Imaginaerum isn’t just my favorite Nightwish album, it’s one of my favorite albums period. Everything about it is wonderful, from its hard riffs to its orchestral background to its overarching narrative. I love it. When it comes to concept albums, Nightwish simply know how to do it, so when they announced Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a concept album about nature and rationality, I was on board from the start.
When they got rid of Anette Olzon as their vocalist and replaced her with Floor Jenson, I was still on board. It’s not like this is the first time Nightwish have replaced a singer, and honestly, Nightwish are the one band I’m completely fine with making big changes. As long as Tuomas Holopainen is doing all the writing, then whatever gets made will be haunting, beautiful, and possessed with a certain kind of magic that most bands simply lack.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a breathtaking and wonderful piece of art, offering an expansive and compelling (if not slightly disjointed) journey from Earth’s beginning to Earth’s eventual demise. Musically, it’s amazing; lyrically, it’s wonderful. I still like Imaginaerum more, but Endless Forms Most Beautiful is probably the better album. The songs are richer, more complicated, and almost all of them give me chills for one reason or another.
Coupled with the new singer is a small shift in music. Nightwish are a symphonic metal band, but Endless Forms Most Beautiful is more “symphonic” than “metal” in its execution. I don’t see this as a problem, but those looking for the grit found in Dark Passion Play will certainly be disappointed. There’s nothing as heavy as “The Poet and the Pendulum” or “Seven Days to the Wolves” here. That being said, it’s still very much a metal album, and there’s plenty of nice guitar work and drumming to appreciate.
Though I’ve always considered Nightwish a creator of beautiful music first and a metal band second, so in that regard, they haven’t changed at all.
If I had one criticism, it would be: With a greater complexity comes a greater difficulty in connection. I had to listen to Endless Forms Most Beautiful two or three times to truly get it, and honestly, that first listen was tough. The vocal melodies aren’t as easily followed this time around, and the lyrics are very dense in meaning. There’s also a lot less rhyming to be found. This isn’t an album you can casually throw on and go about your business; you have you truly pay attention to get it.
And if I’m being petty, I suppose I find it disappointing that there isn’t a truly Celtic song like “Last of the Wilds” or “I Want My Tears Back.” The song “My Walden” comes close, but the Celtic elements aren’t as prominent as they are in the two aforementioned tracks.
If it seems strange that I’ve avoided talking song specifics it’s because… well, I don’t want to spoil anything. That might sound foolish, but there really is something here. From Richard Dawkin’s opening lines in “Shudder Before the Beautiful” to his ending monologue in “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Endless Forms Most Beautiful will take you on a journey, and I’d hate for my interpretation of that experience to muddy yours before you get a chance to take it yourself.
So, I close this section of this review with: Endless Forms Most Beautiful will be the album to beat in 2015, and honestly, I can’t see anyone topping it.
Now, let’s move on to the track-by-track breakdown!
In this day and age, it’s maybe a little pretentious to invoke the muse. I like it though, and given the scope of Endless Forms Most Beautiful, it feels apt. To ask for the guidance of Pagan spirits is a little hypocritical given this album’s actual view on religion, but as a Literary trope, it works.
The song itself is wonderful, especially what acts as the bridge.
It is strange that after invoking the muse, Nightwish immediately lash out against other, established views on creation. I understand the concept as an argumentative tactic—shut down counterarguments before they can occur—but it still feels out of place.
Tuomas writes, “Every child [is] worthy of a better tale,” and depending on your views of the world and religion, Endless Forms Most Beautiful either gives us that or an hour-and-a-half’s worth of blasphemy.
As an actual song, “Weak Fantasy” is fairly typical Nightwish. It’s heavy, and in this case biting in its subject matter. Both this and “Shudder Before the Beautiful” set off Endless Forms Most Beautiful on a fairly heavy note, and while Nightwish have put out more metal tracks, these serve just fine as openers.
“Elan” is one of my favorite songs on the entire album, probably setting itself as number two or three. I love it musically, especially the different flute instruments and the orchestration. It’s just really, really pretty.
Lyrically, it’s gorgeous, taking us back to a time before humans, where the Earth was nothing but herself, untarnished and completely alive. As standalone poetry, “Elan” is great, but when put to music, it becomes elevated even further. The repetition of the word “Come” acts as an invitation, to participate and enjoy the imagery present, and I find that sentiment gorgeous too.
