Nightwish Dark Passion Play, A Review

Nightwish Dark Passion Play, A Review

Band: Nightwish
Album: Dark Passion Play: Collector’s Edition
Release Date:

  • September 26, 2007 - Spinefarm Records

  • September 28, 2007 - Nuclear Blast Records

  • October 2, 2007 - Roadrunner Records

Rating:

Wikipedia Overview and Background

Dark Passion Play is Nightwish’s sixth studio album. It’s received a heightened level of attention because it’s their first album since they fired their original vocalist, Tarja Turunen. This drama was played out somewhat publicly with Nightwish firing her via an open letter, Tarja’s response via her website and her husband responding to fans’ questions regarding the split. Given all of this, Dark Passion Play is the debut album of Nightwish’s new female vocalist, Anette Olzon.

This album saw the band recording between Autumn 2006 and Spring 2007. The orchestral sections (performed by the London Session Orchestra and the Metro Voices Choir) being recorded in December 2006 and February 2007 at Abbey Road Studios in London. Production costs approximated 500,000€ ($711,000), making it the most expensive album in Finland’s history.

Album Review

I listened to this album approximately 18 times before writing anything. I kept listening, waiting for something to grab me. But it never did. I liked the album, but nothing really jumped out at me. Nothing moved me.

Until I started writing. At that time, when I was really listening, pausing a song, backing up and replaying sections, that’s when I fell in love. This album is oddly without many hooks. There isn’t much that’s “radio-friendly”. There’s not much here that’s going to grab the casual listener or casual fan. But when you slip on the headphones and shut out the world, when you enter the zone where it’s only you and Nightwish … there’s magic. It’ll wrap itself around your heart. You’ll feel your spirit move. You’ll remember why you love this band so much.

This album marks a dividing line for Nightwish. Everything prior to this will forever be considered the Tarja Years, comprising what many believe are some of the best symphonic metal albums ever created. Regardless of which side of the line you fall on regarding the band’s split with Tarja, it is beyond argument that Tarja’s voice soaring above Nightwish’s music was a sound of such breathtaking beauty and strength as to leave most listeners in complete and total awe.

Dark Passion Play is not a “Tarja” album. Gone are the feelings generated by metal, symphony and opera perfectly merged into a captivating and mesmerizing wall of sound. Oh, sure, the album is metal. The symphony and operatic backing vocals are still there. But without Tarja’s voice, they lose their prominence. The album doesn’t feel like a Nightwish album. The feeling that the band is connected in some way to the ancient classics (Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) is gone.

This is not a bad thing. Growth always comes at a cost. Change is always an uncomfortable thing. And this album definitely captures Nightwish smack dab in the middle of change. First and foremost is the addition of Anette Olzon who should be given the title of “Sweetest Newcomer to the Metal Scene Ever.” (Check her fact file and journal entries for a glimpse into her personality.) Anette’s voice is awesome in too many ways to list and should easily continue to drive Nightwish forward into new ground. I could not be more excited about her presence in the band and, because she’s seemingly such a down-to-earth person, I could not be more excited for her. Before I ever heard her sing a note, having only read her interviews and journal entries, Anette had become my favorite rock star.

The second change is the continuing rise of Marco on vocals. He’s much more prominent on this album, and his growing talent is evident. Marco still has the occasional growl, but he’s developing into a talented vocalist in his own right.

The third big change is that, while Tuomas continues to write all of the lyrics, writing credits are being shared more between the band members. All of these combine to produce a very different Nightwish.

So, given all of this, is the 500,000€ album any good? Let’s get to the details. I purchased the Collector’s Edition from Roadrunner Records. This is a 2-CD set. The first CD is the actual album, with one bonus demo song. The second CD is the same as the first, only with no vocals or bonus song. It’s basically just the instrumentation of the 13 songs which comprise the actual album.

Disc 1

The Poet and the Pendulum

This isn’t a song. It’s an epic. Split into 5 parts (White Lands of Empathica, Home, The Pacific, Dark Passion Play, and Mother & Father) and clocking in at 13:54, it’s one of the more powerful and personal songs on the album. Inspired by Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, it speaks of the death and rebirth of Tuomas, the band’s founder and keyboardist. The lyrics mention him by name. And speaking of lyrics, these are particularly good. I’m not a fan of reading lyrics unless I can’t understand what’s being said. However, Tuomas writes excellent lyrics and these may be some of his best.

