“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is the eighth studio album by Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.
The band was formed in 1996 by vocalist Tarja Turunen, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and keyboardist / principle songwriter Tuomas Holopainen. Adding drummer Jukka Nevalainen and then bassist Sami Vänskä, Nightwish gradually gained increasing success in Europe with their first three albums, but tensions within the band meant that Holopainen seriously considered splitting the band in 2001. Vänskä was asked to leave, and the band then continued, under new management, with new bassist Marco Hietala, who also performs male vocal parts.
Despite further success with the next two albums, 2004’s “Once” being the most successful at that point, reaching the Top 20 in ten European countries, there was more drama in late 2005 when Turunen was presented with an open letter following a concert in which she was informed of her dismissal from the group. That night’s concert had been recorded and was later released as the DVD/CD “End Of An Era”.
In 2007 the band announced Anette Olzon was their new lead vocalist. With Anette, a less operatic singer than Turunen, on board they released “Dark Passion Play”, which was their most commercially successful album to date.
The next album, “Imaginaerum” was something of an extravaganza, released in multiple versions, including the regular album, orchestral and instrumental versions. The album was also tied in with a movie of the same name – in which all band members had roles – and there was a score recording released.
During the following world tour Olzon found herself dismissed a few days after being unable to perform due to illness, with the band stating that “the needs of the band were in conflict, and this has led to a division from which we cannot recover”. Floor Jansen, vocalist with Re-Vamp, was drafted in to complete the tour and later became a permanent band member, together with multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley who had performed on previous studio works with the group. Hotwever, due to a sleep disorder Nevalainen was unable to participate in the recording of the latest album, the drum parts being handled by Kai Hahto.
So, after yet more upheaval in the group since the last studio album, how does “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” stack up against their back catalogue?
Named after a quote from Charles Darwin’s 1859 book “On The Origin Of Species” in which he wrote “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” this album, loosely based on the concept of “the beauty of life, the beauty of existence, nature, science” is, to my ears, the best album that the band have yet produced.
Designed to be listened to from start to end, as albums used to be, the record starts with a spoken piece from Professor Richard Dawkins introducing first track “Shudder Before The Beautiful”. Orchestration leads into some heavy guitar riffing before Jansen’s vocals kick in. Her voice is pure and clear, and the track’s melodies catchy. This is classic Nightwish but also the group sounding more accessible than ever.
Lead single “Élan” sees the pace drop slightly, before the bombast returns in “Yours Is An Empty Hope” which features some superb orchestration in the middle section.
There is a ballad in “Our Decades In The Sun”, and the title track is another really catchy masterpiece.
“Edema Ruh” are travellers and entertainers in the fantasy trilogy “Kingkiller Chronicle” by Patrick Rothfuss, and the instrumental track “The Eyes Of Sharbat Gula” was inspired by the photgraph of an Afghan girl that was featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine way back in 1985.
Throughout the album the quality is absolutely top notch. Each member of the band puts in an excellent performance, the material some of Holopainen’s best ever, and his production is crystal clear.
To close the record we have the epic five-part “The Greatest Show On Earth”, a twenty four minute track about “life and evolution by natural selection”. Featuring, as does the album as a whole, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metro Voices choir, and a further contribution from Professor Dawkins, this is an epic track in the truest sense, and the perfect way to end such a brilliant album. Simply breathtaking.
1. Shudder Before The Beautiful / 2. Weak Fantasy / 3. Élan / 4. Yours Is An Empty Hope / 5. Our Decades In The Sun / 6. My Walden / 7. Endless Forms Most Beautiful / 8. Edema Ruh / 9. Alpenglow / 10. The Eyes Of Sharbat Gula / 11. The Greatest Show On Earth (I Four Point Six / II Life / III The Toolmaker / IV The Understanding / V Sea-Worn Driftwood)