Sound — 8
"Elan," the first single, is by far the most accessible of the 11 tracks and is a perfect example of how the songs bring out the best from each individual band member. While some die-hards will be disappointed at a lack of operatic vocals from Floor Jansen (which she can do proficiently enough for the Tarja-era songs), the album benefits greatly from using the other timbres in her repertoire. In "Elan" alone, she goes from satin-soft to powerful in a way that would put most of pop's big names to shame. Troy Donockley, in his first album as a permanent member, does not pipe and whistle in every song on the album, but where he does have a contribution, such as in "Elan," the songs are the more beautiful for it.
"Shudder Before the Beautiful," "Weak Fantasy," "Yours Is an Empty Hope" and the title track also seem to return to a level of heaviness that the band couldn't really attain during the "Anette era." Perhaps the vocal power, if not the versatility, will become the calling card of the new "Floor era." Floor at her most astonishing in this album is probably in the visceral growls in the breakdown of "Yours Is an Empty Hope" and giving Marco Hietala a run for his money.
The guitar work actually seems more understated in this album compared to Nightwish's previous offerings. There are less power metal-style shredfests; Emppu Vuorinen's shift to playing short licks between verses is probably the most noticeable change in his style of play, and my favourite bits of guitar-playing here are actually the heavy riffing and the Mediterranean-style guitar on "Weak Fantasy."
"Our Decades in the Sun" is a beautiful power ballad that would not sound out of place in a Disney film, and like "Elan," makes good use of Floor Jansen's broad spectrum of tones. Another highlight comes in the form of vocal lines sung in Welsh in the energetic "My Walden," which is probably as folk metal a song as it gets in this album; there's an Uillean pipe-guitar duel, too. "Alpenglow" and "Edema Ruh" are both pieces of solid songwriting: soft verses, loud and uplifting choruses. The latter is as live as Nightwish have ever sounded on a studio album, complete with a slowed-down finish and licks played by almost every band member at the end.
The album's only instrumental, "The Eyes of Sharbat Gula" is a subdued and atmospheric prelude to the great finale which is rather aptly titled "The Greatest Show on Earth," Nightwish's longest track to date at just under 24 minutes. It is a sublime and heavily orchestrated finish to "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" in the same way that "Song of Myself" was to the previous album. The song is in five parts, but with measured doses of contemplative instrumental parts and symphonic metal, not to mention the final two chapters in which Richard Dawkins performs spoken words on top of a theatrical background of marine noises. These last two chapters, whilst sounding rather tacky in description, add something to the album that makes it worthy of appreciation not just as a heavy metal album, but as a work of art.
Lyrics — 9
I was somewhat sceptical about the upcoming album when it was announced that science would play a central theme to this album in the same way that the imagination did in the previous album, and even more sceptic when it was announced that Richard Dawkins will be involved. Cue suspicions of atheistic supremacy and anti-religious polemics in the Nightwish camp.
Admittedly, "Weak Fantasy" and "Yours Is an Empty Hope" are both blatantly anti-religion to put it bluntly, although it's impressive how the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern feel of "Weak Fantasy" puts an emphasis on the absurdity of the origins of today's predominant religions. The poetic talents of Tuomas Holopainen lie in how the lyrics stick the middle finger up to thieving religious leaders while at the same time being able to act as words of warning to those being thieved in both songs.
As much as the album cover may suggest, the lyrics aren't all about science. The lyrics to "My Walden" seem like a remnant of the previous albums' "man-child" finally coming to terms with reality, whilst "Edema Ruh" has nothing to do with fluids, but is actually a more subtle tribute to the band itself than the comical "Nightquest" from the Tarja years.
The rest of the songs, while focusing on science and nature, still feel like classic Nightwish because the lyrics seep with wonder and imagination. Two main themes do appear to be the beauty of nature and the universe ("Shudder Before the Beautiful," "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," "Elan"); and the evolution of man as a species ("Alpenglow"). Both are tied together in "The Greatest Show on Earth" in the chapters "Life" and "The Toolmaker" respectively.
Finally, "Our Decades in the Sun" is unique in that it is a tribute to one's parents. Quite astonishingly, this ties in nicely with the scientific theme in an unexpected way despite being a very simple ballad, which is not only a testament to Holopainen's poetic skill but also to the beauty of existence that he masterfully expresses throughout the album.
Overall Impression — 8
There are good albums and there are great albums. "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" is an album that makes you sit by yourself for a few minutes just to contemplate how great it is...
Perhaps that was exaggerated, but it is an album that will give you something new with every listen because of the creativity and craft that has gone into it.
Many Nightwish fans might have looked forward a return to a more "Tarja-era" sound on the band's next album after the announcement that Floor Jansen had agreed to be their permanent frontwoman. Perhaps sadly for these nostalgics, there is no evidence to indicate a full regression to the 'opera metal' they were once famous for.
Instead, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" is, amongst other things, another artful showcase of this band's songwriting, musical and technical chops. Like its predecessor, "Imaginaerum," this album is beautifully coloured by Tuomas Holopainen's impressive musical palette, with equal contributions from a talented and tight-sounding band, as well as well-conducted orchestras and choirs.
This album, however, does not come close to the impressive breadth and grandeur of "Imaginaerum" (although the inclusion of Richard Dawkins will give this band some extra prestige for managing to acquire his artistic services). Instead, it would probably stand proudly alongside "Century Child" as a promising start of a new and hopefully long era of Nightwish. Nonetheless, that should never take away the fact that "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" in itself is a brilliant work of art and possibly the greatest musical tribute to science to date.