My favorite Nightwish era is the one that put out Dark Passion Play (2007) and Imaginaerum (2011), the one that was fronted by former Alyson Avenue singer Anette Olzon. The truth is, I was never that fond of Nightwish before that and I always found Tarja Turunen’s voice quite annoying in her higher register – and I thought the songs were underwhelming for the most with that line-up. I do like their latest Floor Jansen fronted record, though. But enough of Nightwish, they’re not the one’s under the magnifying glass here. But their ex- lead singer Anette Olzon is. After she departed from Nightwish it was quiet for some two years before a solo album unexpectedly (for me, at least) showed up out of the blue. The album was called Shine and was a quite motley story, full of ballads and AOR-laden rock but with a darker and symphonic and gothic vibe and elements that even bordered to metal. I gave that album 7/10 but since I haven’t listened to it for years and I can’t remember a note from it, I guess I might have a bit too kind with the score there.
But the solo album seemed just like time killing for Anette because it got quiet pretty fast after the release of that album. So we fast forward three years and tune in to the news that Olzon has ha new album on her way but this time it wouldn’t be a solo effort but a record with her new outfit The Dark Element. And it looked like Finland have made an impression on Olzon during her years with Nightwish because with The Dark Element, Anette is Finland bound once again. For a songwriter partner, Anette got in touch with guitarist Jani Liimatainen (Sonata Artica, Cain’s Offering) and the rhythm section brings us bass player Jonas Kuhlberg (Cain’s Offering) and drummer Jani Hurula (Cain’s Offering) and the four of them are now bringing us their brand new debut album. As a fan of Olzon’s voice, a new project is always something to look forward to. Even though her solo album has gone in to oblivion at my place (I have to pick it up again soon), her Nightwish years do brings some expectations to her projects.
The title track – of both band and album – opens the album. It starts with a synth intro which is followed by a ballsy bass and heavy drums. It’s a metal track for sure but influenced by both goth and pop with symphonic undertones. The refrain catches on right away and this sure feels like a single to these ears. It reminds me of a more symphonic version of Battle Beast. Very good. First video / single “My Sweet Mystery” follows and it is more of a hard rock song – big, upbeat and dressed up in a symphonic pop suit. It brings Olzon’s version of Nightwish to mind for sure and the whole thing smells like a hit – very upfront and catchy. Third song out is called “Last Good Day” and is a good, upfront pop rocker with symphonic elements and again, I can’t help but to think of Battle Beast when I hear the chorus – Battle Beast meets Nightwish! There’s more hit-potential to come, this time with “Here’s To You”. It’s a pop-metal tune where the pop comes with the melodies and arrangements while the rhythm, beat and riffs goes metal. The tune is catchy as hell and I hope to see a video for it soon.
Then it’s ballad time. “Someone You Used To Know” is a soft yet pompous, laid back yet bombastic. It has a memorable melody line but it’s not that radio-friendly and feels more like an album track more than a single – and it’s quite far from any power balladry. Yes, I do quite like it. “Dead To Me” is a pretty heavy symphonic rocker with a very direct and intense arrangement but at the same time it do sport a commercial touch melody wise. It’s dark and powerful and not a far cry from Nightwish’s more direct and straight forward tunes. “Halo” on the other side is a pop song full of 80’s sounding blipping synths. It comes in a mid pace and with its distinct, powerful and catchy refrain, this could have been in the pop charts back in 1986. Hell yeah – I dig this! If you mix mid 80’s chart pop with symphonic pomp metal, there’s a good chance it would sound like “I Cannot Raise The Dead” because that’s exactly what that song sounds like. Very distinct, uplifting and catchy. A good song.
Newest single “The Ghost And The Reaper” is the most Nightwish sounding song on the record. To compare this to the more poppier side of Dark Passion Play isn’t to stretch things one bit. It’s heavy, straight-forward, punchy and in-your-face and it comes in a faster pace – so catchy it’s ridiculous – and it will leave you humming the refrain for days afterwards. A great song and a hit! Then ballad # 2 comes along and we don’t get a power ballad this time either. “Heaven Of Your Heart” is soft, stripped, melancholic, laid-back and very atmospheric but also sports a refrain that is very memorable. I believe this could be a hit both on rock radio and the more mainstream stations – very good. Closing track “Only One Who Knows Me” is slow, heavy and dark in the beginning and in the song’s chorus but the verses are more uptempo heavy pop. To arrange it like that, kind of backwards, is pretty neat, I think. A good, very catchy tune and a good closer.
I mentioned Battle Beast and of course Nightwish here and those are two bands that pops up every now and then here. I’m not familiar with either Sonata Artica or Cain’s Offering so I can’t tell if there’s anything of those bands in the mix as well. This whole project is based on metal but there are so many other influences here – symphonic, gothic, lots of pop and even AOR-laden melodies – that I sometimes forget that it is a metal record I’m listening to. As for the quality of the songs, I’d say that it’s pretty high. I write ‘pretty’ because as long as I have this record on, I really like the songs but the desire to put this record on repeat just doesn’t appear. For me, it’s not because it’s a bad album – it’s pretty far from that – it’s because there are thirteen a dozen of these female fronted gothic, symphonic metal bands around and frankly, my stomach was full ages ago. But for big fans of this genre, this record is a no-brainer. It’s full of catchy songs, it has a spot-on production, stellar musicians and Anette’s amazing voice on top of that. If they would turn this project into a proper band, I think they could have a bright future. And they’re a lot – A LOT – better than most of the bands out there in this genre.
1. The Dark Element
2. My Sweet Mystery
3. Last Good Day
4. Here’s To You
5. Someone You Used To Know
6. Dead To Me
8. I Cannot Raise The Dead
9. The Ghost And The Reaper
10. Heaven Of Your Heart
11. Only One Who Knows Me