After a four year wait to see what Nightwish would do next, we finally have an answer in Imaginaerum. It's been hotly anticipated for several months now with speculation, interviews and snippets to keep everyone interested, and the other day a copy plopped onto my doormat. Having given it a few spins, I've been collecting my thoughts on what is a very complex piece. As much a cohesive whole as a collection of songs, it builds nicely on 2007's Dark Passion Play, carrying across a similar feel while being entirely new and, in many cases, very unexpected.
The whole album is built around the concept of a composer's thoughts on his deathbed, marking a lifetime of experience, imagination and pure fantasy. It has been produced alongside a film of the same name, sharing similar concepts and storyline, and so makes the album's "film score" style sound a more obvious fit. Always one for grandiose and theatrical works, Tuomas Holopainen has proven his songwriting ability.
The style of the album is, to be frank, all over the place. From traditionally "Nightwish style" tracks in Storytime and Last Ride Of The Day, to a spaghetti western style in Turn Loose The Mermaids and veering wildly into slow jazz for Slow, Love, Slow. But each song, while standing alone, fits well with the rest. Such is the quality of the songwriting that each one has its own feel, its own emotional connection, and yet builds on the cohesive whole of the album's concept.
There are some truly touching moments along the journey. Slow, Love, Slow builds a gentle yet heavy emotional base that's dashed to pieces by a frankly disturbing turn in Scaretale, which is both terrifying and, in one particular section, is somewhat reminiscent of Devin Townsend's Deconstruction for total out-there weirdness. My personal favourite for sheer emotional weight has to be Turn Loose The Mermaids which, while lyrically simple, has a complex musical style and really shows off Annete's vocal talents.
Other highlights include Rest Calm which, despite the name, is closer to heavy doom metal than anything restful or calm. Arabesque conjours up images of Whoever Brings The Night with a distinctly Arabian Nights feel. The 14 minute epic Song Of Myself, including a 6 minute recital of a poem with some quite disturbing themes, finishes off the album except for the outro and title track which pulls together everything that's come before into a theme song for the album.
There has been a lot of expectation, speculation and discussion of this album prior to its launch, and it's defied every possible expectation. It is a magnificent work, cohesive, emotionally powerful and quite brilliant. Any doubts that Nightwish could better Dark Passion Play have been dashed. If this is the new direction of the new era of Nightwish, then long may it continue.