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Dark Passion Play

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  • “The end, the songwriter’s dead…” begins the first track of the album. Despite the presentation of these chilling words, they are far from the truth concerning Dark Passion Play and Nightwish. Nightwish, replaced former vocalist Tarja Turunen with Anette Olzon, have released their sixth studio album and the first in three years. As the thousands of Nightwish fans groaned when Tarja was fired, we all wondered whether the new vocalist could fill Tarja’s shoes and if Nightwish could live up to what it had become, one of the world’s best symphonic metal albums fronted by one of the best female metal vocalists.

    Well most of the jury is still out, but this one says there is absolutely nothing to worry about; Dark Passion Play is my new favorite Nightwish album. Oceanborn and Once were my favorites before, but no longer. And astonishingly enough, one of the reasons may in fact be the vocals. So really there are three reasons why I enjoy DPP more than all of the other Nightwish albums: Anette Olzon, more epic, and the Poet and the Pendulum.

    Beginning with Anette. Anette is…not Tarja. For me, in a very good way (though I will concede that many will take this in a very negative way). She is a completely different vocalist and I look forward to hearing her sing the old songs live. For one, she is an alto rather than a soprano, uses very little vibrato, and sounds like a rock singer rather than an operatic vocalist. That is not to say I don’t like the operatic vocals that Tarja utilized so admirably–far from it, as groups like Epica are still among my favorites and Tarja is one of the greatest female metal vocalists of all time. Perhaps one of the reasons I like Anette so much is that she is a change from the operatic-soprano vocals that are very often found in symphonic and gothic metal bands (which I listen to a lot of). Her voice, I find, is much better at conveying emotion than Tarja’s was (again, personal preference). Ultimately, each person will decide on the vocals and that will make or break the album for them because really, the rest of the band has not changed unexpectedly. The band continues on the deviation that began with Century Child from the symphonic metal “standard” that they set with Oceanborn. Each album has grown steadily more progressive and DPP is no exception.

    More epic…My favorite Nightwish songs have been pieces like Ghost Love Score, Beauty of the Beast, Creek Mary’s Blood, and Dead Boy’s Poem. For the same reason I like groups like Rhapsody of Fire, I love songs like these for the epic feel. With Once and the addition of a full, large-scale orchestra and choir as an everpresent force, the epic feel has grown larger and larger. The album has five tracks that are nearly six minutes long, it starts and ends with two massive works, and the most epic-feeling song ever written by Nightwish is in this album in the form of The Poet and the Pendulum.

    My track-by-track analysis of the album:

    1) The Poet and the Pendulum: Reason 3 for why DPP is the best of the Nightwish albums. 14 minutes of London Session Orchestra + Anette + Nightwish + Full Choir + A Boy Soprano (or two). I could write a whole review/analysis on this song alone, but since it’s part of an album, I cannot. As the longest ever written and the Tuomas’ favorite, the song is divided into five parts, changes pace many times, and includes basically everything you could imagine could fit into a song. It begins with the wailing vocals of a boy soprano, reading off an obituary of “the songwriter.” The tension already present in this introduction suddenly bursts when the full orchestra explodes into action, followed shortly by the heavy metal guitars of the rest of the band. It subsides a bit when Anette begins the first verse, singing from what sounds like Tuomas’ perspective. With the powerful, awe-inspiring chorus, the orchestra, choir, and band erupt once again. Part two continues in this way, bombastic and epic until it truly subsides into the same feel the introduction had with the boy soprano returning. When Anette joins in, it is clear that the soprano vocals of Tarja are gone with Anette singing in a lower octave. Then the brass sounds and ominous words are whispered loudly before switching gears immediately into Marco howling. Anette returns, however, and the chorus is played for the last time before Tuomas’ obituary is completed. The fifth part is truly beautiful, sounding almost like a whole new song (almost three minutes long) and all traces of the violence and power played previously are gone. The lyrics are for all intents and purposes Tuomas writing his death (and resurrection in part five) into a song. They are profound and powerful and though, obviously, he is not dead, he was feeling immense sadness and was heavily weighed down as he wrote the album. This is truly the heart and soul of DPP and is one of my favorite Nightwish songs ever written. 10/10

    2) Bye Bye Beautiful: Bye Bye Beautiful is, as many would guess, a musical farewell to Tarja. It is not an offensive or hate-filled farewell but is more of a sad and bittersweet farewell. For Tuomas, it was a song that “needed to be done” and he says it sounds much more aggressive than the meaning behind it actually is. There are many references to the grievances that the band listed in the open letter that announced Tarja’s firing. Musically, it is an aggressive track with Anette singing the verses and Marco singing the powerful chorus. It feels completely different from The Poet and the Pendulum, but knowing what had happened to the band, it does not come unexpected. 8.5/10

