Nightwish are best known as one of the giants of the symphonic metal world. Incorporating traditional instruments, orchestral elements, and powerful vocals, Nightwish have a distinctive sound that is instantly recognisable. HUMAN. :II: NATURE is the next chapter in their long-standing career following on from Endless Forms Most Beautiful, the first album they released with Floor Jansen.
The opening track, Music, delivers an impressive soundscape. It feels very tribal with the fast-drum rhythms and haunting chant-style vocals. The rumbling instrumentation creates a haunting build-up, and yet, the track does not go in the direction you might expect. A number of ethereal realms are encountered before the track kicks off with vocals. Their sound is recognisably Nightwish with the dramatic choir vocals rising and falling throughout and the track, prominent orchestral parts and Floor’s soaring vocals. It is a very progressive track; the unusual time signatures, and melody lines stand out. Fans will, by now, be acquainted with the single Noise. This somewhat controversial track effectively fuses our modern-day technological obsessions with symphonic metal music. It’s a powerful track with a catchy chorus. The guitars bring a heavier sound, particularly in the breakdown, which emphasises the energy and the mood. The orchestral instruments and metal band perform fast-paced rhythms that give the track a thrilling sensation.
Nightwish’s use of heavier guitars has varied across their discography. Previous albums saw more guitar-focused tracks, whilst others have left the impression that they were an afterthought filling space. The guitars feel powerful and certainly bring the dark, heavy textures that fit perfectly with the themes of this album. However, it does feel that more could be done with them to introduce some extra textures to the sound. Oceanborn, their second studio album, included power metal-inspired guitars and saw much more involvement of these instruments. It’s great to see that Nightwish have experimented and developed their sound with each album, it just feels lacking when so much can be done with the guitars. The overall sound of this album is very progressive. It could do with a few more catchy hooks. There are so many inspiring ideas, and that’s not surprising as Tuomas Holopainen is a highly talented composer, but the ideas and themes are lacking some cohesion. For example, Harvest changes the direction of the album very suddenly following the momentum and theatrical drama of the previous tracks. The track contains some wonderful melodies and serene sounds. It has a calming effect which brings a welcome change of tone from the darker ideas explored elsewhere.
The breakdown in the outro of Pan packs a punch. The guitar tone is truly delicious and the dark feel to the mood works really well. Having a few more sections in this style would give the tracks an extra something. Of course, overusing and repeating ideas too often reduces the overall impact but the tracks on this album seem to tease with tastes of these moments and then take them away too soon. The vocal melodies included, notably in How’s The Heart, are very emotive and blend wonderfully. Floor’s vocals are shown off with the range of more aggressive sections, for example in Tribal, and softer gentle parts seen in Procession, and operatic sections. The tracks suit her voice perfectly whilst bringing a diverse range of sounds and styles. Endlessness places Marco Hietala’s vocals in the spotlight. This track feels very atmospheric and the soaring chorus introduces something different. The tone and texture of his voice blends seamlessly with the instrumentation. Tribal also introduces some interesting chant vocals – this track feels like a development of the themes briefly revealed in the into to Music. The traditional drums especially emphasise this. The linking of ideas across these tracks works but doesn’t feel as cohesive as it could do with the arrangement of tracks placed in-between.
The progressive nature of HUMAN. :II: NATURE gives the album a very unique feel and it’s great see them continuing to develop their sound with each album. The power and drama brought, notably with the earlier tracks, is lacking slightly in direction. Dramatic instrumentation layering and build-ups in the tracks are missing the ultimate climax. The change in pace and arrangement gives the album momentum and keeps the listener on their toes. Tracks 10-17 form chapters of a grand piece. This orchestral focused section of the album has been beautifully arranged, creating a dramatic narrative with sections of spoken vocals. The main motif that unites all aspects of the narrative together develops and enhances with each track, beginning in Moors. The detail in the orchestration, arrangement and placement has been carefully planned and executed to produce the most, emotive, impactful and awe-inspiring effect. This half of the album, despite containing so many ideas and themes performed across the array of instruments, does feel more cohesive. It’s clear that the music is exploring a broad spectrum of themes that come together to form an overarching narrative.
HUMAN. :II: NATURE is an incredibly unique album. From start to finish the compositional ideas, performance and production are clearly of a ridiculously high standard. The incorporation of orchestral and folk aspects in their sound has always been a solid part of their identity and continues to grow. The album is busy; packed with such a vast number of ideas, themes, motifs, it’s too much. Ultimately, as hard as it is, the ideas need to be reigned in so that they can be truly focused on and thoroughly developed to appreciate the overall effect. This being said, Nightwish continue to push themselves, and they should continue to do so, as they create incredible music.
Words by Holly Royle