I imagine it must be endlessly frustrating to be the mastermind of a band, only to have the public treat you as a sideshow to the main attraction; the lead singer. Nightwish has gone through the roller-coaster that comes with revolving front-women, and while I’m not going to ascribe motives to the changes, I can’t help but think it has taken a toll on the music that band has offered up. Their last two albums, with Anette Olzon at the helm, were treated as signs of a decaying band by large portions of the fan-base. That was largely attributed to Olzon being a reactionary and intentionally odd pick to lead the band, much as Blaze Bayley once was with Iron Maiden. Of course, her solo album after leaving the band proved she was more than capable as a singer.
That puts the onus squarely on Tuomas Holopainen, the erstwhile mastermind of Nightwish. It was his songwriting, and inability to put Olzen in the best light, that doomed the previous two albums, and it is his songwriting alone that can redeem “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”. Floor Jansen steps in to front the band, and while she is a remarkable singer, she follows two who the same could be said of.
After indulging himself in his passion project writing a score for a graphic novel featuring Scrooge McDuck, Tuomas has more than a little to prove as a songwriter. He gets off to a slow start, opening the album with a three song stretch that offers little to claim the band is back with a vengeance. The spoken word trope as the beginning is an unnecessary delay, and then the songs themselves lack the flair and power one would expect. The hooks on the first two tracks are flat, and the orchestrations never feel integral to the songs. The metal riffs are, as usual, incredibly simple canvases for Tuomas to paint upon, but his color palate is dulled this time around.
“Elan” is the best of these tracks, the first single that received a less than enthusiastic response. To my ears, the song is a beautiful piece of melancholic metal that uses the woodwinds to great effect, and gives Floor a solid melody to shine with. Compared to a turgid mess like “Yours Is An Empty Hope”, it sounds utterly genius.
The faults with “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” are certainly not Floor’s, as she provides a vocal performance that straddles to previous singers, and should make everyone happy. I might consider her a bit too polished to ring any emotional heft from the songs, but you can’t fault her technique. Rather, the reason this album feels inconsequential is in the songwriting, which seldom has any spark of life to it. These tracks come and go with such a formulaic bent that they never feel special in the way that the best Nightwish material always has. Nothing sounds larger than life, nothing feels like it could have only come from this band.
While “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginarium” may have been disappointing albums, they were records that dared to try new things. They took some risks, and even when they didn’t quite hit the mark, they were interesting experiments to listen to. “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” doesn’t dare to try anything Nightwish hasn’t done before, so the dull songwriting can’t be tempered by the risk being taken. These are inferior versions of the songs Nightwish has always written, which might make this the most disappointing Nightwish album of them all.
I’m sure long-time fans will be happy that Nightwish is back to making the kind of music they made their name on, but it’s hard not to look at this album as a regression. The comparisons to Nightwish’s classic albums are now inevitable, and I’m afraid they will only make “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” look even smaller.