2011, Nuclear Blast
Symphonic Metal

Ennesimo capolavoro di musica ed immagini che immortala i Nightwish tra le stelle del rock
Review by Marco Belafatti - Publish on: 02/12/11

Translated by Elisa Bonora and Marco Belafatti


Remember the media hype aroused in 2007 by the much-discussed “Dark Passion Play”, which caused a growing number of fans to split into supporters and detractors of this new chapter of the Finnish band? Remember when Anette Olzon came on the scene, leading our beloved/hated symphonic metallers to lighter vocal lines? Well, after releasing what was then considered as “the album of the new era” bound to break with the past and their long-time first singer Tarja Turunen’s legacy (more emotional than real, actually), after embarking on a long, exhausting tour and then heading back home for a while,
Nightwish finally got the chance to focus on their own mistakes (if they have ever made any), to plan a triumphant comeback and avoid getting too much criticism along the way. Once again, mastermind Tuomas Holopainen withdrew into himself, shutting himself off from the hassle and the voices of the outside world, and let his own imagination give birth to a new exciting project. Given that the latest two full-length albums of the band from Kitee have reached unexpected peaks of magniloquence thanks to the fellowship of the introvert keyboard player and the orchestra director Pip Williams, the question is growing quite big: how is it possible to create a follow-up to a spectacular work such as “Dark Passion Play”? Which further step should be taken to write the history of a genre that has been spotlighting Nightwish for more than a decade?

The artist’s mind never stops working, the engines of his imagination move in full swing without a pause... Until, on a candlelit night, an idea starts flashing. Twelve ideas, actually. Twelve ideas turning into images, almost as if, before even writing down his feelings on the stave, Mr. Holopainen had put on the film director’s clothes for a moment. A talk with his friend Stobe Harju (the man behind the melancholic and the delicate visions of “The Islander” videoclip) brings a sounder perspective to the project: to highlight the cinematic side of their music, Nightwish decide to make their own first full-length movie. The ambition and creativity of a tight-knit team of artist finally shape the world of “
Imaginaerum”, a fantastic place hiding in a faraway corner of our fantasy.

While we will have to wait, alas, at least until next Spring to enjoy the full-length movie, we will still be granted a one-way ticket to “Imaginaerum” with the seventh Nightwish album, a perfect musical synthesis of this multidimensional adventure as well as main item of the whole work. To join us in the discovery of the album, all you have to do is close your eyes and fasten your seatbelts...


The sweet sound of a musical box leads Tom, an old composer, to a sleep where he experiences again the memories of a long-gone childhood. Because of a serious illness, the artist’s short-term memory is irreparably darkened, and all images of the present become blurred in his sick mind. What is left is a ten-year-old boy’s dream, who looks through the window to see a snowman smiling and taking flight in the storm. A charming crescendo of piano, winds and strings which Marco Hietala’s voice invites us to lay upon, rocking us with his innocent lullaby sung in his own mother tongue.

The magic of the winter (“Taikatalvi”) cannot be complete without a story to tell: on the notes of fantasy, the dream emporium melts with reality as the heroes from Tom’s favourite tales take him back to that fatal instant when he discovered a whole world within a snowflake. Emppu’s guitars break in with violence and, aided by a phantasmagorical keyboard and the nervous pace of bass and drums, make up the frame of “Storytime”. The airy opening single from “Imaginaerum” hovers on the notes of a dreamy chorus where Anette sings of Neverland and the playful Peter Pan, who has left his crib on a cold winter’s night to join us in our flight. Compared to the past singles, “Storytime” suffers from a slightly less radio-friendly vibe, but some déjà-vu (I will leave you the honour of discovering the more or less intentional self-quotes scattered along the track) help the listeners trace a common thread between the sound of the new album and that of its predecessor.

The white voices that joyfully lead us to the end of the song come back to visit us in “Ghost River”, a track with a powerful opening featuring a beautiful hard rock-flavoured duet between guitar and keyboard, immediately unveiling its nightmare mood. The ghostly feeling fills our imagination, enhanced by a chorus that definitely sounds like a frightful nursery rhyme. The theatrical crescendo of the song, driven by Marco’s increasingly expressive voice, leaves no escape: as if by magic we are swept away by the river waves, among the scary whispers of the children drown under its waters.

