Never one to do things by halves, Finnish symphonic rock purveyors Nightwish team up with a 53-piece orchestra for their seventh studio album, Imaginaerum, a concept album based on a dying man's recollection of his youth which also doubles as the soundtrack to their forthcoming Stobe Harju-directed film of the same name. Bassist Marco Hietala claimed that it's inspired by the works of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, and Salvador Dali, which suggests a score full of gothic fantasy-style arrangements, but although there are many hallmarks of a big screen mythical epic (the Palladio-esque breakdown on the lead single "Storytime," the Omen-esque choral backing vocals and ominous piano chords on the schizophrenic "Scaretale," and the stirring war march instrumental "Arabesque"), the band have thankfully avoided simply following the Danny Elfman rulebook. Opener "Taikatalvi" is a haunting, Middle Eastern-tinged folk number underpinned by a twinkling, music box backing and a rare Finnish-language melody, the frenetic Riverdance-goes-metal of "I Want My Tears Back," and the medieval campfire balladry of "Turn Loose the Mermaids" showcase their passion for traditional Celtic music, while the biggest twist appears courtesy of "Slow, Love, Slow," an unexpected but convincing foray into 1930s jazz-lounge territory, which proves Anette Olzon is as adept a torch singer as she is rock goddess. The doom-laden bombastics of "Rest Calm" and "Last Ride of the Day" are basically Nightwish on autopilot, while the meandering "Song of Myself" overstays its welcome long before the advent of a closing six-minute recital of Tuomas Holopainen's poem of the same name (influenced by the Walt Whitman poem). But if its accompanying full-length feature is even half as ambitious as its soundtrack, fantasy fans are in for quite a spectacle.
by Jon O'Brien