Sound: Those of you who were left devastated when Nightwish fired vocalist Tarja Turunen are about to get another fix of the Finnish songstress. Now going only by the name Tarja, the soprano is closer to her operatic roots than ever before with My Winter Storm, her second solo release since leaving Nightwish in October 2005. While her former band always dabbled in symphonic structure, Tarja's latest work feels like an all-out opera at times. There are hints of guitars, drums, and bass here and there, but My Winter Storm is far from resembling any sort of metal style out there. The results can be both thrilling and dull, but Tarja's dedicated fans probably won't mind a few slow spots along the way.
The record begins with Ite, Miss Est/I Walk Alone, which was inspired by Amadeus Mozart's Requiem. If you've ever heard the Mozart piece, you'll understand that it makes for a dramatic and dark start to a record. It was a brilliant choice on Tarja's part to draw from the classic piece, and it never seems like a blatant rip-off. In fact, the main chorus of I Walk Alone (also the first single) actually doesn't draw comparisons to Mozart at all thanks to Tarja's unique vocal phrasing and choice of melodies.
Another highlight on the record is Lost Northern Star, a song with a lead riff that is apparently a nod to Rammstein. You can hear a bit of the German band's influence within it, but the horror film genre comes to mind more than Rammstein. It's actually quite a haunting song thanks to Tarja's very eerie ah-ahs that sound straight out of The Omen. The verses are fairly minimal on the instrumentation, with Tarja and the drums as the main focus. It's the choruses and a creepy spoken-word section in the middle that are the biggest payoff, relaying the cinematic feel that Tarja has mentioned she's after in interviews.
There are some issues halfway through the record, only because there are quite a few pieces that strip away almost too much of the instrumentation. Tarja's vocals and a piano are often the focal point, with perhaps a bit of synth underneath as well. Our Great Divide and Oasis are pretty, but they can also make you a bit sleepy. Minor Heaven suffers from this issue a bit, but it completely redeems itself with a building crescendo. But even when things get a little slow, Tarja's vocals are still astounding. // 8
Lyrics: For as impressive as Tarja's vocals are on My Winter Storm, the lyrical content is just as engaging. The styles bounce between being free-verse poetry and traditional storytelling, and you can find amazing imagery in both styles. Granted, Tarja didn't actually write every song, and there were quite a few people who contributed lyrics/music to the album. For as many names that show up in the liner notes for songwriting, it's pretty incredible how cohesive everything ends up being. // 10
Overall Impression: Tarja is one of the strongest vocalists to come out of the metal scene, so it's likely that she already has a strong enough fan base that will adapt to anything she takes on vocally. The music on My Winter Storm dives into the opera genre with no hesitation, and the guitars and percussion are more of a rarity. Drama is key throughout the record, though, and the emotional, compositions might be enough to keep fans interested. But for all of the dramatic elements that Tarja brings to the table, at times My Winter Storm lags. Tarja has mentioned she loves a cinematic-score style, and you definitely get the same kind of lulls you would get in a movie scene where not a lot is happening.
When it comes down to it, the main feature is Tarja's vocals, which are simply flawless. There are a few missteps, with the biggest one being the cover of Alice Cooper's Poison. It ends up sounding extremely, for lack of a better word, odd. There is just such a huge contrast between the style and speed of Tarja and Cooper's delivery that it doesn't quite work. You have to give Tarja credit for taking on an unexpected song choice in any case. All in all, there might only be one, maybe two, songs among the 18 tracks that truly revisit her symphonic metal days, but will that matter to Tarja's legion of fans? Probably not. // 8