The song begins hauntingly, highlighted by a beautifully executed soprano solo:

The end.
The songwriter`s dead.
The blade fell upon him
Taking him to the white lands
Of Empathica
Of Innocence

That voice hangs in the air, pulling you in. You can’t help but be drawn to it.

We’re then immediately swept into Part II (Home). The sound is huge and dramatic, carrying us straight into the lyrics. Anette’s vocals bounce along to the beat and by the first chorus, she owns the song. It quickly becomes apparent why she was picked as the new vocalist.

The song then slows as we’re delivered into Part III (The Pacific). The vocals are shared by Anette and the soprano who opened the song. It’s a slow, sweeping song until it begins speaking of fear, at which time the music takes on the qualities of a nightmare. Deep brass and high strings. Gorgeous.

The tempo picks up and you can almost feel Tuomas running from his known and certain fate. Welcome to Part IV (Dark Passion Play).

2nd robber to the right of Christ
Cut in half - infanticide
The world will rejoice today
As the crows feast on the rotting poet

Marco sings these lyrics and his voice stands in stark contrast to the soothing beauty of Anette and the soprano. This works very well. Anette and Marco share vocal duties throughout this song. This part ends with some of the coolest lyrics I’ve read in a long time:

He was found naked and dead,
With a smile in his face, a pen and 1000 pages of erased text.
Save me

With an explosive forte, it fades to the sound of a slowing heart beat … and then silence.

Part V (Mother & Father) starts almost as though it’s a separate song. Anette really shines on this one. The strings sweep you away and her voice easily rises to their challenge. The song ends slowly, with only a piano, a far away soprano and some percussion. You can almost see the sunrise breaking through death’s darkness as the song slows to a close.

This song makes a lot of sense when you consider that it was written in 2005 (“Today, in the year of our Lord 2005 …”). It makes a lot more sense if you believe that it was written around the time that Tuomas was battling with the decision to fire Tarja.

It’s a big, powerful, beautiful song. The more I hear it, the more I hear in it. If it sounds as though I’m describing some sort of masterpiece, it’s because I am. This is seriously good music. While it might not be catchy and is certainly not radio-friendly, it’s easily a masterpiece and stands as solid proof of why Nightwish is possibly the best symphonic metal band in the world.

Bye Bye Beautiful

I don’t care about the blame or the fault, who was right or wrong in the band’s split with Tarja. I only care about the music. However, because this song, written by Tuomas, concerns his feelings surrounding Tarja, my comments would be incomplete without mentioning a few things. In this interview, he makes clear that he’s simply dumping his feelings on paper and doesn’t intend the song to be derogatory, mocking or placing blame. The lyrics, as most are, are certainly open to interpretation and can easily be read to suit whatever conclusion the reader desires. As I said, I don’t care. What’s done is done. However, understanding the context of the song gives it much more meaning. Context is everything.

This is the third single released from the album. The first time I heard this song was when the video was released on YouTube. I was not that impressed, but I listened to it a few more times and it quickly began growing on me. Anette and Marco share the vocals and, again, it works fabulously. It was this song where I begin to see how much better Marco is getting. He’s really growing.

Musically this song is more metal than symphony. It gallops to a life of its own and will stick with you long after the the last refrain.

Amaranth

This is the second single and the first video from the album. Anette revealed in this interview that the video is based on The Wounded Angel, a painting by Finnish artist Hugo Simberg.

This song has quickly become one of my favorites. Every time I hear the chorus, Anette’s voice grabs my heart. I honestly can’t imagine anyone other than her singing this. Her voice is strong, confident and dead-on. The music is heavy, somewhat operatic and very upbeat. The vocals glide and swoop, slowly building to a chorus of layered vocals that minimally showcase her abilities, until the end of the song where she really nails it.

Caress the one, the Never-Fading
Rain in your heart - the tears of snow-white sorrow
Caress the one, the hiding amaranth
In a land of the daybreak

The amaranth is a genus of herbs. Several of the species are considered weeds. The word comes from the Greek amarantos meaning the “one that does not wither”, or the never-fading (flower). This song seems to speak of Tuomas (“Baptized with a perfect name, The doubting one by heart” and “You believe but what you see” may reference Thomas, “Doubting Thomas”, from the New Testament) and his struggle to find strength in this new, post-Tarja, day … his struggle to find and surround himself with strong people. Or I could be full of bull and way off the mark, but it holds water when you compare the original, demo version (see Reach below, paying particular attention to the lyrics).

