Now nine albums deep, Nightwish’s more-of-everything approach was due to backfire eventually. Working with the London Session Orchestra propelled them to new heights on Once, and their last record’s grand finale was a 24-minute epic spanning the birth of life to its eventual extinction, occasionally narrated by Richard Dawkins. Despite some messy personnel changes, they’ve gone from strength to strength, now headlining Wembley Arena every few years.
From Lord of the Rings-inspired power metal through to symphonies celebrating evolution, Nightwish were never in any danger of being considered ‘cool’, but with Human. :||: Nature. they don’t have the innovation or imagination to save them. Split across two discs, the first is Nightwish by-the-numbers, like lead-single Noise, which takes Storytime’s formula from almost ten years ago and runs with it, only now with added ‘ok, boomer’ lyrics. Undoubtedly a vocal powerhouse, not even Floor Jansen can pull off “Now you’re a star, vain avatar, feeding the beast in your egoland; you have become tool of a tool, digital ghouls telling you to shut up and dance”.
Worse still is Harvest, which wouldn’t sound out of place round a fire at Christian camp. It doesn’t help that Troy Donockley’s vocals are more suited to folk music, but this cheese-fest about returning to the Earth once we die is far and away the worst song Nightwish have ever penned.
There’s some evidence that they’ve still got it. Endlessness is a continuation of 7 Days to the Wolves and Rest Calm, its doom-laden riffs complement a chorus dripping with tragedy. An ode to imagination, Pan backs it up with expressive chord progressions and a playful climax, sounding like a fantastical flourish songwriter Tuomas Holopainen used to be pack albums full of.
The rest of Human Nature’s first disc falls flat. As an opening track, Music isn’t in the same league as any other song that’s opened a Nightwish record. Shoemaker ticks the one-with-the-weird-drum-pattern box, but is otherwise forgettable. It’s a shame that How’s the Heart?, which provides a happy ending to Élan, sounds sickly sweet, and is ultimately too sentimental to carry the emotional heft it lyrically deserves.
All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World makes up the entire second disc, split across eight tracks. Entirely instrumental save for a few spoken word passages, it comes off more as Holopainen’s audition to score a movie than as a suite befitting his band. It’s an impressive display of compositional talent, but there’s no real reason to revisit it, unlike his full-band masterpieces from earlier albums.
Very few artists complete their careers without missteps, and that it’s taken so long for Nightwish to produce theirs is to be commended. With another headline show at Wembley booked, and somehow becoming the first band ever allowed to do a photo shoot in London’s Natural History Museum for this album cycle, they’ll be just fine – but with album ten, they will have something to prove again.
Human. :||: Nature. is out now, via Nuclear Blast Records