When Bands Over-reach

Since the release of Nightwish’s album Dark Passion Play, when their new singer debuted, I’ve been eagerly awaiting their second release with her to see how well she integrated with the band.  But if you go to their website, you’ll see almost more about the companion film than the album itself (this has changed a bit since I first wrote this post’s draft as the album has been released).  I can’t say this is good.  Another band, Within Temptation, also felt the need to have a story(ies) to go along with their latest album, and they’ve released several short films to go along with it.

Why?

For decades we’ve had the concept album, where a story is told from song to song.  But it was still an album.  And from the ones I’ve listened, some have been very good.  My personal favorite would be Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime, followed up by Fear Factory’s Obsolete.  Concept albums can be powerful; hell, they can be absolutely epic.

These albums are good because the music comes first, and provides a strong foundation for a story to go on top of.  The story is the icing on the cake that is the music.  If the music sucks, I don’t care how good the story is (or how good the band may think it is).  I can read a book (or even watch a film) for that.  That isn’t really why I want to sit down with a new album, put on my Grados, close my eyes and be taken away.  That is something neither books nor films can do, and that’s the reason music still has a very important place in today’s world, even with all the “wonderous” advances technology may have provided for films, games, etc.

I have only listended to brief samples of Within Temptation’s new album, and it’s terrible.  It’s nothing like their previous albums, and most of the “metal” has been stripped out and replaced with pop.  I began listening to a preview of Nightwish’s Imaginaerum with the same trepidation.  Unfortunately my fears were confirmed for the most part.  Disjointed would be an understatement.  This is not an album at all, and unless the film is a miraculous splendor it is barely a serviceable soundtrack either.

Each song is completely different.  One track tries to emulate jazz.  As snobby as Europeans can be about “true metal”, as a full-blooded American I must reply about “true jazz”.  This track is not a salute, and is a failed emulation of jazz.  It should have been left off entirely.

If there’s only one strength on this album, then it is Jukka’s drumming.  One of the first to get me really motivated about playing drums, Jukka has always had fantastic tone and great chops, and that shines through even on this album.  Unfortunately he’s the only one who’s shining on this album.  Emmpu’s guitar playing is boring and monotonous.  There is very little melodic work or soloing; it’s constant chugging.  On one track he does pick up the acoustic, and just like the track “The Islander” on Dark Passion Play, this track is a stand-out.  Perhaps it’s because it harkens back to Nightwish’s origins of acoustic songs.  I would love to hear an entire album of acoustic songs.  The band has gotten as “high-concept” as music can possibly get (or at least that most people can stand).  It’s time for them to come down and sit with us around the fire again.

So how has Anette progressed on her second album with the band?  It’s hard for me to say.  She certainly sings with a bit more range, but still no-where near what Tarja could belt out.  I consider that neither good or bad.  On the “jazz” track, her vocals were not too bad.  On other tracks the notes are just too far apart and strains the definition of what a melody is and should be.  It’s almost more jarring than the constant change in song styles.  On one hand I really now want to say “well let’s wait til the NEXT album to see how she and the band progress”, but you know what?  I’m busy.  There’s far too many other bands worth a listen.  Just as I had to end my aural affair with Within Temptation, I think I’ll have to say the same for Nightwish now.