Nightwish – ‘HUMAN. :II: NATURE.’

By Ian Kenworthy

Brace yourself – Finnish symphonic metal titans Nightwish are back with their ninth studio album ‘Human. :II: Nature.’. If you thought 2015’s ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ was an epic, this time around they’ve outdone themselves. Over the course of an hour and 20 minutes, they treat you to their most ambitious recording to date.

In the wake of their previous album, band leader and songwriter Tuomas Holopainen burned out, in the interim forming trio Auri and writing film soundtracks. Refreshed, he unleashed all his creativity on this new Nightwish record – and it shows. Having spent the last three albums blurring the lines between an album and a soundtrack, his work reaches the apogee here. Split in two, the first half is a traditional album, the second an instrumental odyssey; each side of the band is allowed to shine, keeping both parts focused while pushing their sound to even greater heights.

The album’s first half plays out like a more satisfying re-tread of ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’, with big symphonic compositions awash with pianos and metal-inflected guitars, revelling in bombast and everything the genre has to offer. You can’t accuse it of being rushed or lacking in scope, but it does play to the audience’s expectations. It doesn’t have the upbeat fun of ‘Imaginaerium’ or the darker, powerful sound of ‘Dark Passion Play’, and in some ways this feels like a missed opportunity, as its personality feels diluted by what came before.

While the bulk of the album is made up of rich and potent songs like ‘Pan’, there are stand-outs. ‘Noise’ uses strings for heart-racing effect, while the drunken swagger of ‘Shoemaker’ offers a welcome change of pace, feeling pleasantly off-kilter. It’s also thrilling to have the heavier ‘Tribal’ mix things up, playing like ‘Planet Hell’ updated for their new line-up and allowing new drummer Kai Hahto to show off his skills.

Not everything is so satisfying – most notably, the gloopy ‘Endlessness’, which never quite finds its feet. Weaker tracks also feel tired and weighed down by too many choirs and Gaelic instruments, with even the simplest tracks like ‘Harvest’ going for this ‘more is more’ approach. The delicacy is often lost as layer upon layer of vocals threaten to smother the underlying beauty, and a little more restraint would be beneficial.

Vocalist Floor Jansen puts in a weighty performance throughout, though she doesn’t share the dominance of original frontwoman Tarja Turunen, nor does she bring the emotional warmth of her forebear Anette Olzon, and she struggles to make the same mark. Songs like ‘How’s The Heart’ show how powerful her voice can be, but as a whole, the album sorely misses the emotion of Olzon’s voice and the stripped-back grace of songs like ‘Eva’.

The album’s second part consists of a thirty-minute suite of orchestral music beginning with ‘Vista’, split into sections that could easily fit on an epic fantasy film soundtrack. Parts of it rise and fall, with some more exciting than others, but all forming a cohesive whole. The band have experimented with similar songs on their previous albums yet, cut from the band’s core sound, it works far better here, avoiding the horrible sag ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ suffered – even when it predictably breaks off for a little spoken-word poetry.

‘Human. :II: Nature.’ is huge overstuffed gateaux of a record, basking in glorious excess. By refining their current sound, the band has created the ultimate Nightwish experience, and it’s one that demands attention.

IAN KENWORTHY

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