have become a trademark of Nightwish. It starts off promising, but quickly fades into a generic female-fronted heavy-pop sound, almost like a band trying to sound like Nightwish but not quite nailing it. With “The Last of the Wilds” they totally nailed that symphonic metal meets celtic sound, but it was a one off. Self-stylising – trying to copy something that worked once over and over again, ending up with an uninspired formulaic sound - is a trap that all too many bands fall into.
“Yours is an Empty Hope” is another example of self-stylising with a familiar riff resembling “Dark Chest of Wonders” combined with the aggression of “Master Passion Greed.” In this case however, it works, as something familiar is presented in an entirely different context to create something interesting. Marco makes good use of his raucous vocals and Floor is given the opportunity to show a harsher side to hers.
“Our Decades in the Sun” is the power ballad of the album, and it gives a hint of progressive Pink-Floyd style guitars, a long awaited new element that the band needed. Brighter vocally orientated passages are alternated with darker instrumental sections to create a contrasting song.
Nightwish have already attempted Eurovision once, and with the sickly boy-bandish vocals that open “My Walden” one wouldn't be surprised if this was their second go at it. The song quickly improves with one of Troy's signature pipe melodies. For a moment it sounds like it's going to be good, but it quickly falls into that unadventurous, playing-it-safe and predictable territory. Later on things really pick up with a full celtic section, complete with fiddles n' all. If only the whole song was up to the same standard.
The title track “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” takes a turn in the darker direction with a repetitive, twisting orchestral piece overlaid by an eerie female voice, before bursting into some intense riffing, making it one of the heaviest things by Nightwish to date. In all fairness, the band has never been all about the guitars and since Once the orchestra has taken priority over all other instrumentation, but on the tracks where more attention is paid to the guitars it really shows, resulting in something that is much more powerful.
“Edema Ruh” opens with twinkling synth sounds that scream Finnish 'love metal' and it has the feel of For My Pain... one of Tuomas' previous bands. With a brain-infecting chorus topped of by a little synth motif just in-case it wasn't sticking, and a memorable guitar passage to follow it's sure to get stuck in your head. The music changing and the song ending up completely different to the intro seems to be a recurring pattern on this album, and this song is no exception with the celtic elements coming to the forefront of the song unexpectedly.
Have you ever wondered what “Bye Bye Beautiful” would sound like crossed with “Ever Dream”? If so, the intro to “Alpenglow” is the answer. The band's aggressive side comes through once again with some hard and distorted guitars, and a darker tone of Floor's voice coming through, although I feel that Marco would have fitted this vocal role better. The song transitions well between this and calmer, melancholic sections. This song is another example of how a band can reference their past in a good way, by presenting familiar things in an original way instead of plainly ripping themselves off.
Most people know the image of the Afghan girl from the most famous National Geographic cover, and interestingly the track “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is named after her. Opening with a children's choir the track is an atmospheric, instrumental epic that's like a journey not only into the deep green eyes of the Afghan girl, but into the eyes of humanity and life itself. The repeating piano melody is soothing yet dark and sorrowful. The smooth and detached male chant-like vocals add a really nice touch. There are hints of eastern music and instrumentation here and there, but nothing full on like in the past.
With every album Nightwish seem to have this thing about outdoing their previous epics by length. With “The Greatest Show on Earth” they'll certainly have a hard time beating themselves in the future, with the track clocking in at almost 24 minutes. We're led into the song with a melodic piano piece that show another side to Tuomas' keyboard skills. The song progresses gradually and flows smoothly, and eventually some detached sounding female soprano vocals are introduced giving the song an eerily distant feeling, as though it's from the billions of years ago when life was being formed. All of a sudden the song bursts into a storm of rage, with some signature Nightwish twisted orchestral moments. Then Floor starts a dramatic spoken part that sounds a lot like the female spoken passages in Cradle of Filth. The track somehow manages to cram in all of the elements that make Nightwish such a great band cohesively. There's soprano, orchestras, pipes, melodic pianos, raucous vocals, choirs, tribal drumming, heavy thrashing, synths and of course, Richard Dawkins. It's not one of those epics that's just long for the sake of it, every moment is there for a reason and every moment is an emotionally captivating celebration of the greatest show on earth; life itself. The song finishes with a moving speech from Richard Dawkins about the privilege of being alive.
Skipping the last two albums, Endless Forms Most Beautiful feels more like a natural follow up to Once. Nightwish have finally moved past the stage of being over-the-top and bombastic for the sake of it. The orchestral parts are put to effective use and are well balanced with the other instruments, rather than using as big an orchestra as possible and having it as loud as possible for the sake of it. When Floor was announced as the new vocalist I think a lot of fans were looking forward to hearing more operatic style vocals from her, but these were kept to a minimum. The album is very much hit and miss, with one of the downfalls being the often bland and predictable vocal melodies.
The band have paid tribute to their past but are on the borderline of breaking new ground and falling into the trap of being too cliché. Floor is a great addition to the band, and the full potential of her voice is touched on here and there, but it could be put to better use. It's like Nightwish have almost grown up, but the question is whether they're a band that's supposed to or not.
Review by Jacob Ovington