“Yours is an Empty Hope”
I’m all for metal, but the two heaviest songs on Endless Forms Most Beautiful are the two I like the least, and that mostly comes down to their lyrical content and tone. It’s not that they don’t fit, but to bookend “Elan” with such negativity comes off as…improper. However, “Yours is an Empty Hope” is a solid tune and all sorts of metal, and it does act as a great setup to the next song, which examines death not from a spiritual angle but from a natural one.
“Our Decades in the Sun”
With religion tossed aside, “Our Decades in the Sun” takes a different look at death, and despite lacking in Gods and Heaven, the new outlook is very positive. Life is short, both our individual life and that of our species as a whole, yet it’s still a gift to be cherished. I like this philosophy, and as a song, I like its execution. The lyrics are pretty and on point, and they’re surrounded by some wonderful piano and flutes. Even when the guitar does show up, the lighter instruments are never out of reach.
Taking inspiration from Walden by Henry David Thoreau, “My Walden” is about mankind’s relationship with nature. It seems like a logical fit after “My Decades in the Sun;” if life is short, then the best way to live it is in harmony with nature and our fellow man.
Like “Elan,” “My Walden” is filled with really wonderful poetry, the chorus being my favorite part of it.
On the musicianship front, the song boasts some Celtic elements similar to “Last of the Wilds” and “I Want My Tears Back,” though they’re sparse in the beginning. The ending to the song, however, is a wonderful piece of instrumentation, bringing in all kinds of different elements, both the heavy and the light. It’s quite spectacular and acts as a great musical payoff to what was a great lyrical build.
“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”
“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is another lyrically dense song, taking a look at both creation and evolution. It’s another great tune with a particularly catchy chorus and some wonderful guitar to match. I like both it and what it’s about.
“Edema Ruh” is one of the few songs I have problems with, and they have nothing to do with the song itself or even the lyrics. Call me petty, but I really didn’t like Patrick Rothfus’ The Name of the Wind, so to have a song with a direct reference to that story kind of rubs me the wrong way.
That all being said, the song itself is great. I both enjoy and completely agree with its praise of art. Given how damning some of the earlier songs are, it’s nice to see a counterpoint to the creations of humanity. We may have given the world religion and war, but we also gave it poetry and stories. I don’t know if that’s truly a fair trade, but it’s a nice consolation prize regardless.
“Alpenglow” is my favorite song on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. I love its guitar work and the instrumentation that goes around it. It finds a great balance between gorgeous and heavy. Its chorus also has my favorite vocal melody of the entire album.
Lyrically, the song moves onto the end of humanity and life on Earth, yet like the above songs that deal with death, there’s no negativity here. It’s all painted as beautiful and special, and the song’s cornerstone is the phrase “We were here,” which holds so much meaning that I could go on for at least a full page if I wanted to.
Like “My Walden,” “Aplenglow” is a wonder of build up and pacing, and the ending is breathtaking.
“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula”
“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is an instrumental song, and a very downtrodden and dark one at that. With no lyrics to go off of, it’s hard to truly interpret the song, but there are some heavy Fantasia vibes to it, and there are certainly images that come to mind when it plays.
In comparison to other Nightwish instrumentals, it’s better than “Arabesque” but not as good as “Last of the Wilds.”
“The Greatest Show on Earth”
Like Wintersun’s “Sons of Winter and Stars,” Nightwish manage to do more with “The Greatest Show on Earth” than most bands do with an entire album. Musically, the song is all over the place, starting off slow with some piano before moving into violins and beyond. Throughout, sounds play, such as thunder, rainstorms, and the shrieking of birds and growling of animals.
If the entirety of Endless Forms Most Beautiful is about the lifespan of Earth, then “The Greatest Show on Earth” is a full album Cliffnotes version. The song starts with the forming of the Earth and how she stumbled into the Goldilocks Zone, and it only goes on from there. When it eventually land on humanity, the song gets brutally dark, and the singing style changes to match. Eventually, we die, and we’re left to reflect on what we accomplished, the phrase “we were here” sung over and over again.
Richard Dawkins sees us off with some naturalist philosophy and a quote from Darwin’s Origin of Species.
I end the album feeling some wild sense of amazement, sorrow, and the want to listen to it again.