Nightwish: Symphonic rock evolves

Album cover

Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Nightwish

I recently picked up the new Nightwish album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and it’s been on heavy rotation on my iPod ever since.

I’ve read a few reviews, and most of them seem to focus on the new vocalist, Floor Jansen, and how she compares to her two predecessors. I come to Nightwish uninitiated, and this album is my first exposure to them, so I can consider the music without getting caught up in the band’s history.

The music is, in a word, majestic. Blending power metal rock and orchestra, the band creates a rich sonic tapestry with the disparate elements blending seamlessly. Jansen’s singing is warm and usually understated, though she can go big when a song’s climax calls for it.

The album is themed around evolution and the wonders of life and natural world. It draws its title from the concluding passage of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Nightwish recruited Richard Dawkins to read a few passages from Darwin, and titled the closing track — a 24-minute suite—after his book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. The album opens with Dawkins’ ever-so-British voice, then an orchestral swell that explodes into blistering rock of “Shudder Before the Beautiful.” From there, while slower-paced songs filter in with the up-tempo pieces, the album never lets up. Each melody is strong and individual, each performance is expert.

Photo of the band

Floor Jansen is the latest lead vocalist in Nightwish.

The centerpiece is the title track, a rollicking roller-coaster ride through the vast timescape of the story of life on Earth, with a soaring chorus and a closing instrumental breakdown that sounds like it is on the verge of coming apart at any moment.

It is hard to find much to criticize in this album. If anything, there is a passage in the title song that sounded like lazy lyric writing until I looked it up: “Look at yourself in the eyes of aye-aye/Unfolding rendezvous.” A little research revealed that the aye-aye is a lemur that lives on Madagascar, and both it and the rendezvous metaphor are prominent in Dawkins’ book The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. Listeners who don’t know that or take the time to find out will get a bit less out of the song. However, that is a very minor quibble about an excellent album, and barely worth mentioning.

I expect I will be adding more Nightwish to my collection soon, and then I will have some basis to compare Floor Jansen to the women who came before her in the band. I am glad, though, that I was able to approach Endless Forms Most Beautiful
without that concern. Taken on its own merits, it is an unqualified success.

The CD package comes with an instrumental version of the album on a second disc, and an elaborate book featuring all of the album’s lyrics.

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