It almost seems strange to place Nightwish among some of the biggest bands in modern metal, but it’s effectively true. They’re basically the faces of symphonic metal, and though the slimness of that niche can further some of the confusion, armies of devoted fans and gigantic world tours with commendable regularity speak for themselves. It’s in the output where the greatest contention might come though, because from the broadest possible standpoint that covers metal as a whole, Nightwish don’t really have that one release that’s established itself as a staple within the metal canon. The arguable candidates are 2004’s Once or 2007’s Dark Passion Play, but they aren’t so much universally recognisable as the key blueprint for operations within symphonic metal only. And so, with the focus continually put on making grand, sweeping epics and curbing the mainstream machine, the impression that Nightwish give about their success – that it comes exclusively from the aforementioned dedication and will continue to do so – gives them the clout to make an album like Human. :||: Nature., a double album clocking in at over eighty minutes with the second disc comprised entirely of an eight-part, half-hour orchestral suite dedicated to nature and the planet as a whole.
For most, even attempting that could immediately be deemed as an act of incredible bravery or immense stupidity, especially within metal, but you get the idea that Nightwish kind of know what they’re doing here, especially when it comes to appealing to the stripe of metal fans in particular who like the extol the comparisons between metal and classical music more than most. That’s Nightwish’s demographic after all, and when such blatant pandering to that has gotten this so far, it only makes sense to carry on doing it, which is why the feature-length, ludicrously opulent Human. :||: Nature. just feels like the next logical step. But even then, this is a lot to take in, and when Nightwish are effectively facilitating their own bloat in such a bald-faced manner, it’s not exactly easy to just look away from. Factor in how that can mask an album that is, otherwise, a pretty solid continuation of what this band has been doing for over two decades, and Human. :||: Nature. doesn’t feel quite as impressively powerful as it was likely intended to.
The exact culprit of where that comes from isn’t too difficult to narrow down either, but it’s worth noting before getting to that that, when playing to their strengths, Nightwish remain attached to an overall creativity and field of inspiration that plenty of their symphonic metal contemporaries certainly can’t lay claim to. For one, taking a concept like what it means to be human and breaking it down to a more elemental, almost shamanistic viewpoint works excellently for a band as indebted to tradition as Nightwish are. It lends some great lyrical flourishes to tracks like Music and Pan which tap into mythology and spiritualism and how they tie into the earliest concepts of culture and storytelling, something which is allowed to evolve even further into the pounding percussion that makes up the second half of Tribal. It all makes Noise feel like a distractingly awkward outlier in its whiplash fast-forwarding by a few thousand years as a screed on the ills of technology that feels really played-out, but even when embedded in its own theme, the bright, pithy harmonies of Harvest play into the sanguineness of an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical with the glittery instrumental to match. It’s not a surprise that moments like these show up though, given how togetherness and the universal experiences of the human race are such key themes, and to Nightwish’s credit, they do enough to avoid it for the majority, especially on a track like How’s The Heart? whose openly more sentimental bent could make it a prime candidate to fall into such a pitfall.
But for such an enormous concept, a band like Nightwish feels about right to steer it in a successful direction, and that’s effectively true for Human. :||: Nature.. As ever, there’s the titanic guitar leads that can anchor themselves in a core that feels surprisingly heavy and traditionally metal for an album like this on Tribal, but they’re generally here to accentuate the grandeur of the strings that serve as the primary space-filler and Floor Jansen’s operatic vocals that barely falter in anything she does. It’s easy to see why Nightwish have become the most key players within symphonic metal given how easily all of this comes, with a tightness to the execution and having everything coated in polish to soar at any given moment. It’s also worth noting how much character Troy Donockley brings to mix, with his more traditional instrumentation from pipes and tin whistles bringing a richness and diversity to a sound that can so often crash in terms of real flow or flexibility. It’s a suitably colossal sound for a band who’ve made that their calling card, and a keen ear for modulation and using that for great dramatic effect on Music and Procession ensures the cinematic bombast is always visible.
But that then takes us to the elephant in the room and the most notably identifiable part of Human. :||: Nature. – the All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World suite, Nightwish’s newest exercises in flagrant audacity and perhaps the most superfluous decision they’ve ever made on an album. Because let’s not mince words – this doesn’t need to be here, and the fact it bolts on an entire thirty-one extra minutes to an album that would’ve been perfectly fine without feels like poor time management virtually any way it’s spun. It’s the reason that this is Nightwish’s longest album to date, and for as undoubtedly pretty and well-arranged as it is from the London Session Orchestra, the majority of what it adds to the album’s overall theme is a potential score for a nature documentary that could somewhat tie into the concepts that Nightwish explore. They try and weave that throughline in in spots, with Geraldine James’ readings of Lord Byron and Carl Sagan on Vista and Ad Astra respectively, and an interpretation of the Hurrian hymn to the Phoenician goddess of orchards Nikkal on Anthropocene, but the greatest takeaway from this whole piece is how Nightwish’s instinctive attempt to one-up themselves doesn’t yield anything at all. No one is going to return to this upon relistens, and for as generally fine as a classical suite as it is, it’s pleasant background music at best and an obscene amount of filler at worst.
It’s even more of a shame when, up to now, it’s been touted as Human. :||: Nature.’s grandest selling point, only to greatly overshadow its moments of notable quality and pile on the unnecessary bloat. If anything, it proves how good a streamlining could be for Nightwish; pared back to its initial nine tracks, this isn’t an amazing album but there’s at least resonance and soaring power that’s easy to find gripping. Had it been left at that, there would’ve been much more to like here, instead of having a pretty inconsequential half-hour tacked on the end that serves to further Nightwish’s self-creative narrative of more opulence is tantamount to being better. It’s not though, and Human. :||: Nature. feels like a pretty damning realisation of that, in which a good album is automatically brought down by a band for whom restraint just isn’t a factor, but probably should be.
For fans of: Epica. Apocalyptica, Kamelot
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Human. :\\: Nature.’ by Nightwish is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.