The rhythm guitar holds this song together. It’s almost as if the vocals and everything else is bouncing around it at times. It’s a fantastic song. If American radio played anything remotely close to this, I’d probably stop buying music and just listen to the radio.

Cadence of Her Last Breath

This is an interesting song. The lyrics bring to mind a short-lived love. Throughout much of the song you can hear someone breathing. It’s most pronounced during the a capella and quieter sections.

This one is more metal than symphonic and there are very few operatic moments, although they are present. The beginning of the song is all over the place. Marco carries some vocal duties during the chorus (Run away, run away), but this is mostly Anette’s song and she nails it.

Save one breath for me
A Loner longing for (run away, run away)
The cadence of her last breath

The band is tight, deadly even. At times when you think the song is going to wind down or fade away, it explodes … like a person fighting for her last breath.

Master Passion Greed

Once again, the Tarja drama rears its head. This song is rumored to be about Tarja’s husband/manager, Marcelo Cabuli. Again, depending upon who you believe, Marcelo Cabuli played a large part in the eventual rift between Nightwish and Tarja. Whatever. This is Tuomas working out his feeling in public once more. If you have any doubt as to Tuomas’ feelings on the matter, read the lyrics.

Hey Judas, your Christess was our love
Hit and run, your will be done
Never sorry, never wrong
More more more more more

Seek her
Seduce her
Tame her
Blame her
Have her
Kill her
Feast on it all

Given the venomous sting of this song, as long as Tarja stays married to Marcelo, you dreamers can cross “Nightwish reunion” off your list.

The song starts off dark and brooding yet poundingly metal. Yes, poundingly. Don’t bother looking it up. It’s almost equally split between a metal verse and symphonic/operatic chorus. With Marco carrying the majority of the vocals, given the anger in this song, the split works perfectly. The interplay between metal and symphonic/operatic is stark in places and mixes perfectly in others. One minute you’re hearing some crunching metal and before you realize it, the symphony is finishing the solo and you’re left wondering where the brass section came from. All “kiss my ass” missives should sound this good. Kudos to Marco for making poison sound so addictive and Emppu for the shredding guitar work.

Eva

I’m almost inclined to skip this song because I’m so extremely prejudiced. From the first I heard it, this song immediately vaulted into my all-time Top 10 list. And every time I hear it, I like it more than the last.

This was the first single released from the album. It was available as a download-only purchase, with proceeds going to a children’s charity. According to Blabbermouth:

[A] representative from [Nuclear Blast Records] handed over a check for 10,000 euros to the German child charity foundation Die Arche during NIGHTWISH’s “secret” gig in Hamburg, Germany on September 28 (where the band performed as the NIGHTWISH tribute act SUSHI PATROL) . This amount represented proceeds collected from the European downloads of NIGHTWISH’s Internet-only single “Eva”.

This is the first true ballad on the album and there simply is nothing bad you can say about it. Anette kills and the music is stunning. This song alone is powerful enough to justify purchasing the album. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Words fail me.

Sahara

This one has a Middle Eastern feel to it in parts. It is both inviting and assaulting at the same time. The lyrics speak of a philosopher who’s affair with the queen has been discovered. He is now fleeing from the pharaoh’s wrath across the Sahara, certain that he will die soon. This is good song, and I originally wrote that it was one of the weaker on the the album. I no longer feel that way. This is just a damned good song. Anette’s “hey ya’s” throughout the song are hypnotic.

Whoever Brings the Night

This one has the distinction of being the first Nightwish song where the music was written entirely by Emppu (guitarist). Sung with a Middle Eastern/Arabian feel, the lyrics tell of a sailor and a prostitute. I originally wrote It’s not the kind of song that’s likely to stick with you long after you hear it. That is absolutely false. The lyrics are dark and unforgiving and the music is magnetic. Emppu really shines on this. The chorus will stick with you for days.

