At this point, it can be guaranteed that Finnish symphonic metal legends Nightwish will always come up with a product that is bombastic from start to finish, over-the-top in orchestration and instrumentation, and passionate. Its 2007 album Dark Passion Play had a great deal to prove with Anette Olzon as vocalist after Tarja Turunen — with whom Nightwish had built a worldwide following — was fired. The album succeeded, achieving positive reception and massive sales numbers.
With no sign of slowing down, Nightwish had been working on its new album, Imaginaerum, as far back as October 2010. A movie of the same title, based on the album, was also in the works and would reportedly be released in 2012. Imaginaerum was released in November 2011 to nearly universally positive reviews. In fact, About.com referred to the diversity of content on the album by saying, “Sometimes albums are so diverse that they become disjointed, but that never happens here,” and SpazioRock.it compared it to the films Finding Neverland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Big Fish.
Imaginaerum proves to be more than just a continuation of the epic female-fronted symphonic metal which is Nightwish’s signature sound. Whereas Dark Passion Play provided a showcase for the abilities of Olzon in an attempt to compare favorably to its previous album, Once, Imaginaerum sounds as if all of the members of the band are working in harmony, with higher energy than before, and having fun during the whole process. Main songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen never seems to run out of his sense of melody, inspiration and craftiness in portraying his emotions and thoughts in the music. The closing track, “Imaginaerum,” even features string arrangements by noted producer Pip Williams.
Nightwish’s penchant for heavily layered but catchy music is not ignored; songs such as “Storytime,” “I Want My Tears Back” and “Last Ride of the Day” are fast, strong songs with powerful choruses. The lighter songs on the album, such as “Turn Loose the Mermaids” and “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove,” are still captivating, comparably drawing more influence from folk music than before. A pleasant surprise about Imaginaerum is that it reaches a new level of Tim Burton-style whimsy for Nightwish, with songs that are dark but catchy, such as “Ghost River,” and the maniacal, carnivalesque “Scaretale.” The level of experimentation even allows them to venture into slow jazz with “Slow, Love, Slow.” Finally, the epic songs “Rest Calm” and “Song of Myself” fulfill the Imaginaerum puzzle by displaying composer Holopainen’s sincerity.
More than simply a metal album with a symphony backing it up, Imaginarium shows a new level of complexity for Nightwish. Each instrument is interdependent with the others within the context of the songs, all of which flow together as part of the sum experience. Never before has Nightwish sounded so liberated musically; the listeners are in for a very intriguing symphonic metal roller coaster ride. Imaginaerum can be described as a delightful new musical milestone.