Nightwish // Imaginaerum
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —Dark passion re-play
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU | US]
Websites: |
Release Date(s): EU: Out Now! | US: 01.10.2011

Nightwish - ImaginaerumTo be frank with you, I wasn’t sure whether to look forward to this one or not. On the one hand, Nightwish has a hype about them that I’ve never really quite understood. While they’re a good band that has produced some good albums (this Angry Metal Guy, for example, really enjoyed Once quite a bit), the rabidity of their fanbase and the standard to which they are held has always been very surprising to me. I have literally met people who don’t listen to anything else. Apparently their songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen (you know, the pirate from that horrible series of movies) has stalkers fans that are so hardcore about him, that they send letters to his mother to tell her that they disapprove of whom he’s dating. But honestly, I’ve never thought of the band as anything other than a pretty good, female fronted symphonic power metal band. And, well, after Dark Passion Play, I wasn’t very excited anyway. Because let’s face it. That was not a good record. So when I heard that they were releasing a movie (especially given that Tuomas is already in the movies) and a soundtrack to it, I was not excited. But Imaginaerum managed to win me over. 

Really, it starts out in a way that I don’t think I would have ever expected and started drawing me in slowly. “Taikatalvi” features Tarot vocalist Marco on a soft track that apparently translates into “Magical Winter” in English. This song, with no female vocals, some piano, a music box sound and an orchestra, sets the stage for the whole record perfectly by both building up the feeling and taking you by surprise. The surprise is important, because despite being a Nightwish record, it varies a lot more than you would expect. While it does launch into a standard record opener (in the first single from the record “Storytime”), it lets you know that this album will be a little on the unpredictable side. And surprisingly from this pop metal act, it is.

Nightwish - 2011 - by HeileThough, don’t get me wrong. This is obviously a Nightwish record and if you’re not a fan of the style, you probably won’t like it. Though, what’s not to like? The songs are snappy, with sharpened hooks that have you singing them for days in spite of yourself. The arrangements are actually interesting and smart, the orchestrations are huuuuuge, bombastic and beautiful and the production is very good (but wow is this record LOUD, too loud, as it peaks in my speakers). And what’s good about it is that the band never settles into one thing really specifically. The songs don’t really fade into each other as can happen with certain types of records. Instead you’ve got title track pop rockers (like the aforementioned “Storytime” and “I Want My Tears Back”), followed by mid-paced creepers like “Ghost River” and “Scaretale.” You’ve got a musical number called “Arabesque” and a kind of noir, smooth jazz(esque) track in “Slow, Love, Slow” which Anette acquits in a way that La Prima Donna never could have. Hell, you even have Celtic folk bits that sound like they should be on a Loreena McKennitt record (while breaking into a Morricone/The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly sounding whistling at the end), not a Nightwish one.

Honestly, I only have a few complaints about this record. I guess, firstly, I think Anette is kind of a weak vocalist. This is not to ignite any kind of “they should have kept Tarja” debate, because frankly, they shouldn’t have. It just seems like she only really hits her stride in the poppy choruses of these songs and sometimes she brings down songs on the softer side (Tarja was the same). Her accent gets a tad cartoonish at times (“At the end of the reeever!”), but mostly I just think she doesn’t have the same grace as someone like Helena Haaparanta, who is just such a much more dynamic and powerful performer. But this is offset by the fact that Marco and choirs are used very wisely, and Anette feels more like a part of an ensemble than La Diva. My second complaint is that the last 12 minutes are completely wasted on citing lines from the movie and then recapping the whole album as an overture (the title track “Imaginaerum”). So a record that could have ended with a bang, makes me just want to shut it off before it’s done. That’s a shame. Nightwish 2011 by Ville Akseli JuurikkalaFinally, sometimes I feel like Tuomas is quoting himself a bit much. I actually twice went back to check older records to see if “Storytime” and “Last Ride of the Day” were using similar riffs or melodies from previous records. They never did it, as far as I can tell, but they got really, really close a couple of times.

Still, Imaginaerum is a huge step above the previous record and makes it feel like Nightwish really is on top of the world again. Hell, they even have a song on here that impressed me poetically (“The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove”), something I never thought possible. The lyrics on that track are actually bordering on really good and the performances are outstanding. On top of that, the record plays well like an original sound track and is everything you expect from Finland’s biggest pop sensation. It’s simultaneously beautiful, while introducing some heavier elements that work well and taking the orchestral presence to a new level. It’s good that these guys got the chance for a do over after the last one because it’s heads and shoulders above it.

Well played, pirate boy, well played.


  • As someone who never understood the Nightwish hype and thought they were about as mediocre as a band could get, I was legitimately surprised by this album. You hit the nail on the head in saying that some of these hooks will be stuck in your head for days, I’ve had “I Want My Tears Back” in there for a week! I’m still finding it difficult to get into their back catalog, but I’m definitely more interested in them now knowing this is their direction moving forward (hopefully).

