Since the changing of the vocal guard from Anette Olzon to Floor Jansen in 2013, Nightwish have flirted more with folk music in their accomplished blend of symphonic and power metal. With the full-time status of Troy Donockley confirmed, this deeper dive into folk was taken, as evidenced on the next record, 2015’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful. The album explored the theme of evolution, with its title taken from the seminal work of Charles Darwin. Further, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins recorded narration for the track “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Outdoing themselves once again, HUMAN. :||: NATURE. comes to us as a double album. Disc one is a full-band affair, while disc two features a spanning orchestral epic track titled “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World.” Casual fans of the group may be challenged by the sheer scope of the second half of the album, but those who stick around will be handsomely rewarded with an engaging symphonic suite full of vibrance and life.
“Music” builds up for three of its seven and a half minutes, and starts off strong with a great vocal performance by Floor Jansen. It’s at this point that I wonder why there’s such a vocal part of the fanbase that complains about Floor. I mean, she cut her teeth with After Forever and ReVamp, and for me is somewhere between the operatic Tarja Turunen and the powerhouse Anette Olzon. Speaking of past Nightwish, “Noise” is about as essential, classic Nightwish as one can get on this album. It’s driving, epic, and anthemic, all with an earworm of a main orchestral passage. The mystical “Shoemaker” features some fierce right-hand picking from the guitars, and the inverse of the quiet verse, loud chorus dynamic just to really shake things up.
“Harvest” is by and large a folk song masquerading as a metal song, and if anyone is going to attempt such a thing, let it be Nightwish. The pan flute echoes the vocal melody during the chorus, which is itself a resonant, catchy stanza. The intro to “Pan” is gorgeous and evokes memories of the band’s classic song “Amaranth,” before things kick into gear. As far as sounding like essential, cannot be mistaken for anyone else but Nightwish, it takes second place, if only for “Noise” being a clear first. “How’s the Heart?” takes a more overtly folk metal direction, while “Procession” feels more prog than anything else.
The flavor of folk overtakes on “Tribal,” living up to the name with pounding drums, while also giving the guitars a chugging, hulking riff to chew on. It’s different enough for Nightwish, and I’m glad that here, they’re taking some risks and going beyond what can be a formulaic symphonic Euro metal approach. The first disc closes on “Endlessness,” a doomier, slower number that is as headbanging as one can get for this era of the band’s work.
“All The Works of Nature Which Adorn the World” is an epic piece, split into eight thematic parts. To try to break this beast down bit by bit is not an easy task, but I would be remiss not to point out a few highlights from this undertaking. “The Blue” builds and builds, giving way to a bright, cinematic moment on “The Green,” while itself building up into “The Moors,” really making this feel like one epic in eight parts, versus something more piecemeal. “Quiet as the Snow” lives up to its name, with a cold, wintry soundscape crafted with chimes, a soft piano, and a breezy sort of whisper like a wind of chill. Taken as a whole, it is an experience, and even though it may not be what one would expect from Nightwish, it is a deftly-composed masterpiece.
HUMAN. :||: NATURE is not a classic Nightwish album, and on that alone, it may deter longtime fans of the Finnish legends. But for those willing to embrace the wider influences of folk, classical, and progressive music, this slab of symphonic excellence is compulsory listening.
HUMAN. :||: NATURE is available now via Nuclear Blast Records.