The scenery suddenly changes and, in spite of being frightened, we find out we’re still alive in our dream: the fog and smell of cigars welcome us to a suburban nightclub, where a crowded audience inebriated by an alcoholic haze is about to enjoy the performance of a star from the Thirties wrapped in a long, shining, red dress accompanied by a jazz ensemble of refined gentlemen from overseas. A romantic piano and a gently touched drum seem to join together in a slow dance, marked by the pulse of the double bass and a naughty brass section. Anette sounds totally at ease and delivers one of her best performances ever, sensual and dramatic at the same time, while a softly caressed electric guitar inevitably leads the song to its epilogue, left to the strokes of a pendulum clock. In the case of “Slow, Love, Slow”, as well as many more songs along this work, Nightwish show their ability to blend new influences within their own sound with a disarming ease: this quality, along with their perfect melodies, make them stand out above any other existing melodic metal band.

While “Dark Passion Play” had offered us a wonderfully Irish-flavoured little folk jewel such as “Last Of The Wilds”, “Imaginaerum” doesn’t want to be less worthy. A fine match between a melodic rock style and the nostalgic warmth of Troy Donockley’s bagpipes (Tuomas’ loyal collaborator since “Dark Passion Play”), “I Want My Tears Back” represents a little lucid episode in Tom’s dream, who remembers the wonders of long-gone times and asks to have his tears back. The song is like stunningly poetic images running one after the other: the verse is a sweet scent slipping down the piano keys and Anette’s soft voice, the chorus is a climax of feelings we would never get rid of: “
Where is the wonder, where's the awe? / Where are the sleepless nights I used to live for / Before the years take me / I wish to see the lost in me”.

Clouds and thunders are beating down again on the starry sky, while we slowly walk to a solitary
circus tent. Inside, frightening creatures are waiting for us, scary masks are ready to take us away with them in the deepest darkness. Besides offering us one more superb interpretation of the symphonic metal concept by Maestro Holopainen, “Scaretale” is an excellent chance for Anette to show her performer skills: during seven minutes she turns into an evil queen and scares us with hallucinated vocals, while her bandmate Marco puts on a nasty Fire Eater’s clothes inviting us to enjoy the show at his circus. The pure insanity of the song stands out as one of the most successful moments of the whole album; it is hard not be left open-mouthed in front of such mastery. In this case, the influences we may quote clearly lead us to Tim Burton’s animated movies, music written by the loyal Danny Elfman, with their grotesque characters and their typical dark fairytale mood.

After holding our breath for so long we rest for a while with the death-dance and the Arabic-flavoured sceneries of “Arabesque”, an interlude performed by the Looking Glass Orchestra and the Metro Voices choir alone. This episode breaks the tension of the previous chapters, yet doesn’t seem to find its own place in the album, and I am saying this with some little regret, since I couldn’t find any other weaknesses during these 75 minutes of deep emotional intensity. Following Tuomas’ advice, we will wait for the movie release to understand the meaning of the track.

Now, without losing heart, we go on with our travel and surr
ender to the crepuscular intimacy of “Turn Loose The Mermaids”, an acoustic ballad filled with pathos where the Celtic sounds of tin whistle, violin and acoustic guitar match a “spaghetti western” arrangement that pays homage to Sergio Leone’s masterpieces, set to music by Ennio Morricone. The scene that comes to life on Anette’s sweetest vocals is touching, to say the least. A woman goes with her husband through the last moments of his life, before leaving his body to the sirens who will carry him far away: “Good journey, love, time to go / I checked your teeth and warmed your toes / In the horizon I see them coming for you”.

Elegiac, gothic undertones peep out the incipit of “Rest Calm”, through a fragile keyboard melody tracing some discouragement among guitar walls, before the pain-stricken voice of Marco comes in to claim his main role, along with an epic string section. The theme we're dealing with is the one of death. The main character asks his beloved one not to abandon him in his solemn hour: “Stay by my side until it goes dark forever / When silent the silence comes closer”. The refrain, initially acoustic and led by the sole voice of Anette, is repeated ad nauseam to progressively increase its intensity and create a more and more tragic and solemn atmosphere; the orchestra, at first timidly standing in the background, explodes on a devastating, dramatic finale where, driven by empathy, we shed our tears, while holding the protagonist's hand on his last journey.

