There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.
This year, I’ve been feeling the need to explore celebrated bands I’ve never really heard, and also explore albums I have missed in familiar bands’ discographies. I, for some reason or another, have never heard much from the legendary Nightwish. I’m not sure why, as their style of music is right in my wheelhouse. Anyways, I decided to start with the band’s recent release, “Human :II: Nature”, which released on April 10th. If this album is any indication, I will love their past albums, as well.
Nightwish hail from Finland, and their name is well-known, even outside of progressive/symphonic circles. They have famously gone through various lineup changes through the years, but the current band is made up of: Floor Jansen on lead vocals, Tuomas Holopainen on keyboards, Emppu Vuorinen on guitars, Marko Hietala on bass and vocals, Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes, low whistles, and vocals, and Kai Hahto on drums.
Nightwish are symphonic metal with heavy progressive leanings. Their music features monumental scale, luscious keyboard melodies, dark and heavy guitars, operatic vocals, and maybe a little elegant cheese. The band is fond of heightened emotions and songs that sweep you away into faraway lands and grand visages. Floor’s formidable voice and presence are perhaps the definitive characteristics of what they do, but the sound would not be complete without the glorious orchestral sound that backs her. Nightwish are one of the originators of this symphonic sound, and this album reveals that they still have a masterful hold on how it can be done.
“Human :II: Nature” is a double album. I typically am not a fan of double albums, especially ones where the second disc is just an instrumental version of the first. However, this album does something drastically different. The first disc is the band’s metal outing, whereas the second disc is an illustrious, staggeringly cinematic vision. The second disc has almost zero vocals, and sounds more like a film score than anything else. These two discs feel united, even though their styles are vastly different.
For the first disc, which I assume is called “Human”, the band really brings it. “Music” opens the album with tribal chants and a humongous chorus, echoing the invention of music by the earliest humans. It really is an emotional and exciting song with towering melodies and sheer majesty. Every single song on the disc feels wonderful, too, with some songs shying away from metal, such as the folksy “Harvest”, which feels more like a celebratory ballad. It might not grab you at first, but you will be singing it later.
First disc highlights for me are “Shoemaker”, “Pan”, and “Tribal”. “Shoemaker” really brings the opera, especially near the end, and so the song feels immense and full of choirs. “Pan” feels a little more visceral and shadowy, but the chanting vocal rounds and striking keys really make it memorable. “Tribal”, however, is my favorite song on the album. The guttural harmonies, primitive chants, and incredibly heavy guitars give this song some true weight; I love to play this one as loudly as I can in my car just for the sheer tidal force it possesses.
The second disc, or “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World”, is where I truly fell in love with this album. This 30 minute, mostly instrumental affair feels like a film score put together by a collaboration of the enormous, fantastical visions of Howard Shore and the compositional energy and brilliance of Hans Zimmer. It is more upbeat than you might expect, but still dark, zealous, and grandiose. Its lavish orchestrations provided by Pale Blue Orchestra, striking pipes, and beauteous keys craft a wonderful tapestry of light, belonging, and celebration of this world that we inhabit. A full choir lends weight and haunting proximity to the sound, and rumbling percussion drives everything home. This isn’t a disc that has “highlights” per se, as the entirety is one experience, one vision, and one powerful story. The message of who we are and this planet upon which we live is not lost on my mind. Indeed, it brings tears to my eyes.
“Human :II: Nature” is both a celebration of humanity, and a call to us for unity, peace, and common experience. Its fervent music creates magical effects in your heart and mind, simultaneously offering peace, passion, and glory. I cannot for the life of me understand how this album could fail to move you and arrest your full attention. Nightwish has given me something to ponder and grasp with this album, and I am looking forward to exploring the rest of their discography.
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.
On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there, on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”
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Great review, I agree with it in all points. I discovered Nighwish a looong time ago, when Tarja Turunen was the vocalist, and they still simulated the orchestra on the keyboards. For me they started to lose energy bit by bit after “Dark Passion Play”. But boy what a triumphant return this album is.
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