Nightwish’s “Human Nature” – Harmony at Last
A review by Kris Kielich
Fans of NIGHTWISH always seem to divide up the band into eras. Each of the band’s vocalists occupy a place in the pantheon of the band’s evolution in sound. There’s the operatic and aching “Tarja” (Turunen) era, the more poppy and accessible “Anette” (Olzon) era. And now, we’re in the midst of the current era, the Floor Jansen era, and we find ourselves in a place that’s not so easy to define. Odds are that’s just how Nightwish likes it. But with the release of the band’s newest, and most ambitious record, HUMAN NATURE, the Finnish symphonic metal titans have delivered a record that, while certainly not flawless, delivers on showcasing their transcendentalist ethos while also containing musical passages that will bring you back to every era of Nightwish.
This is a record built on the idea of harmony, discovery, and more importantly, RE-discovery. “Human Nature” is the band’s first double album, with the first half devoted to the free thinking observations on both the beautiful creations and moments of humanity that connect us with the Earth and each other, and also the foibles and vices that separate us from that cosmic unity. The second half of the record is a long, flowing instrumental passage entitled “All the Works of Nature that Adorn the World.” It takes a pure feeling and evocation approach to showing the most beautiful mysteries right in front of our eyes: nature and the cosmos.
From the start of disc one, the first thing you notice is the crisp production. Like on the band’s previous record, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” each instrument snaps and each takes its time to shine. The first track, “Music”, gives a preview of what’s to be expected for the rest of the record, and it makes a great impression. Floor Jansen’s powerful and lilting voice really gets a chance to shine on this record, and she really does great justice to the unique melodies on display throughout. Songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen plays with minstrel-esque and medieval sounding passages from beginning to end. “Music” is just the beginning, and it’s a powerful, all-surrounding and hooky blast of an opening.
“Noise” is a clear cut reminder that Nightwish is still a metal band. In fact, the riffing on this album is the heaviest it’s been for quite a bit for Nightwish, and it’s certainly heavier than “Endless Forms…” It’s one of the more straightforward tracks on the record, but it’s got a great, powerful chorus and leads itself to its status as the lead single. “Shoemaker,” however, is a track that a lot of die hard Nightwish fans will love. It finally showcases Floor Jansen’s voice at full power. By the end of the song, she’s in full operatic mode, harkening back to the early days of Nightwish, and it sounds glorious. The song, along with the next, “Harvest” both feature those minstrel melodies mentioned earlier, adding to the pastoral nature of a lot of the record, but the two songs also feature the newly increased vocal and multi-instrumental talents of Troy Donockley, who adds a whole new flavor of harmony that sweetens and softens.
“Pan” is stunning; one of the most quintessential Nightwish songs over the past two records. The keyboard work by Holopainen carries you away, and Floor nails one of the most hard hitting choruses the band has constructed. Think back to listening to some of the band’s best work on “Wishmaster” and “Century Child.” These enduring, epic songs like the title track “Wishmaster” or “The Kinslayer” or “End of All Hope.” All these songs instill a sense of grandiosity with their choral and orchestral gallop. That’s exactly what Nightwish brings back for this song. It has a classic ethereal opening that drips like crystalline water from a hidden spring before exploding you into an epic quest of a chorus. Let it hit you full force, because this is what Nightwish does better than anyone. Do not miss this track.
Unfortunately, this is where the record takes a pretty noticeable dip. “How’s the Heart” features some great work by Donockley, but it, along with “Procession” have melodies that just don’t stick and fall a bit flat. The songs just seem on a level a bit below the first half of the first disc. The electronic elements at play are interesting, but don’t add a whole lot to the whole of each track. “Tribal” is a blistering piece that takes an even deeper gouge out of the dogmatic restrictions and mentally constraining nature that organized religion can enact on its followers, and Floor’s voice rips and tears across its fabric. It’s Nightwish on the attack, and the likening the tribalistic nature of the various congregations of faith, both musically and lyrically, to the tribes of early man is a good idea, but the execution isn’t as good as the idea.
The last track “Endlessness” is the only track that features vocals from bassist Marco Hietala, and the guitar work on this track is some of the best on the record, but the song for me doesn’t really get going musically until the second half. From there it takes off, and swells to an enveloping climax, as the opening guitar melody repeats and just pulls you into the void of endlessness the song speaks of, but in a good way. The song speaks of treating death not as something unfair or something to be feared, but as a great new adventure we all must face. “Soon, beyond the fields you`ve come to know/You will join the silent flow/Follow me, I am the spark/ At the end of everything.” It’s an evocative idea we all grapple with, and the band approach it on all fronts. It’s a haunting end to the first half of a record. So far, when it’s on point, it’s REALLY on point. But when it falters, it fails to grab you as strongly and you certainly notice.
It’s quite evident Holopainen is a learned man in the essences of scientific and philosophic free thinkers, as Carl Sagan, Lord Byron, and Shakespeare are quoted on this record, and that ethos translates lyrically, as it did on their previous record. But it also translates musically, arguably more successfully on this record, and that is not more evident than on the second half of the record. Which, for the first three quarters, is just stunning. Holopainen is a very talented composer, and the melodies he composes for the various facets of his “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World” suite evoke exactly the imagery he’s going for.
“The Green” is a rich and deep green forest in all its textures and colors, and “Moors” is rock and field and brown grasses and gray cloudy skies all mixed. “Aurorae” shimmers like the lights Holopainen must have surely seen growing up and living in Finland. But it’s in the quieter moments that the suite is more effective. Unfortunately, the last two tracks, “Anthropocene” and “Ad Astra” almost detract from the beauty of the rest of the movement. It’s understood what he’s going for; moving from the quiet peace of earth to the almost overwhelming comprehension of our insignificance of the majestic cosmos and universe at large. It’s a powerful and humbling thought. But, musically, the bombast is too much and crowds out the ending of an amazing piece of music.
Nightwish should be proud. On “Human Nature” their successes are grand and sweeping. They have found the harmony between their past and their present, while pushing towards their own uncharted future on a great deal of this record, and that’s wonderful to hear in practice. There certainly are moments, especially the second half of the first disc, that fall short of the mark, but when the next moments of beauty grace your ears, you’ll forget all about it and remember why this band is such a powerhouse. It’s a group that is full of members that dare to push the boundaries of musical composition, album construction, and most importantly the fringes of our own mental capacity to think about, feel, and believe in a smarter, more connected, and beautiful world that’s been at our feet the whole time. 7.5/10
Nightwish – Human. :II: Nature. tracklisting:
6. How’s The Heart?
DISC 2 – All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World
11. The Blue
12. The Green
15. Quiet As The Snow
16. Anthropocene (incl. “Hurrian Hymn To Nikkal”)
17. Ad Astra
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