All you love is a lie
You one-night butterfly

Hurt me, be the one
Whoever brings the night

For the Heart I Once Had

This is a mid-tempo rock song about lost innocence. The chorus is quite powerful and Anette pours more than enough emotion into the vocals to make you believe. How do they keep coming up with these awesome choruses? This song is fantastic. The music is strong and deep. Anette’s vocals dance all around the verse and she completely nails the chorus.

The Islander

The musical score was written by Marco and he also carries the bulk of the vocal duties, with Anette providing some harmonies. As an Irish folk song, it really stands out in an album full of bombastic symphonies, choirs and heavy metal. Marco’s vocals are solid and he really nails it. It’s highly enjoyable from beginning to end and highlights just how versatile Nightwish has become over the years.

Last of the Wilds

Although faster than The Islander, this song is also heavy on the folk side. It’s an instrumental and is oddly captivating. I continually find my head bouncing along to the fiddle and pipe. There’s not much more to say other than “awesome”.

7 Days to the Wolves

This one gets my vote for Best Song Title of the Year. The lyrics are some of the best on the album. Anette carries the lead vocals very well, but Marco’s backing vocals truly shine on this one. Has he always been this good? I never thought much about him before but he’s certainly got my attention on this album.

The song is as much about an approaching death (with the wolves coming to take you home) as it is about staring down your destiny.

The wolves, my love, will come
Taking us home where dust once was a man

Is there Life before a Death?
Do we long too much and never let in?

This is
Where heroes
And cowards
Part ways

Musically, this is an incredibly solid song. Emppu nails the solo and the symphony in the middle of the song really gives you the feeling of a pack of running wolves. Again, this is a song with minimal hooks and takes a while to grow on you, but once it does you’ll find yourself listening to it over and over.

Meadows of Heaven

Many have pointed to this song as the best on the album. While I obviously disagree with that assessment (see Eva), I wholeheartedly agree that this is one of the album’s best.

It starts slowly with piano and strings. You’re probably sick of reading this but it’s true: Anette’s vocals are dead-on and nothing short of breathtaking. The lyrics speak of a person dying and awaking in heaven.

I close my eyes
The lantern dies
The scent of awakening
Wildhoney and dew

Childhood games
Woods and lakes
Streams of silver
Toys of olden days

Meadows of heaven

Outside of Eva, this is hands-down the most beautiful song on the album. The choir and symphony continue to build strength until we’re delivered to Emppu’s excellent guitar solo. Then we’re suddenly back to Anette and a soft, slow verse, which quickly builds to a powerful ending. The ending is huge and, although the song is 7:21, comes too soon. You’ll find yourself wondering where the last seven minutes of your life went. It’s a wonderful ending to the album.

Reach (Amaranth Demo Version)

I wrote earlier that I couldn’t imagine anyone other than Anette singing this song and yet, on this demo version, Marco carries the lead vocals. It’s a very different version of what eventually became Amaranth. Some of the lyrics and strong structure are the same, but the differences far outweigh the similarities. Marco does an excellent job on the vocals and the song is very enjoyable. I wish they would’ve found a way to rework the song enough to include it as the 14th song on the album.

Disc 2

As I wrote earlier, Disc 2 is the instrumental version of Disc 1. While there may be other differences, following are the ones which immediately stand out.

For the Heart I Once Had is one second longer.
7 Days to the Wolves is one second longer.
Meadows of Heaven is one second shorter.
Reach (Amaranth Demo Version) is not included.

I find myself listening to this disc when I’m doing things which require a high level of concentration. While the vocals on Disc 1 make the songs far more valuable and meaningful, this disc allows you to appreciate the beauty of the songs in a new way. I absolutely love it.

Final Words

One song not included on this version is While Your Lips Are Still Red. This song is not technically a Nightwish song, as it was recorded by only Marco Hietala (vocals), Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards) and Jukka Nevalainen (drums). This song was recorded for the soundtrack of the Finnish movie Lieksa!. It was included with the Amaranth single, released by both Spinefarm Records and Nuclear Blast Records.

Another song, The Escapist, was only included on the Nuclear Blast and Japanese versions. I can’t speak to this song as I don’t have it. Yet.

As you can probably tell from the foregoing, I farking love this album. The album didn’t immediately grab my attention until I began writing this review. But once I started listening, really listening, hearing, I fell in love. It’s big, over-the-top, bombastic, beautiful and perfectly executed. This is the album by which Nightwish will be judged in the future. And if this album is any indication, that future is incredibly bright.