ALBUM REVIEW: Nightwish – Human. :||: Nature.

With gaps of up to five years between studio albums, it takes some serious dedication to be a Nightwish fan these days. Since 2007, the band has only released four albums, but in that time, their fanbase has grown so large that the symphonic Finns (well, mostly Finnish) have been able to make that often treacherous leap from mid-sized venues to selling out full arenas.

Quality over quantity is the Nightwish way, and each new record sees keyboard player, composer and founder member, Tuomas Holopainen taking the band to their limits and beyond. If you thought the band had pushed the grandeur, pomposity and sheer classical flamboyance to the very edge on their previous record, then be prepared to think again.

A concept (or at least a thematically linked) album of what is now becoming a typically colossal size, Human. :||: Nature. (Nuclear Blast) covers subjects such as humanity, nature, technology and art, and marks the end of Holopainen’s battle with writer’s block in triumphant style. Split into two distinct halves, the first disc opens, aptly enough with ‘Music’, which after a rhythmic, tribal introduction which will surely open their live shows, pauses briefly before being replaced by ethereal, rippling keys and a signature Nightwish choral section. From then on, the song is all about vocalist Floor Jansen, her delicate voice dancing playfully with high notes before slipping back into familiar Nightwish territory as she reveals her more bombastic side.

Lifting its main melody from Ramin Djawadi‘s theme music to Game of Thrones, the first single ‘Noise’ is a powerful warning about over-reliance on technology – a sentiment rammed home on the accompanying promotional video released earlier this year. ‘Shoemaker’ is classic Nightwish, right down to a quiet spoken-word section, voiced by Finnish singer Johanna Kurkela, while ‘Harvest’ sees a major departure for the band as multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley adds his voice to the band’s increasing array of vocal talent in this uplifting (and potentially divisive) folk song featuring more than the occasional nod to Toto, and that returning Game of Thrones theme.

Pan’ is another showcase for ridiculously talented Jansen as her voice lilts, swoops, soars, pierces and cavorts, moving from innocence into something more sinister as the song shifts its moods at will. Underneath all of this, Marco Hietala‘s pulsing bass guitar drives the song forwards, the drama heightened as ever by Tuomas’s keyboards and Emppu Vuorinen‘s guitar as the piece develops.

Folky power ballad ‘How’s the Heart?’ follows, pipes and whistles backed with Hietala’s deep, luxurious bass, and yet another magnificent performance by Jansen. ‘Procession’ follows with the Dutch singer showing off her vulnerable side with a subtle use of vibrato. Drummer Kai Hahto proves his worth on the fiercely aggressive ‘Tribal’ which also features some venomous vocals, razor-sharp chugging riffs, and tribal death grunts. The slow but purposeful ‘Endlessness’ brings the first disc, rather ironically considering its title, to a close, bass player Marco Hietala taking over lead vocal duties this time.

Presented as one highly ambitious orchestral piece, ‘All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World’ is separated into eight different movements and features British actress Geraldine James (Utopia, The Jewel in the Crown, and Mrs .Hudson in the recent Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies) as the track’s singular voice as she quotes Lord Byron and Carl Sagan over some tremendous work by the impressive London Session Orchestra.

Moods and tempo change at will, ‘The Blue’ being markedly more dramatic than the likes of opening movement ‘Vista’, ‘The Green’, and the melancholic ‘Quiet as the Snow’, while the pipes of ‘Moors’ and the bombastic film score sound of ‘Aurorae’ and Anthropocene (inc. Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal)’ manage to combine both, before ‘Ad Astra’ completes the opus in sensational style.

Following something of the magnitude of Endless Forms Most Beautiful was a mammoth task in itself, but it seems that every time Nightwish release a new album, the first thing they have to do is contend with the enormous shadow cast by the previous release. Ambitious, grandiose and dynamic, exhilarating and sensitive, literally every single aspect of Human. :||: Nature. has been well worth the painfully excessive wait.

9 / 10

GARY ALCOCK