The last decade of being a Nightwish fan looked briefly like being more of a nightmare, but then blossomed into a golden age. Imaginaerum was astonishingly good, then when Anette left, the band fell on their feet by recruiting Floor Jansen – their best singer yet – then didn’t put a foot wrong live, and put out the excellent Endless Forms Most Beautiful to show they didn’t even need bedding in time.
Then they released HUMAN :II: NATURE. And I’m wondering how long it’s going to be before I can stick up for them again.
I bloody love Nightwish. They are one of my all time favourite bands. Tuomas Holopainen is a genius and one of the most personal, bare-your-soul lyricists in metal, if you bother to read the words being sung and think about what they really mean. They have a huge catalogue that really only gets better the more of it you listen to. I’ve put my name on articles where I state how good they are, and I’m even on the bleedin’ making-of videos for the last album saying how shocked and delighted I was when I heard ‘The Greatest Show On Earth‘.
And if you’re wondering why I’m making it so clear that I had my colours nailed to the mast on this band years ago, it’s because I find their new album so profoundly problematic, I’ve put off writing this for months as I barely even know where to start.
Human :II: Nature borders on being a St. Anger moment. Not because its horror is completely unmitigated by redeeming feature – it isn’t – but because it’s littered with moments where I can’t quite believe they did that. The record’s title, although admittedly god-awful, doesn’t even make the top 3 of things that are rubbish about it.
There are, for sure, some good bits. The intro is kinda fun, even if it should be a separate track to ‘Music‘. Noise really is bloody good, and I’ll happily listen to that song whenever, even if it probably wouldn’t stand out on most of their better output. ‘Pan‘ is OK too, although invoking Hans Zimmer’s Pirates Of The Caribbean main theme so overtly is a little on-the-nose even for a songwriter like Holopainen, who’s never hidden his admiration that much. And the first movement (and I use that word advisedly) of ‘All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World‘ promises much, but we’ll get to this later.
The rest of the album proper is… OK… sort of… By which I mean a lot of it is not really terrible, just badly lacking. ‘Music‘ is horribly overambitious for its own good (and not just because using Madonna song titles invokes that supremely excellent musician… even if it is the one with Ali G in the video). The vocal gymnastics Jansen shows off may be incredibly impressive but it has all the emotion of a 0-0 draw between two firmly mid-table sides on the final day of the football season. ‘Shoemaker‘ has precisely the same problem – impressive, but dull.
‘How’s The Heart?‘ and ‘Procession‘ come in precisely at the point in every playthrough where I’ve started to lose the will to live, and they have made me have to go and cuddle the cat not to fall off a black cliff into oblivion. They are both slow, really dreary, and lacking the bombast they needs to carry it. ‘Endlessness‘ is even worse, with a unison guitar-with-strings riff taken up by the vocals into yet another mid-tempo track that really might have been forgivable as a forgettable closing track, but there’s still half an hour of the record left, and it’s just an avalanche of stodge as a result.
The album proper (again, I’ll get to what I mean by that) has two genuine horror shows on it. I really don’t want to get into ‘Tribal‘ too much, but it really is to ‘Ratamahatta‘ what an Irish theme pub in Boston run by a Swede who thinks Drogheda is in Scotland is to an actual Irish pub anywhere in the Republic. ‘Harvest‘ is a totally different level of awful that I’m happy to dig into, though.
When I was a little kid – 7 years-old, at the most – I got “gifted” a cassette of what seemed innocent folk music of exactly the kind my mum was happy to let me listen to. Only shortly after, it became clear it was a very particular brand of folk music that peddles some rather passionate Born-Again Christianity that my parents didn’t want their kid anywhere near. The cassette quickly “got lost” (thanks, Mum – seriously, thank you) but not before A) some of those tunes burned their way into my memory in the manner that can only happen when you’re very, very young, and B) I had a lot of questions my folks really didn’t want to answer.
The next time I heard anything like that was in the Far Cry 5 soundtrack, a game set in a fictional version of Montana where a really whackjob doomsday cult is trying to take over the county – and has taken over some of the radio stations, which is where you hear their lunatic bilge compositions.
So imagine my shock when ‘Harvest‘ appears on HUMAN :II: NATURE, and sounds precisely like it. Naturally, I have full confidence no one in Nightwish has any batshit fundamentalist ideas. I’m sure that this is just a much broader area of music I simply have very limited experience of, and that they are drawing on something much less lyrically divisive. But whatever the inspiration, the song blows really hard, and doesn’t fit at all.
It’s a risk, and it fails – badly.
That description doesn’t even begin to describe the last half-hour of H:II:N however. Having already been with us for the most disappointing 50 minutes since I went on a date with a seemingly great guy who turned out to be a massive racist and I had to sneak out through the coffee shop’s kitchen exit, Nightwish then inflict on us 30 minutes of waffle.
The eight-movement piece ‘All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World‘ is not just a risk, it’s an astronomical miscalculation which normally results in your dad saying, “delete that” on the unmissable if unflattering documentary film that follows it. It is a tedious ego trip that wafts around atmospherically like it’s about to burst into a big number but never does. It is all overture, no opera. It is like sitting side of stage at Live Aid where Brian May is noodling his guitar just before Queen go on, only to miss the actual show. It is a band that thrive on being theatrical and over the top and melodramatic being understated – and it says… nothing. It’s just there, in the background, while you wonder if you should put the washing on, and if you fancy a cup of tea.
Nightwish consistently pull something more extravagant and sensational out of the bag every album, and leave you wondering how they can top it. ‘Ghost Love Score‘ looked insurmountable, and then they opened the otherwise ordinary Dark Passion Play with the amazing ‘The Poet And The Pendulum‘. They followed it up with doing a fucking concept record about theme parks and childhood dreams that I never really understood but wanted to see the film it was supposed to be scoring if it hadn’t financially nearly killed them – but it was a risk, it was musically stunning, and I loved it. Then they did ‘The Greatest Show On Earth‘ and when asked to speak about it after one listen I nearly drooled on the microphone, it was so good.
So why have they finished off their most beige album ever with the most banal meandering twaddle?
HUMAN :II: NATURE really is an awful, inexcusable misstep. And I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I will listen to St. Anger while standing barefoot on cat food kibbles before I go near this thing again. It is going to be a long time, and going to need a lot of exposure to their good records, before I will feel positive about Nightwish.
I am more enthused and passionate about music now than at any point in the last six years. And this hasn’t dampened that – but it is so bad, it came close.