Sound: Tarja Turunen (formly with Nightwish) makes a return with a similarly styled sound to that of which was her first album. When I uploaded this to iTunes it was described as 'Gothic Rock' - which is a title I like, and feel is some what appropriate.
Tarja is essentially an opera singer, with a metal band on standby. Alot of my friends said when I showed them her, that it sounded like something worthy of Eurovision, probably due to that metal band from Norway. I understand their argument, and I partly agree with it, it could be eurovision - if it wasn't so good.
This album has a variant of sound so that anyone should find something they like, there is the typical metal type distortion, riffs and solo's - even one courtesy of Mr.Satriani and slow gothic piano type ones (personal favorite) all along with some form of symphonic back grounding.
I am not a metal fan. So why am I reviewing this album you ask? Because her first album was reviewed by UG, I liked the review checked it out and quite liked it - alot. Essentially it's something I've never even heard before, and it just spoke to me, ever since then she's been a favorite. So lets start reviewing!
01. Anteroom of Death (Feat. Van Canto): Harpsichord! Strange instrument for an operatic metal album eh? Yup, and it's awesome. Van Canto are a metal acapella band. Yes - seriously, it's true. When I wiki'd this before I got the album, I thought - this is gonna be real weird. And it is, but also mind blowing. The majority of the song is Tarja singing along to distorted power chords (de-tuned) with symphony accompaniment, about 3/4's in the song breaks and Van Canto come in, then it rebuilds with drums and distortion with Van Canto and Tarja. At first I was really taken a back - because this track is loud and very strange. But after a few listens, I really like it. 'Anteroom' is actually like a small hallway before entering a chamber or something like that.
02. Until My Last Breath: it's single time kids! This one is that kind of riff, that will immediately attract the fanboys of metal and so on. This song is good, it's just a typical single really, I can't really explain it any better than that. It's defined by being catchy. Whilst I am not a drummer, I really appreciate the drums in this album - there's just something good about them, I think actual drummers might liken to them quite easily. Especially in this track as they have some sort of reverb on them. I do personally love Tarja's voice late in the track, the 'ah ah ah' as she descends - whilst it isn't much, with Tarja it tends to be all the little things that really make a track.
03. I Feel Immortal - a slowish piano song, with lots of ambience and atmosphere. "I close my eyes to escape" as she sings, this song actually induces that - it kind of sends you within yourself, then with the distortion it pulls you back out, and pulls out all the bad things with it so you can reflect on them and send them away if you so choose. I always tend to feel the sadness within the lyrics and sound, which really boosts the sound - you feel she isn't acting, which is a key point to it not being worthy of eurovision. The opera type singing I guess helps with that. The opera type singing is actually a brand new concept to me within rock/metal - I think it works extremely well. The crescendo of the song is great, the trumpets, the strings, drums, piano and guitar all work so well together.
04. In For a Kill: initially I was like - Tarja's covered La Roux!? But no, she hasn't (but lets face it it'd be amazing if she did). Urgent strings, echo - building, building - RIFF - Win. Great song, one of the favorites of the album. "There's no Halo" - you know it gothic rock now. This song is something that I feel came from the first album - the first album had alot of this type of song, and it worked great. I was very happy to hear another one worthy of the first album because the first album was that good. Initially (like all people) I was like, 'hmmm - this isn't as good as the first album blah blah', but it is. The only downside is as opposed to 21 tracks on the first album (special edition) there is only 11 on this one. The only criticism is that Tarja singing/shouting "In for a kill!", it is a bit piercing, but over time you become dull to it's effects.
05. Underneath: another gothic piano type song, with chugging included. I like this song, and even my indie-kid friends who initially called it Eurovision worthy, came to like this song. You initially perceive this song to be melancholic, but I don't think it is. The chord change a minute or so in really brings it up, along with the strings. But don't get me wrong this song isn't about puppies and flowers, there is still a dark side, but I think it's a celebration of strength, as opposed to a questioning of choices made and so on - "Something inside me invisible" "Unbreakable" "They cannot take away what I believe". I love this song, good solo to I think, no it's not ear bleeding shredding or anything, just something that suits the song and acts as a bridge - like a solo should (in most occasions).
06. Little Lies: midi keyboard intro, then - welcome once more, Chugging. Oh yeh. Rage? RAGE! Aggressive intro, the song doesn't really follow that 100%, it does in parts, but for the majority of the song I feel it goes into single territory again. Maybe I'm a little cynical, I don't intend to make this song sound bad by the phrase 'single territory', because it's not bad - I just feel it's aimed at a more open market. For example, Tarja isn't using her full voice - as in full on opera voice, but then again it's also a change or break with the album by her not doing that. So overall, it's a good move I think - and no doubt gives her a little rest live. Also, drum solo! Again I am not a drummer - so I won't try and say how it good it is.. I like it, it's a good edition - and it isn't fail like you always imagine drum solo's to be (said the guitarist).