  • Got to agree with the review. I like one or two older tracks but I don’t understand the Tarja worship – now there was someone who could really mangle the English language. Anyway, like AMG and Sam I was really surprised by the album. Very good indeed – amazing production and a real powerful and varied treat at times. But yes it falls down at the end, needed to end with a big bang. And I can’t say the scouse bloke reading the poetry was my cup of tea on the penultimate track. But plenty of great songs on offer, particularly like Ghost River. And I love Annette’s insane performance in Scaretale, she really lets herself go on that one.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been looking forward to your review and it didn’t disappoint. Most other reviews are written either by fanboys or people who really hate the band so it’s great getting a more somber perspective.
    I didn’t expect much from this album so I was also very pleasantly surprised; it’s actually a Nightwish album without a real stinker of a song on it!

    • Thanks! And yeah, I noticed that as well. Not a single stinker!

  • Thais Munk

    Awesome review. I really liked Dark Passion Play, but I can see where you’re coming from when it comes to Nightwish. I enjoy a throughout review and AMG always makes me come back for that very reason. Many thanks! :-)
    You mentioned “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove” impressed you. I couldn’t help but smile when I read that, since that is the only track written by Marco Hietala and not by that pirate guy. Perhaps that has something to do with it. ;-) I suppose that I qualify as a fan of Nightwish (I’ve been listening to them since 2003), but even to me the culture surrounding the band gets on my nerves more often than not.

    • Anonymous

      As far as I know the lyrics are still written by the Pirate Guy even though Marco wrote the music.

  • Zadion

    1. Pirates of the Caribbean is good.
    2. Tomi Joutsen looks far more like Jack Sparrow than Tuomas does. ;)
    3. Gotta disagree with the statement of Nightwish’s lyrics. Tuomas is a damn fine poet, even if he does express self-pity way too much. “Dead Boy’s Poem,” for example, gives me shivers.

    That said, (aside from those things) I agree with this review COMPLETELY. Would even give it a 4/5 myself. You really DID hit the nail on the head on here. Glad to see I’m not the only one who thought that the “Imaginaerum” track is completely unnecessary. I think the poem at the end of “Song of Myself” is touching, though not something I’d willingly choose to listen to every time I play the song…

  • Harry Eagles

    Let’s be honest, though. Nightwish is really just a poor man’s version of the sound that Morten Veland’s various bands have been nailing over the past 15 years. Who’s going to listen to Nightwish when they could listen to Tristania or Sirenia?

    • Zadion

      Nightwish is better than both of those, IMO. And they don’t sound THAT similar either.

    • It’s a long time since Sirenia has been a good band. The last two albums are dreadful. And their sound is very different to Nightwish – more gothic orientated – owing a lot to 80s groups and Paradise Lost.

  • For what it’s worth, the spoken lines in “Song of Myself” are actually from Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name. They aren’t written by Tuomas and they aren’t from the movie (so far as any of us know, anyway). If they were, I would probably not have as high of a regard for that song as I do, but as it stands, I think it’s actually pretty classy.

    • They’re not – the title’s a reference/homage, but the poem is Tuomas’s own creation.

    • Walt Whitman wanted to be a decent manboy?

  • Anonymous

    Hey there,
    I must say that musically this album is really epic, great quality, high class, Tuomas is at the peak of his compositing abilities imho.

    Nevertheless, I will most definitely not buy it. Simply because it isn’t really a music album but a movie soundtrack. Although I love opulent soundtracks in the veins of Hans Zimmer, I cannot listen to them any longer than approx. 15 minutes before it gets too much for me. At the end of the day, I prefer real songs with great hooks and parts for letting out aggressions, melting to soft melodies and just play them while I get to work etc. This one is really…uhm…too much for me to listen 75 minutes :)

    The only song I will buy is “I want my tears back” because that one is really a killer tune for my own needs :)

  • I just can’t understand enjoying the album ‘Once’. I thought it was rather trashy. Especially that I wish I had an angel song.

  • Kudos, AMG.

  • I liked Dark Passion Play because Tarja sounded like she was giving up on her last few albums (to me). If you didn’t like DPP and enjoyed Imaginaerium I guess I have something to look forward to.

  • What is this shit? RIP old Nightwish, they’re now shitty folk pop. They use to be such a good gothic metal and symphonic metal act before Tarja left.

    • Oh no, a band trying new things… If Nightwish were churning out the same songs they were 10 years ago, you would be complaining they hadn’t changed in all that time.

      If you don’t think they’re still symphonic, I wonder if you’d actually heard the album yet..
      Pleasantly surprised by Imaginaerum, Dark Passion Play was a very good album to me (although falling flat compared to their earlier works), but this one is a great, diverse musical experience.. Looking forward to hopefully seeing the movie…

      • Oh no, a person using sarcasm! The weakest form of wit to ever be on Earth!