The Crow, The Owl And The Dove” is the “softest” episode of the whole album, yet still a highlight. Written by Marco Hietala, this slightly folk-flavoured sweet ballad is a visionary bittersweet song where the two vocalists’ performance gives the listeners a sense of calm and safety. The images of a crow, an owl and a dove alternate on a dreamlike, evocative background, opening the way to a folk-ish end featuring Troy Donockley’s voice and tin whistle.

The travel goes on, and the sign of the abandoned funfair in front of us doesn’t lie: the gates of “Imaginaerum” are ready to open up for us, its huge rollercoaster will allow us to enjoy the last ride of the day. Ready, start... go! Four minutes and a half of pure adrenaline: on the notes of “Last Ride Of The Day” we fly high in the sky, driven by the unforgettable melody of the chorus (as opposed to a darker, scarier verse) and the symphonic (power?) metal soul of this track which will take a heavy toll on the audience during the upcoming shows of the band.

The last, longed-for stop of the ride coincides with the introspective and emotional zenith of the whole album: “Song Of Myself”, a long suite lasting more than thirteen minutes divided into four sections. The first part sees Anette delivering one of the most touching melodies ever composed by Tuomas Holopainen. The dramatic mood of the song is effectively enhanced by tragic choirs according to the finest symphonic tradition begun with “Beauty Of The Beast”, “Ghost Love Score” and “The Poet And The Pendulum”, as well as by lyrics that demand us to take a bow to the genius (“
All that great heart lying still / In silent suffering / Smiling like a clown until the show has come to an end / What is left for encore / Is the same old dead boy's song / Sung in silence”). The drums and guitar, slowing down in the second act, seem to announce the last instants of our life, but the choir grabs and holds us tight while we fall and brings us back to life, while the piano and cello introduce the last movement of the suite... It is time to surrender to the creative power of poetry, time to dig deep into life and its hidden meaning... Time to pay homage to one of the literary idols of our keyboard player’s, the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), through a long poem that celebrates beauty in extravagance, in pain and in frustration, mutual love, the age of innocence and the power of imagination. The voices of the characters of our story take turns to tell a troubled artist’s monologue, before the closing notes of “Imaginaerum” make us experience the magic of the album once again, on the notes of an excursus where some of the main themes of the songs are brought back, until it flows into a finale where tears and shivers just take over.


2011's Nightwish consign a masterpiece to all future generations, the umpteenth goal of a career that, at this rate, will take them straight to the stars, where the legends of rock look down from their spotlight. “Imaginaerum” is not a mere symphonic metal record, nor a bland imitation of Hollywood movie soundtracks; it is a magic place where both worlds melt together to create a new hybrid: the new era of Tuomas and his band begins here. Not a single bungle, not a single self-referential passage or melody, not a single commonplace (let's only turn a blind eye on “Arabesque”). Melodies, arrangements, song structures, voices... there's no trace of a weak point on the new Nightwish album. I would only dare to compare the entire project to three masterpieces from the big screen such as “Finding Neverland” (Marc Forster), “Big Fish” (Tim Burton) and “The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus” (Terry Gilliam), which bear more than a simple resemblance with the story we've just narrated, thanks to their hallucinated plots and dreamlike atmospheres.

If you reached the end of your journey with us, you will probably feel confused, lost and amazed by the wonders met along your road... After waking ourselves from the dream, we get back to our daily routine enriched by a new, unforgettable consciousness, by the lessons that the characters of this story wanted to give us. We will treasure them, in the hope that we've not belittled the magic of that moment with our words.

“Imaginaerum” stands there, in that faraway corner of our fantasy, and it is ready to open up to those who did not forget how to dream.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: - do I wake or sleep?

(John Keats)

01. Taikatalvi
02. Storytime
03. Ghost River
04. Slow, Love, Slow
05. I Want My Tears Back
06. Scaretale
07. Arabesque
08. Turn Loose The Mermaids
09. Rest Calm
10. The Crow, The Owl And The Dove
11. Last Ride Of The Day
12. Song Of Myself
13. Imaginaerum

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