November 30th 2011 saw Finnish power metal legends, Nightwish, release their 7th studio album, Imaginaerum. A less traditional concept album that is more held together by themes and vague narratives that are reincorporated through the runtime.
Nightwish are a band that has defied the odds several times; from numerous line-up changes including losing one of the most iconic vocalists in metal history, Tarja Turrunen, to Floor Jensen’s recent bout with cancer that she has since overcome which is just amazing news.
Imaginaerum seemed like a make-or-break moment for the band with vocalist Annette Olzen leaving the band in the middle of the tour only to be replaced by Floor Jensen in a very short amount of time.
The album starts with a beautiful melody from a child’s music box accompanied by a voice speaking in the band’s native Finnish language, an English version would have worked but something about the melodies, instrumentation and the elegance of the Finnish language make this such a beautiful opening.
The record starts properly with ‘Storytime’, a track that has been a staple of Nightwish’s live shows since it came out. Tuomas Halopainen’s understanding of melody and motif is second to none and the fact that he has yet to score a major film is criminal. The real star of this track is Annette Olzen, who received a rough time during the band because she had to follow Tarja, her vocals fit the song and the rest of the album so well when it would have been so easy to over sing and give an over the top corny performance. The chorus is an absolute masterwork of lyricism, vocal restraint and emotive performance that the band has yet to match.
Imaginaerum was the album to introduce Troy Donockley as a full-time member and his presence is felt on ‘I Want My Tears Back’ with its inclusion of pan flutes that act as a lead instrument in a fairly unconventional manner. The song feels more folk-inspired than anything else on the record and it has a number of segments that would be easy to River dance to if the mood were ever to strike you.
At the halfway mark, the album adopts an unsettling carnival sound established with ‘Arabesque’, an interlude that gives a foreboding yet grand soundscapes that features some stellar drumming from Jukka Nevelainen that fits well against Halopainen’s melodies without overpowering them. ‘Scaretale’ is easily the heaviest track on the album and features prominent vocals from former bassist, Mark Heitala, who adds to this grim and creepy carnival aesthetic.
The middle part of the album features more folk-inspired tracks that prominently feature acoustic guitars, these tracks add a lot of colour when listening to the album in one sitting but they aren’t tracks you’d find yourself seeking out in any other context.
‘The Last Ride’ of the day is a brilliant showcase of Nightwish using every tool in their arsenal to glorious effect, the symphonic elements sound massive, Annette’s vocals capture the feeling of a magical time coming to an end, the guitar work is stellar yet simple and it would work as the ending to the album if Imaginaerum didn’t already have a gargantuan finale.
Clocking in at 13 minutes, Imaginaerum ends with ‘Song of Myself’, Nightwish began a new idea that would follow on to their following record; a spoken word outro. The spoken word segment takes about half of the runtime and my interpretation is that of a narrator reflecting on the worries and tribulations of life and pinpointing the moment life started to become complicated and bleak and how he yearns for the life that was full of whimsy and wonder he experienced as a child before declaring he can live that way once more.
This album is an album I treasure dearly and that’s perhaps due to it coming out at a time when music was most important to me and hopefully this is a sentiment that someone can relate to. Imaginaerum can be cheesy but it tows that line perfectly and captures that magical feeling music and art can give.
Imaginaerum was later adapted into a feature film that elucidated on some of the themes while standing on its own but that’s a story for another day…