    3) Amaranth: Amaranth itself is, as Tuomas and the band have said, very catchy and has a nearly-pop-sounding chorus, very much an ideal song for a single. Anette is the sole vocalist on the track and most of her vocals are accompanied with a strong drumbeat with the orchestra playing lightly in the background for most of the song. The chorus is basically the song, very catchy with Anette’s vocals layered on top of each other for a very nice-sounding harmony. A fun song, much lighter than the two previous songs and is much more easily accessible than the rest of DPP. 9/10

    4) Cadence of Her Last Breath: One of Anette’s favorite songs (and one of Tuomas’ least favorite), Cadence begins with burdened breathing, soon followed by guitar riffs and keyboards. For me, Cadence’s verses and development are very powerful and there is a short, but sweet guitar solo, but the chorus never really did it for me, almost as though it went away from the phrases that get built up by the verses. Anette sings this song with Marco shouting “Run away” in the chorus. 8/10

    5) Master Passion Greed: The hardest song Nightwish has ever written is about the other half of Tarja’s dismissal, her husband Marcelo Cabuli. Unlike Bye Bye Beautiful, this is not a bittersweet song, but a bitter song since the band believes the business-first attitude of Marcelo is what brought about the break between Tarja and the rest of the band. It is sung entirely by Marco (who also shares writing credits) and there is a good amount of screaming, thrash guitar, and growling (by Tuomas?). One of the longer songs and much heavier than anything ever done before by Nightwish, it is an interesting song that, like Bye Bye Beautiful, does not come unexpected and is a definite change of pace. 8.5/10

    6) Eva: The first single released from DPP and the first song released featuring Anette’s vocals, it is also the first ballad on the album. It is a beautiful and primarily orchestral piece. The lyrics are something to note as well. They are exquisite and very well-written, even for Tuomas’s work. Mix in a strong guitar solo and backing vocals by a gospel choir (which will be heard much more later) and you get a very solid ballad. 9/10

    7) Sahara: Sahara is a breakaway piece written with an exotic African/Egyptian sound. A bit reminiscent of Creek Mary’s Blood from Once, it is a diverse track, utilizing Anette’s vocals in many different ways. The riffs are heavy and the orchestra and choir play a major role as well. It is an epic and powerful song and is another change of pace from the rest of the album. It is one of my favorites from the album. 10/10
    8) Whoever Brings the Night: Written by Emppu (lyrics by Tuomas), this very much sounds like a guitarist’s song. The intro kicks in with heavy guitars, the riffs are dominant and powerful, and there is a lengthy guitar solo. The vocals are much less pronounced and the vocals speak of deceptive love and falsehood. Not one of my favorites, but it adds to the diversity of the overall album. 8.5/10

    9) For the Heart I Once Had: A sad and mournful song, Anette’s vocals are the feature of this song. At times it seems that the notes of the song are at the edge of her range, but she carries the song admirably. She puts a huge amount of emotion into her voice for this piece, which would otherwise be a bit flat. 8.5/10

    10) The Islander: Yet another change of pace. A Celtic ballad written by Marco and sung primarily by him, the Islander is all very folkish and serene. Sung very much like something out of Ireland, it is a well-written piece and very different from the rest of the album so far. There are a wide variety of instruments, from bodhran drums to flutes to fiddles to uileann pipes. 9/10

    11) Last of the Wilds: The only all-instrumental piece on the album, Last of the Wilds is a treat to the ears. It is basically a duel between Finnish and Celtic instruments joined in by the electric guitars and drums of the band. It is an awesome piece with instruments diverging everywhere from the main melody. It resembles a jam session I participated in not long ago, mixing many different kinds of instruments and improvising in many different directions. An excellent piece. 10/10

    12) 7 Days to the Wolves: Inspired by a Stephen King novel, 7 Days to the Wolves seems to be somewhat of Beauty of the Beast’s successor. Starting out with some simple drumbeats and string parts, it launches into a dark and heavy verse and chorus. There is a long instrumental section heavily reminiscent of part of Bless the Child that builds up to one of the most powerful and aggressive vocal lines Anette sings on the whole album. It’s a lengthy, 7-minute song with a good bit of power behind it. 9/10.

    13) Meadows of Heaven: The grand finale of the album, it comes with a gospel choir (that was allowed to sing “heaven” in as many ways as they liked but nothing relating to Christianity) in tow. The ending of this song is simply breathtaking. It is difficult to describe (funny considering how much I went off on the Poet and the Pendulum). A very powerful and emotional finish and an excellent conclusion to the album. 10/10

    Concluding Remarks: For those who doubted Nightwish’s ability to come out with something new that could match their old material, DPP proves them wrong. Then again there always are those who will put down this album regardless. As a hardcore Nightwish fan, I had very high standards when I began listening but they were all met. Anette is a great vocalist and Nightwish is as good as ever. Recommended for all metal fans.


    Posted on December 19, 2009