Sound — 5
Since the early '90s when he began working in music, Dan Swanö has always managed to keep himself busy with more than one music project. First coming to prominence with the experimental death metal band Edge Of Sanity, Swanö started Nightingale in 1994 as a side-project. Wanting to experiment with a different musical style, Nightingale's debut album, "The Breathing Shadow," would be a synthesizer-heavy fusion of classic prog rock and gothic rock, as well as being much less growly than Swanö's primary work with Edge Of Sanity. Swanö would recruit his brother Dag Swanö to help make Nightingale's follow up album, "The Closing Chronicles," a year later, originally intended to be the end of the run for that side-project.
However, after Dan's departure from Edge Of Sanity in 1997, the Swanö brothers would end up revamping Nightingale for a much more substantial stint at the turn of the millennium, and expanded the project to a full band by their fourth album, "Alive Again." Though after their 2007 album, "White Darkness," Nightingale would go silent, and it seemed like Swanö was done with it and moving onto other projects, but shortly after finishing up the debut album with his recently-incepted fusion metal project Witherscape, Nightingale would end up getting back in the saddle to make their seventh studio album, "Retribution."
Nightingale's sound has changed gradually over the course of its lifespan, and now twenty years since its beginning, the experimental and aspirational ethos of prog rock has been long gone - replaced with a method of dressing a tight and formulaic conventional rock structure with an abundance of sonic accessories in a condensed length. Amongst the copious amounts of stock synth backing in just about every song, the Dream Theater-derived keyboard leads are still out and about in "Lucifer's Lament," "Forevermore," "The Voyage of Endurance," and "27 (Curse or Coincidence)," and with the exception of the frantic arpeggios found in "Warriors of the Dawn," the synth elements throughout the album ultimately exhaust their value.
The rock elements as well play it quite safe. Even amongst the conventional and meek instrumentation that build just about all the tracks (save the acoustic-driven ballad "Divided I Fall") and the token guitar solos found in most tracks, the few riffs with more flavor to them travel beaten paths. The neo-classical riff in the opening track "On Stolen Wings" feels like a snippet of a Trans-Siberian Orchestra composition, and the jangly guitar that fuels "Chasing the Storm Away" is like a parrot that has only listened to radio rock from the 1980s.
With most songs on the album being low-tempo'd and power-ballady (following further in the vein of 2007's "White Darkness"), there aren't really that many opportunities for "Retribution" to really be able to conjure some good rock energy, which also drains Nightingale of their former glory. It's not until "The Maze" when Nightingale really whip out the vintage rock swagger and craft the most skillful guitar solo on the album, and thankfully, the ending song and power ballad "Echoes of a Dream" is a power ballad done right, which leads with a synchronized acoustic guitar/piano melody and later on brings an elaborate relay-race-style solo between the keyboard and guitar. But though the tail end of the album is the strongest part, it duly highlights how much chaff has to be listened to before finally getting there.
Lyrics — 7
In the same way that Nightingale has long changed from what it began as musically, the story concept in the project's lyrics have been wholly abandoned by the time "White Darkness" came around; though when you think about all of the TV and movie series that have long overstayed their welcome, it's a smart move to wrap up a story rather than to drag it out beyond reasonability. Nevertheless, Swanö still fares well as a storyteller. He hashes out some decently-seasoned stories in the biblical-themed "Lucifer's Lament" or the nautical-themed "The Voyage of Endurance," and the final two songs, "The Maze" and "Echoes of a Dream," end up being a bite-sized concept of a modern man that breaks down due to the stresses of daily life and ends up committing suicide.
That trope seams well with "Retribution," as a number of other songs are parables for society and other comments on modern things. "On Stolen Wings" uses the imagery of vampires to articulate your run-of-the-mill greedy sociopath, "Warriors of the Dawn" paint a Pocahontas-esque story about stronger nations fevered with manifest destiny taking over the land of others in the spirit of greed, and "Chasing the Storm Away" represents society being unable to permanently solve the many problems it's plagued with. Swanö gets more direct in "27 (Curse or Coincidence)," where he ponders the ominous pattern of death of prodigious musicians that have died at age 27, alluding to and paying respect to rock icons like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain.
Overall Impression — 5
In the spirit of prog rock, Nightingale began with a lust for sonic exploration and elaboration, and even though it wasn't universally well-received because it was substantially different from Swanö's work with Edge Of Sanity, the project's penchant for traveling a different music path was commendable and worth checking out. Whether it was because of Nightingale becoming a more permanent band or a bad case of the band aging, the prog-oriented ambition has diminished (not unlike the way The Mars Volta's did in their final albums), and the band's sound has become much more calculated and, consequently, bland. Though one would have hoped that Nightingale's long hiatus would have recharged their batteries, "Retribution" still has the band sounding tired.