Reviewed: July, 2020
Released: 2020, Nuclear Blast
Nightwish albums are always tough to review. They are one of the world’s biggest bands and everyone has an opinion when a new album comes around once every four or five years. The band is so big they write and record for a year or more, tour for a couple of years, take a year off and then do it all again! However it is not like the band has been inactive, they have released not one but two Double Live albums and yet another ‘Best of’ in between.
It has been five years (March 2015) since ENDLESS FORMS came out and the band are back with the somewhat oddly titled HUMAN :II: NATURE, their ninth album overall if you don’t count those few IMAGINAERUM spin-off titles. Not much has changed, the band is still on Nuclear Blast although drummer Kai Hahto, who quietly replaced long time drummer Jukka back during the ENDLESS sessions is now a full time member it seems.
I’d like to lay it on the line. Nightwish is one of those evolutionary bands and once again we get an evolutionary album. Back in 2006 the band released an Double Live album called END OF AN ERA tied in with the departure of original vocalist Tarja. It really was the end of an era. It was, and is, my favourite era of the band. I’m not one of those ‘Tarja or Nobody’ Nightwish fans, although I do understand that sentiment. I realize the band has changed and I wish they would go back and recapture some of that metallic bombast that has been absent from the past two or three albums.
HUMAN :II: NATURE is the band’s longest album to date at over 81 minutes long. It is also a monstrous two-disc presentation in two-parts. ‘Human’ (with vocals) and ‘Nature’ the instrumental disc also subtitled, ‘All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World’. I’ll never complain about the length. If we have to wait five years for an album, I’m glad it is really long!
In a sense it is a bit of a thematic continuation of ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL especially the naturalist component of Disc Two. There is narration and lots of philosophical lyrics including a quite nice ending monologue by British Actress Geraldine James. Holopainen’s wife also provides some narration as well. Speaking of guests, there is an entire orchestra with no less than 50 additional people performing on this album. The band has the time and money to work with an orchestra, so why not?
HUMAN :II: NATURE is a pretty mellow album. Floor has really settled in although I feel her immense talent is not used to her full capacity. I also feel the same way about the aforementioned drummer Kai. He is in Wintersun for crying out loud! He can kill it but he never gets up to speed. On HUMAN : II: NATURE the vocals of Marco are also severely under-utilized, and Guitarist Empuu, well… the band has never been a heavily guitar driven band, he knows his place, but still the amount of Metal guitar on this record is minimal. Nightwish has all this amazing firepower; all these star players on the team and they are sitting on the bench for this album. It is not the player ‘fault’, I’m sure they want in the game, but it is just that the mastermind and coach Tuomas Holopainen had a very different game-plan.
It is almost as if you could embrace this as two different albums. I imagine the design of it is to appeal to both sets of fans; Disc 1 for ‘old’ fans, and Disc Two for the less-Metallically inclined. The album opens with a epic piece that takes a long time to get rolling but when it does has some satisfying crunch. The folk/Celtic lilt is all over the place, somehow the sound of Troy Donockley, piper and talented multi-instrumentalist has been working his way deeper and deeper into the bands sound. There is so much going on here sonically it is almost futile to explain it all. There are so many great moments scattered across the record like the beautifully harmonized vocals at tail end of the track ‘How’s The Heart’. Track Two, ‘Noise’ could have fit on an old Nightwish and brought a smile to my face. Not all is perfect however. The opening of ‘Harvest’ is horrible, sounding like a Paul Simon album about Africa or The Lion King movie Soundtrack. Fortunately the five-minute song salvages itself in the back half with a gorgeous guitar solo and a dramatic increase in tempo. ‘Pan is a great showcase for floor sublime vocals mixed with some metallic crunch and light keyboard lines. There is so much to hear, digest and embrace on this record. It is not a quick, easy listen!
I know the band will (likely) never go back to it’s original sound, I can accept that, but it will always leave a linger thought of what could have been. It is a parallel situation to Savatage and the Trans-Siberain Orchestra. TSO is awesome but I still miss old Metal Savatage. The same applies here HUMAN : II: NATURE is a undeniably a flawless and beautiful, epic, piece of music but I miss the Nightwish I fell in love with. In a recent (as of time of writing) interview, a journalist asked Bruce Dickinson (the vocalist of Iron Maiden) who he felt had the best chance of becoming as big as Iron Maiden is. His reply? Nightwish. He is probably correct. HUMAN : II : NATURE is already the best-selling, highest charting ‘Metal’ album of 2020. I guess it’s human nature for fans to love Nightwish no matter what they do!