07. Rivers of Lust: harmonized intro by Tarja, followed by a dark viola and a gentle piano. No effects this time for most of the song, it feels a little more empty than everything else (for most of it) - and I like that. I think she's really gauged it perfectly, when you have all the tools at your disposal - you can feel obliged to use them, and in doing that you sometimes ruin the song, or repeat yourself. I feel Tarja has perfectly side-stepped that by not over-doing anything (that wasn't intended). Overall this entire album feels more polished than the last, songs like this prove that.
08. Dark Star (Feat. Phil Labonte): oh no - it's a scream song! Grrrr! But wait - this is actually good. An islamic type intro, followed by a scratchy violin type thing, which is then semi-replaced by a distortion guitar. This song grows on you, or did for me atleast - I guess more people will take a shine to this alot sooner than I did. Phil has his own vocal parts in a mid-section, but for the majority he mostly sings with Tarja and lends his screaming skills which are introduced variously throughout the song. Good song, really, the drums are typical metal drums, so if you like rolls and splashing, this is for you.
09. Falling Awake (Feat. Joe Satriani): yeh - this song is more or less based on the solo as you'd expect to be honest. Anything with this guys name in, is more or less then defined him, even by none-fans like me. I knew straight away this song would just contain a massive solo that would often repeat 3 notes very quickly, and it did. Yes it changes the notes, yes I can't play that fast blah blah. But anyways - the solo is good, and so is the song. It feels like another single, especially with the Satriani tag. My favorite bit is just after Satriani's solo as the song enters a kind of angelic type theme.
10. The Archive of Lost Dreams: this song is a gothic piano, slow song like I mentioned earlier, and personally what I love most about Tarja's music. The added effects in this song really shape this song, actually it really shapes the entire album, it gives it a sense of atmosphere - for this 'gothic rock' genre to work, is really needed - it definitely gives that haunted vibe. I love everything in this song, how the piano is central and just kind of takes you away as it decays, I love Tarja's voice as she descend and ascends in notes over the top of herself and the music. I love how the symphonic element is always there, but it never suffocates the sound - which is all to easy to do.
11. Crimson Deep (Feat. Will Calhoun): the Closer. Tom Morello type guitar with a bit more metal in it - big chord, let it ring, then a short riff that descends. I like it, the bass follows this as the guitar cuts out, the piano over the top with a different melody, really helps the song. Then the guitar eventually rejoins with chugging, then big chords again. I think this song works as a last song, it doesn't decay and close the album immediately - it gives one last distorted push, which really works. It also kind of sets up the idea of a third album, which is always good. The song comes into a acoustic type thing with piano just past halfway which I really liked, especially with strings - then everything but Tarja rejoins soon after. "My lost soul - in the dark" - overarching choirs, with Tarja singing along and over them, this really works as one last big push, the crescendo - the curtain call, the impression leaver.
Personally, I rate the sound fantastic, and I'd happily give it 9 or 10 out of 10. However, it can get a bit tiresome and somewhat tedious now and then, add to that the strictly headphone or home alone genre of the music (operatic gothic rock) - so I've given it an 8 out of 10. But if you haven't listened to it endlessly, it's a real treat - and it's definitely something you can just plug in and drift away with, or plug in and just thrash about. // 8
Lyrics: Singer Skills? Does it really get any better? I mean, opera singing is widely viewed as the ultimate singing skill. And Tarja delivers 100% throughout, flawlessly.
The lyrics fit the music fantastically, "there's no halo" "welcome to the anteroom of death" all define the genre of gothic rock. I think the lyrics are so very special when combined with her voice, it just projects alot more feeling, and it will reach you - and stay with you. The choice of words within the songs are pretty good, I have some alternatives - but then it's my interpretation of the song, so in her view her choices were probably exact to what she was crafting, since I don't know her I can't really tell you... But regardless the lyrics work perfectly, and are inspired. The lyrics combined with her singing really allows you to tune into her feelings, what she intends with the words and the music - is really accessible, making it all the more special. The best way to describe is to really just youtube Tarja - Underneath, I feel that explains it all. // 9
Overall Impression: As for the comparison to her first album - I feel it stacks up very nicely to it. It really depends on your mood and mindset of which one you prefer - but that alone proves how good both are, since all that determines your favorite is your personal taste as opposed to one dwarfing the other with better musical ability. The first album is definitely the place to start with Tarja purely so you can grasp exactly what is going on, since the second album forgoes that kind of introduction since it's the second album. But once you do that and move onto the second album, you won't be disappointed at all - it's added another chapter to the work of Tarja, and it's good one.
For me, the most impressive songs of the album are, Dark Star, Underneath, In For A Kill and Archive of Lost Dreams - the others are still impressive, but these ones just beam out of the album, really catchy, deep and masterfully crafted.
I love Tarja's style, the operatic thing, mixing modern and classic instruments, and modern/classic methods. The only thing I slightly dislike is the amount of cameo's there is, but then the songs are still good, so it's not really a massive thing.
Should it some how be ripped out of my hands - I would buy it again, Tarja is unique. Her albums are unique, her style and sound are. If you want something different, something special, then this is it. I hope you like the album, I know it won't speak to everyone - purely by the nature of the sound. But it's worth a shot, if you like it - then you'll really like it. // 9