If you ever want to see a verbal conflict on Youtube, don’t go to any Balkan slanging matches, look for recent arguments involving the Nightwish Vocalist Wars. The amount of bile exchanged between Tarja Turunen fans and Anette Olzon fans could have raised sea levels by several metres.
And ever since, I’ve swung this way and that between the two arguments. Tarja was distinctive and laid the foundations of the Nightwish sound, Olzon had the voice, but in my opinion, not the stagecraft. If anyone was ever in doubt about Olzon’s ability to sing they should listen to Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum to be left in no doubt the woman could sing.
Imagine then, Nightwish releasing their 2013 live DVD Showtime Storytime with new vocalist Floor Jansen. She had Turunen’s operatic potential, and Olzon’s rock vocals in one nine foot tall package. And now Jansen has made her first Nightwish studio album: Endless Forms Most Beautiful.
First single off the album was Elan. It didn’t grab my attention on first hearing and the more I listen to it the more I think what a bloody awful song it is. When I finally heard the whole album I was hoping Elan was a blip, an anomaly. After the album had finished and Richard Dawkins had packed himself off to his atheist island in the Tethys Ocean I felt like a balloon deflating after a party.
At first I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was, but then a hideous thought came to me. A thought, a criticism, I didn’t want to acknowledge because of the risk of restarting the Vocalist Wars.
For me – and I should qualify this by saying my opinion is worthless, not worth getting worked up about, no need to throw yourself into a quagmire or leap off high bridges into chasms – for me . . . I’ll whisper it: the vocals never get off the ground.
It’s true, Floor Jansen can hit a note, she can hit them quite loud if she wants to, but on this album she sounds like a session musician told not to assert too much personality in what she’s singing. It’s as if the producer has said ‘just hit all the right notes, love, and it’ll be okay.’ Well, it isn’t okay. Listen to Anette Olzon’s maniacal performance on Imaginaerum’s Scaretale or nearly every track on Dark Passion Play and you’ll begin to hear how mediocre Floor Jansen is by comparison.
But remember, this is just my worthless opinion and I don’t want to restart the Vocalist Wars. There are maddeningly brief moments, such as The Greatest Show on Earth when Jansen’s vocals take on a menace not heard anywhere else, but the vocals are being fed through an overdrive filter and doubled up with those of bassist Marco Hietala and Emppu Vuorinen’s guitars.
Elsewhere, the vocals are turned up on the track Yours Is An Empty Hope. But Nightwish just aren’t displaying this level of aggression with enough consistency or frequency on this album, which is a shame because when Hietala’s bass is going hammer and tongue with Vuorinen’s powerchords they can make a right old racket.
There is variation and Tuomas Holopainen hasn’t totally lost the craft: Our Decades in the Sun and The Eyes of Sharbat Gula carry you away to some dreamy lost green pastures, and the title track has a lot of the old Nightwish playful energy surrounding Vuorinen’s guitars.
Maybe the album is one of those slow burners that you eventually come to realise is a classic. (Delain’s We Are The Others being a case in point.) But for now, Endless Forms Most Beautiful feels like an album that had a big act to follow and didn’t do it. Listening intensively to Wishmaster, Century Child, Once and the two Olzon albums, EFMB was onto a hiding to nothing.