Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Nuclear Blast)

Just as Icarus strained too hard for immortality...
Release Date: 
30 Mar 2015 - 11:30pm

What’s your favourite era of Nightwish? Are you a Tarja person? Too much of an ice queen for you? Maybe the impish cheek of Annette Olzon was more to your liking? Or are you happy to sit with the ‘don’t knows’ for now, waiting to see how new vocalist Floor Jansen fares before making your mark on the ballot paper?

Me? I was sold on Floor when I saw Nightwish absolutely level the Enmore in Sydney a couple of years ago. Seemingly the perfect mix of her two predecessors, Jansen seemed to this reviewer to hold all the aces, even though at that point she wasn’t an ‘official’ member of the ‘wish. Surely nothing could go wrong in installing her as the third vocalist in Nightwish history, could it?

Well, yes and no. Ironically, as the band finds its perfect vocalist they turn in easily their least invigorating album in over a decade, negating the boost that Jansen brings to the band in one slightly bloated, staggering fell swoop. Put simply, though still the sort of album most bands could only dream of putting together, Nightwish, by their own elevated standards, have fallen some way short with …Forms.

The title track sees the band operating at optimum level, but elsewhere there are just too many reminders of Nightwish times past, especially when the rather tired pipes of Troy Donockly lead the way. Perhaps most disappointingly, there is little here that gives Jansen the chance to truly shine; rarely does she take things by the scruff of the neck and show just what a great singer she is; Strangely she sounds at her best on the more restrained material such as the balladic Our Decades in the Sun or the slow building Edema Ruh, a song at least where all the key elements of a Nightwish classic make their presence felt, including a superb piece of lead work from Emppu Vuorinen and some dancing, very eighties-inspired keys from Tuomas Holopainen.

Alpenglow points the way to what we might expect from Nightwish with Jansen at the vocal helm in the future, but again the overall sound is just too polite to allow the song to truly sprout wings and attain the heights suggested by its title; Penultimate instrumental The Eyes of Sharbat Gula is just what you’d expect from a Nightwish instrumental, and it sets the scene for EFMB’s big production number, the twenty four minute-long The Greatest Show on Earth. Including a spoken word treatise from the world’s favourite basher of Gods Richard Dawkins, …Show motors along in the tradition Nightwish have set themselves with songs like Ghost Love Score (from Once) and Imaginaerum’s Song of Myself; It’s longer than both those epics combined and therein lies the rub. Many bands have found to their eventual cost that longer isn’t always necessarily better (Iron Maiden in ‘prog mode’ being a case in point), and there just isn’t enough of an idea musically here to hang a near-half hour song on. Song of Myself, of course, had Walt Whitman’s haunting, evocative poem of the same name as it’s centrepiece; The Greatest Show on Earth has no such luxury, Dawkins’ brief intercessions being little more than a footnote in the song’s ambitious attempts to encapsulate the work of Charles Darwin in symphonic metal form. 

At the end of the day, of course, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is not a bad album – Nightwish are simply incapable of producing such a thing. But after the stunning success that was Imaginaerum, not only is there an air of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ about this album, there’s a faint, almost imperceptible but very definitely present sense of a band possibly having exhausted their current seam of inspiration. Let’s hope they look in fresh directions and for fresh inspirations on their next release, because with Floor Jansen at the mic the sky should quite frankly be the minimum this band is capable of reaching in future days.