TARJA – The Shadow Self

Tarja - The Shadow SelfIt’s not very often that I get to review two albums by the same artist the same year. Back in June, former Nightwish soprano Tarja Turunen released a record called The Brightest Void, an album that according to herself, shouldn’t be seen as a real album but more of a foretaste of what’s come later in the year, August 5th to be more precise. Since Tarjas’s previous solo albums had left me both cold and underwhelmed, Colours In The Dark (2013) excluded, the record came as a very pleasant surprise. For the first time in her solo career, Tarja and her band sounded focused and the songs felt way more direct and in-your-face and many of the tunes stuck right away. It also brought up some expectations for this release – the main one. Well, that it raised the expectations might be to exaggerate a bit but at least I was hoping that the album would follow the taster quality wise. But it could also be the other way around, that the songs on the predecessor were the only great ones and that the main album would disappoint big time.

The album opens with first single / video “Innocence” and my first impression was that the song is a pretty strange – and brave, actually – choice for a single. Firstly, the song is six minutes long, secondly it’s not radio friendly at all in the melodies and the chorus isn’t catchy enough to get stuck inside your head right away. It’s also a bit weird choice as an opener because it borders to a ballad – and to open up a rock / metal album with a ballad is big no-no. It is, however, not a ballad per se, it’s more of a goth influenced pop song with big metal undertones and a heavy arrangement. Also, we get a pretty long classical piano break in the middle of the song. So, not the most obvious choice for a single but it is a really good song. I breathe a sigh – the taster album seem to have kept its promises, at least after one tune. “Demons In You” comes with a surprising opening, some kind of jazz/fusion/funk guitar riffing that makes me wonder if some schizophrenia was present in the studio, but the track quickly turns into a metal song. There are some really memorable melodies here, but as Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) shows up as a guest growler and she instantly makes the track non-commercial. The contrast between Tarja’s soprano voice and Alissa’s brutal growl makes the song stand out – and I really dig it. “No Bitter End” was the opening song on The Brightest Void (there was even a video for it) and this is what I wrote about the song in the review for that record: “The song is a full-blown riff monster with a calmer verse melody and chorus so sticky you could put up wall paper with it. Well, hello Tarja! I’m actually stunned because this tune is bloody awesome. “I’ve got nothing left to prove…”, she sings, but well, you actually have, Tarja, and you’re proving it right now.” That still stands – a killer tune! “Love To Hate” also turns out to be a winner – after a few spins. See, this slow, heavy, symphonic rocker with an arrangement that sounds like it was taken from some kind of musical or a movie soundtrack takes a while to get into – a grower. As everybody who have followed Tarja’s career knows, she likes to do covers and this album is no exception. But the choice is a bit surprising – she has chosen “Supremacy” by Muse. But Tarja gets away with it – in her hands the song is dramatic, a bit on the softer side and it strikes me that it could be used as a soundtrack to a, say, James Bond movie. A brave move which she brings home.

“The Living end” is easily one of the best songs on the album. It sports an acoustic intro and when the song comes alive the added bagpipes in the background takes the song to another level. There’s also some drama in Tarja’s voice and she sings it beautifully – very moving. “Diva” is another cool track where she pulls out sounds that makes me think of a carnival or a circus – it’s the kind of music that can be hard on an amusement park. It’s a theatrical tune, musically really beautiful but there’s aggression here as well and I get the feeling that someone has pushed a button on her that they / he / she shouldn’t have. I’d like to know who the song is aimed at. “Eagle Eye” is also taken from the taster album, and this is what I wrote about it: “It’s a ballad, a really powerful one. The melody gets right under my skin and the whole thing is very memorable and catchy.” That also stands. It’s pretty much the same version albeit a bit heavier on this one. “Undertaker” is clearly single material – it’s an uptempo and swinging pop song with gothic undertones, not a far cry from how her old comrades in Nightwish sounds today – very catchy. Great song. “Calling From The Wild” is a rocker that contains some metal riffing but also comes with a pop-metal, 80’s style, arrangement. It’s a good tune but I wish the chorus had been more direct and memorable. Closing track “Too Many” is a big, pompous and overblown ballad that shines with a cinematic arrangement. It’s a bit hard to digest but it grows on you. Also, when the whole eight minutes of the song are gone, stay tuned a while longer because there’s an unnamed hidden track coming up. This short techno/dance meets thrash metal piece is more fun than good but it needs to be heard. If you’re wondering what Tarja says in Finish after the song – google it.

After only one listen, it was pretty easy to tell that the promises of the foretaste-album was fulfilled with this album. The whole album feels way more authentic, dynamic and focused musically and style-wise than ever before. The fact that she has gone for a much heavier and direct sound and that she sings in a more straight-forward hard rock way, even though the opera influences are present in many places, makes the album  a very pleasant listening. But in the end everything comes down to the songs – and on this album, Tarja and her band have succeed in that department, even though the odd filler or two has snuck their way on the album. Where her earlier albums – especially the first two ones – was confused, fragmented and lacked direction, this one is focused on reaching its goal as a heavy rock album and hitting the target with one style, of course with a lot of variation – a smart move. Hopefully Tarja has found herself musically and that she will continue on the path she walked in on with this record.

7/10

Other Tarja reviews:

What Lies Beneath
Colours In The Dark
The Brightest Void

Tracklist:

1. Innocence
2. Demons In You (feat. Alissa White-Gluz)
3. No Bitter End
4. Love To Hate
5. Supremacy
6. The Living End
7. Diva
8. Eagle Eye
9. Undertaker
10. Calling From The Wild
11. Too Many

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