Now on their ninth album, symphonic metallers Nightwish have decided to go even more all-out than usual with Human :||: Nature, a double-disc spread that clocks in at over an hour and twenty minutes long. Given the sheer length involved and that the second disc is in fact a single track ‘All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World’ it’s apparent that giving this just one score is going to be too reductive and not do the album justice. With that in mind we opted to score Disc 1 (Human) and 2 (Nature) separately and then put it all together for an overall score.
It’s clear from the outset exactly why Nightwish are the symphonic metal band; their blend of huge orchestral arrangements with crunching guitars and soaring vocals is a captivating one and there’s still no-one that does it better than Tuomas and co, and in Floor they’ve found a vocalist who breathes new life into their arrangements and can match the grand ideas and compositions. Opener ‘Music’ is quiet and reserved before galloping drums and horns blare which then leads into synth-backed grandiose choirs. It’s all so far, so cinematic. Around the three minute mark we finally hear Floor’s vocals introduced over piano backing and the first appearance of chorus motif. The rest of the band come in properly just before the five minute mark and the rest of track is typical Nightwish fare relying on grandiose ornamentation to supplement straightforward tempo. Followup ‘Noise’ far more immediate with an up-tempo gallop and Floor once again shows off her versatility with one of the finest vocal hooks on the record right out the gate.
The occasional slightly off-kilter rhythm or drumming (‘Shoemaker’) introduces a welcome change to shake things up, bringing guitars to sit at the fore with vocals and symphony elements supporting as opposed to leading as they so often do. ‘Harvest’ is a folk-inspired acoustic that is a complete change of pace reminiscent in style to Blind Guardian’s ‘Curse My Name’ until about the halfway mark before going full Eluveitie with the folk metal and it’s a stellar interlude - given the first three tracks clocked in at around seventeen minutes already it’s a breath of fresh air and the band bring back the folk metal for ‘How’s The Heart’ later on Human. Likewise, ‘Pan’ goes heavy, actually dropping the orchestra after the first chorus and letting the guitars shine with driving riffs underpinned by thunderous double-bass drum work and this is repeated occasionally throughout the track, either dropping orchestral elements or putting them into the background so when they are brought back to the fore or reintroduced their effect is that much more immediate and rewarding. ‘Tribal’ even tries somewhat to channel their inner Roots-era Sepultura with its use of harsher vocals and tribal drumming patterns and shouts. Floor even briefly ditches her usual operatic stylings to bring in more snarled vocals and it works a treat.
Unfortunately it’s not without fault - while this is their most adventurous work to date and it mostly pays off, spoken word is hard to get right and when it is used, it doesn’t quite work here and seventh track ‘Procession’ is a little too symphonic-by-numbers that doesn’t quite stick the landing, instead ending up a drawn-out ballad that robs the side of some momentum before it’s fortunately regained with ‘Tribal’ and ‘Endlessness’, a truly bombastic statement of the last twenty years of Nightwish. All that said, Human is chock-full of great moments with an incredible performance from every single member of the band. It’s hard to imagine the band without Floor now and marks her tenure with the band as an ongoing remarkable era. Human Nature’s first half marks their most experimental, least-Nightwish album yet that also sounds like quintessential Nightwish, embracing not only their symphonic elements but even stripping them out occasionally or bringing in more wind instruments for a shot in the arm of folk metal.
Second disk Nature is described by principle composer and lyricist Tuomas as a “love letter to our world” and it seems to be the soundtrack to some as-yet-unwritten film or play. It’s a fully-realised orchestral suite in its own right formed of eight tracks that are in fact single movements of the whole, hugely adventurous and grandiose but unfortunately lacks any of the punch or emphasis of the first half. It While it’s clear they’ve lavished a lot of love and attention on both sides, this comes across as more symphonic elevator music, meandering instrumentals bookended by spoken word passages that unfortunately draws the album on for far too long. If the band had released these as separate works, or this as a companion to something then it would’ve worked far better and it’s hard to recommend the Nature portion of the album to any but the most diehard Nightwish fan
Overall, as an album it does sum up Nightwish as a whole, with moments of bombast and majesty that are peerless within their genre but also glaring inconsistencies in quality and, frankly, an utter lack of ability to self-edit. Human is quintessential Nightwish, encapsulating twenty years of the band wonderfully but Nature’s orchestral suite really needed its own release to be able to stand as its own entity because it’s entirely too self-indulgent to add to an album already bursting at the seams.
Overall Score: 6/10
Human :||: Nature is released April 10th via Nuclear Blast. Pre-order the album here.