I normally give my 2 cents on several CDs at once after a library visit but here I will only comment on one (and a bit). As you will see I don’t have a final stance on this record but I do have some ideas if you care to wade into them.
I know there is a lot more music out there than we ever hear on the radio – especially out here in the antipodes – so while this record has scaled the charts in Europe it was a blip here so I came in with no ideas other than it was on RoadRunner, the Metal label, and came from Europe, Helsinki to be exact.
Nightwish are the band and Dark Passion Play is the record. The style is Symphonic Metal from 2007.
I try to be a bit broad in what I listen to but I do like what I know well too. As the first piece starts I immediately think of Yes, the classic Prog Rock band from the 70’s and that is a good thing. Guitars & Orchestras all banging away together. The (unnamed) CD I listened to before tried this too but ended up being annoying because they did exactly that and only that, every instrument playing the same notes, same pattern, same way till it hurt. On top of that, drippy, narcissistic Emo lyrics from guest singers were a chore before it was mastered to death. This record started well because the orchestration was exactly that, each instrument forging its own way to create a greater whole. Cool.
The singer immediately stands out on this record as she is a girl, shock horror! and her first section is up there in Aled Jones, choirboy territory. She can hit a lot of notes, most of them higher than a Rave on a Sat’day night but I had some concerns when she sang normally, it was as if she was a singer, singing for hire and didn’t really know her place in the record or band. This tends to be case the whole way through the record which is a shame. Turns out I got this about right as she was a new singer after the original got punted and if I read correctly she wasn’t with the band as vocals were tracked. This singer isn’t with the band anymore.
On a few songs there are some male vocals. They aren’t, Ronnie James Dio, stellar in general but on track 2 “Bye Bye Beautiful” the savagery of the corrosive emotion makes for a nasty (in a good way) bit of art. That said the male singer/s feel more like they are Metal than the lead. A shame as to make this kind of music work everything has to fit so well and in this instance it just misses.
The album feels like it goes for a very long time and at almost 76 minutes that is about double the classic record in the 80’s. A lot to digest in one sitting. Also the album changes stylistic direction a time or two which doesn’t feel very even here. That shouldn’t be an issue but modern musical genres seem to rely so much on their hook/trick and often that seems to make the music one-dimensional. Tex Mex horns added something else to Johnny Cash without changing his Cash-ness, Judas Priest could sing “Diamonds & Rust” without it seeming odd but all too often these days adding something new doesn’t seem to fit well with artists. To add another example; Lady Ga Ga did a Madonna “La Isla Bonita” turn with her “Alejandro” but it didn’t gel with the rest of the song or the album (that and the song itself was so emotionally ikky compared to the hook).
Dark Passion Play has a gem at its center that despite its flaws is rather special. This is the song that made it up the charts and deservedly so. If you only listen to one song on this record it should be “Eva”. A nice melody and a few memorable lines delivered by a sweet voice leave you with something to sing whilst out walking. Song is a bit let down by a drummer who seems not to want to be playing this song – that or he did spit the dummy and a drum machine was used. Otherwise things build nicely and mastering has still allowed the song to breathe.
Overall I’m not sold on Symphonic Metal from these two examples, not because I think the style can’t work but because it seems to me that it isn’t being done anywhere near as well as Deep Purple and other Prog bands did it as far back as 1969.