  • I agree with the review in almost everything. Dark Passion Play is a really good album to me, and i can say, in certain way, i like it more than Imaginaerum. I find DPP darker. Anyway, i love this one (Imaginaerum), Ghost river is the jewel of the crown if you ask me, indeed i feel Anette kind of weak in most of the tracks. But i think that “Scaretale”is her best perfomance ever “Burning farm and squeaaaaaling pigs!!”, sound cartoonish, but cool.

  • Anonymous

    I find it interesting, the disparity in your opinion of DPP and Imaginaerum. I think a lot of the sound of this album owes itself to some of the compositional breakthroughs they made in DPP.  I don’t prefer Tarja, but I have to say that Anette is simply too far off the mark from the operatic ghost that she needs to be in some of these tracks and ends up cheesing an otherwise grand sound, which in my opinion breaks the album at times. I feel like she’s channeling too much pop-diva in songs that simply don’t need that.

  • Eilenna Elonen

    Really great review. Well written, and as previously said, it’s really nice to read the level-headed opinion of someone who doesn’t worship Tuomas Holopainen nor think they’re pathetic pop-metal crap.
    Kudos ^^

  • Joseph Morgan -Nightowljrm-

    Good review aside you calling it pop…

  • Anonymous

    I must agree with some of the angry rants here – this CD is an utter waste of time, and one of the biggest disappointments ever for a longtime Nightwish listener.

    Pompous, over-produced, over-pretentious. Should I be surprised? Absolutely not, since it’s Tuomas we’re talking about here. But a few facts must be reiterated anyway:

    – Anette is definitely NOT a good singer for Nightwish, and way below anything remotely competent in terms of the necessary operatic vocals in a gothic/operatic metal band. Hell, they could’ve recruited Simone Simons, Floor Jansen or even Sharon Den Adel for fulfilling that part! What did we get? A totally mediocre singer for what is now a mediocre band, despite the perfect album production; 

    – For someone who has learned to admire strong and goose bump-inducing albums such as Oceanborn, Nightwish or even the Over The Hills EP, this constitutes a letdown of rare proportions; you don’t know what I mean? Just listen to Stargazers right now and feel it;

    – I am positive that Marco Hietala is Nightwish’s Yoko Ono. Recruited by Tuomas as a counterweight to Tarja’s voice, he ends up singing almost more than the female frontperson herself. Sorry, I don’t need to feel his monstrous presence at every moment of a song;

    – With this album, they have COMPLETELY departed from their gothic/opera metal roots – now what we have is a bland, unimpressive band that has gone the same mediocre way of bands like Lacuna Coil.

    – I don’t care if Tuomas tried to have Tarja and had the door slammed in his face – the fact is: she WAS the voice that signified the style of the band. In the same way that Blaze Bayley was a nice guy in the wrong band (Iron Maiden), Anette would probably do great in any other hard-poppish outfit – I don’t even want to imagine her singing something like Angels Fall First, by the way…

    Trust me: I got this CD as a Christmas gift (that I had asked for) – and I still am not able to listen to it back-to-back, as would definitely be the case with at least the first three Nightwish albums…it is THAT bad.  

    • Janis

      I must say that i can not agree with what you said. Yes, it’s not the
      Nightwish from fucking 8 years ago but it’s new and interesting. For
      anybody that extends his or her musical interest at least a bit beyond
      the sometimes very strickt boundaries of metal as it “has to be” will
      find that Nightwish’s new style is neither boring nor uninspired
      pop-sing-along. Most of the songs (not all, but most) have touched me
      emotionally in very different ways. And to me this is a clear sign that
      an album has worked out like it was supposed to.

  • rocking_rose

    Ok, I must admit to HAVE BEEN a GREAST Nightwish fan during their Tarja aera. Simply because I love opera (studied classical singing myself) and I am a metalhead. It was perfect for me. After Tarja’s departure, I was curious which singer they would hire. I expected someone with a big voice again (not necessarily plain classical, since there are amazing ROCK singers out there too), someone who could turn over the old songs easily, in their own way.
    Then came Anette. I was out.

    I briefly listened to the new album and first got surprised: Tuomas is going THAT classical in here and hired a big classical choir, but wanted to have someone like Anette being the lead singer here?

    Ok, then I realized: This is not symphonic metal at all, but more soundtrack/theatre metal. Partly, it even works with Anette. But I still can’t listen to her when she starts squeezing (I get headache from that tone). In  “I want my tears back” I really liked her  because she didn’t eek and squeeze.

    Overall, the album is perfectly produced and I enjoy to listen to the orchestra/choir only parts sometimes, but coming back to the band…where are they? It’s mostly orchestra and choir, and that these people CAN play is no question.

    Some good songs in here, but everything going into that circus mode is so embarrassing for my taste…..Seriously, Nightwish? Circus melodies? Why?

  • just one thing here as an answer to the comments, Nightwish never was a gothic band

  • Noctus

    This album really didn’t work for me, it’s really disjointed and I don’t like how they replaced the mystical fantasy element of their music for trite childlike innocence Tim Burton bullshit. The orchestra is really overbearing and oh my god the child choir.