By Ally Urban
Special thanks to Sonja for all her help in writing this review.
When I first started listening to Nightwish back in 2015, I was completely transfixed by their incredibly unique sound. Floor Jansen’s heavenly yet powerful voice; Emppu Vuorinen’s consistently high calibre rhythm guitar work and melodic solos; Marco Hietala’s distinct bass lines and backup vocals; Jukka Nevalainen’s dynamic and energetic drumming; Troy Donockley’s enchanting Uilleann pipe playing, among other wind instruments and finally, Tuomas Holopainen’s impassioned piano work.
The fact that the six of them could produce such harmonious, complex, and lyrically meaningful music was astounding to me. Although Jukka Nevalainen has been replaced by Kai Hahto for health reasons, and Floor Jansen isn’t the original vocalist (Tarja Turunen and Annette Olzon came before her), Nightwish continues to pave their way down the path of success and renown.
Human. :II: Nature., the band’s ninth studio album, was released only a few days ago on April 10. Up until that point, it had been nigh on five years since the band had released new content. Endless Forms Most Beautiful came out in 2015, only a few months before I had discovered Nightwish.
In July 2019, a post on Jansen’s Instagram revealed that a new album would be released in 2020. When I saw that post, I nearly had a heart attack. Finally, I would be able to go through the process of anxiously waiting until the release date for the very first time with my favourite band of all time.
I have to be honest here and say that I didn’t get a chance to sit down and listen to the entire album until three days after the initial release. Furthermore, I had only listened to one of the two singles that had dropped in February (“Noise”) and (“Harvest”) March. My friend Sonja — the heavy metal equivalent of Yoda and the one who introduced me to Nightwish in the first place — linked me the YouTube video to “Noise” the day it came out. She proceeded to describe it as if Game of Thrones and Black Mirror had a child that “came from the mind of Tuomas, like he is Zeus.”
I think that’s nearly word for word, but in any case, at least one of us had the words to describe how fantastic the song is (Although, according to Tuomas, the Game of Thrones similarity was apparently an accident).
Before I dive into my attempt at explaining the sheer masterpiece that is Human. :II: Nature., I’d like to take a moment to analyse the album cover and title. I did a little digging around on the internet and ended up on some interesting reddit threads. What I gathered from my informal research was that fans thought the artwork and title were very experimental and far from what is considered “typical” Nightwish — and that right there is what I love most about this band; they defy what’s considered normal.
I don’t think there is a standard definition of “typical” Nightwish. Their music and image are continuously evolving. Angels Fall First, Oceanborn, Wishmaster and Century Child are far more neoclassical, gothic, and operatic than Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum, which fall in the vein of theatrical and rather symphonic.
I find Once to be the turning point between Century Child and Dark Passion Play, a bridge between the operatic and the theatrically symphonic. Endless Forms Most Beautiful only built upon the foundations set down by the Annette-era albums, and Human. :II: Nature. is redefining the band’s sound once again.
As for the repeat symbol craftily placed between Human and Nature, I strongly urge you to give this reddit article a read, because I completely agree with the title analysis and couldn’t explain it better myself. However, Sonja said that in one of Floor’s interviews, she mentioned that the symbol is something like “separate – connect.” The choice of symbol is interesting nonetheless.
Going back to the “sound” of Nightwish, though, I feel that the band is constantly experimenting. There is no single definitive “sound,” but rather a vast soundscape that Tuomas (the main composer) and everyone else works within. Nightwish is, quite simply, akin to an epic poem, which is why I find their music so incredible. They’re constantly evolving and transcending the boundaries of the genre as well as the standards they’ve already set within their repertoire.
Sonja agrees and further points out that she loves how they didn’t stick to a single sound; the sound sort of followed the story they wanted to tell, though it shifted slightly from what it used to be. All in all, however, you can still tell that it’s pure, unrivaled Nightwish-genius. They’re one of the few artists who can successfully make a vast soundscape like this exist in the same musical universe as their previous works.
The day I had first listened to the album (and I listened to it two times in a row) my fellow Scholar of Nightwish and I were discussing our thoughts. Talking about music is one of my favourite pastimes, and also helps me sort out my thoughts about particular artists and albums. Our very scholarly conversation ultimately helped me define my sentiments towards Human. :II: Nature.: it’s harmonious, inspiring, and stimulates appreciation for music in a very primeval sense.
Personally, I see it as a testament to how much music influences the lives of human beings as well as the world around us. Music is often a bridge between ourselves as humans and everything else, from abstract concepts, to emotions, to physical things and more. This album highlights exactly that.
It’s split into two discs, the most noticeable difference between the two being that Disc 1 features songs with vocals, whereas Disc 2 focuses more on instrumentals and sounds of nature. In total, there are 17 mind blowingly amazing tracks, though the last eight are just sections of one stunningly beautiful musical idea: “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World.”
Sonja and I don’t actually have a favourite track, because we genuinely love all of them. However, she did have an interesting take on “Music,” the first song on Disc 1. “Music is just fascinating from the idea to the execution where you actually can tell from the sounds how it’s evolving. Floor’s voice is at times almost bird-like, since birds sang before the man.”
I completely agree with her analysis. The third track on the album, “Shoemaker,” pays homage to the father of planetology, Eugene Shoemaker. It also features Johanna Kurkela, Tuomas’ wife as well as the frontwoman of the Auri project (which I wrote a review about two years ago!).
Some of the band members shine through on certain tracks as well; Marco’s voice on “Endlessness” and Kai’s drumming on “Tribal,” for example. Sonja also brought up that “Endlessness” gives off “Rest Calm” (Imaginaerum) vibes. My favourite fact, however, is that the band teamed up with the World Land Trust on “Ad Astra,” the very last song on Disc 2, which invites people to help preserve the rainforest in South America.
Human. :II: Nature. is an epic musical journey as far as I’m concerned, because it continues to build upon themes that were explored in Endless Forms Most Beautiful. I feel as though Endless Forms Most Beautiful serves as the foundation for the next era of Nightwish and this newest record sends us right into another galaxy within their musical universe.
Once again, the immensely talented Finns and their Flying Dutchwoman have come together to create an hour and 17 minutes of sheer, unparalleled musical genius. Human. :II: Nature. most definitely deserves a 10/10 rating.