It is a dark, stormy night and gale force winds howl around the scene: a dramatic cliff overhang, camera positioned behind a long-haired man with a frayed denim sleeveless wielding a Flying V guitar referred to as his ‘axe’. I haven’t watched a music video for a Nightwish song, but if I were a betting man I would put my money on that as the opening shot. The rest of the band, it transpires, are positioned at the precipice of other overhangs spread along the length of the cliff side, the ground below hidden by a thick fog. A close-up of the lead singer, eyes closed. The band explode with crunching riffs and crashing drums. The singer opens her eyes and begins to belt to the heavens.
As you can tell, listening to Nightwish’s most recent release (the first I’ve heard of them since my angsty mid-teens head banging to their 2004 album Once) came with visions of the world’s most generic metal music video, and that’s no coincidence. Every element of the album seems to be pulled directly from the ‘metal’ section of TVTropes.org. Perhaps the novelty of these tropes are what enticed a fifteen year old me to the perennial Call of Duty montage soundtrack Ghost Love Score (from Once). Unfortunately, as a marginally more mature third year student with disturbing interests in math rock and Tom Delonge’s vocal chords, cookie-cutter pseudo-epic metal doesn’t quite cut the mustard anymore.
Synth strings that sound like they’ve been taken straight from the vast pool of tragic sound effects on those electric keyboards at school gratuitously laden every track. This is usually accompanied by crunching guitar that follows the exact same rhythm, and while I don’t know much about instruments that actually use notes, I suspect it isn’t doing anything interesting there. But wait! The bridge comes in and here’s some recreation of a really old instrument like a lute or something I don’t know. Doesn’t it make you yearn for times gone by? Doesn’t it inspire you to don your chainmail, grasp your longsword and charge into battle? I’ll let you decide that one. Suffice it to say I’ve not gone running to any re-enactment societies on Nightwish’s account.
Main songwriter and keyboard shredder Tuomas Holopainen is ambitious. Endless Forms Most Beautiful’s title is taken from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and is “all about beauty of life, the beauty of existence, nature and science”. The album’s first single Élan reaches for loftier heights still: “the meaning of life, which can be something different for all of us”. Philosophy lecturers everywhere must question the security of their jobs, for if Nightwish were ever to disband (God forbid) they might be in jeopardy. It’s easy to get lost in the clouds as the band’s symphonic music soars its listener higher and closer to a fundamental understanding of themselves. Indeed, I got so absorbed by the music I hadn’t realised that the album had ended half an hour ago and the music I was actually enjoying now was from Modest Mouse’s new LP. For the sake of journalistic integrity I replayed Endless Forms Most Beautiful.
In some cruel twist of irony laced with torture, the album closes with a 24 minute, five part epic dubbed The Greatest Show on Earth, referencing Richard Dawkins. The song comprises different parts of gentle cheesy piano, par for the course guitar chugging and samples of Dawkins speaking played over the sound of the ocean and whale song, with the occasional dabble of light strings on top. After the whale song has finished, there is a very clever minute and a half outro. Yes, they’ve sampled my heavy breathing as I fell asleep listening to the album! A deep exhalation signals another thirty seconds of silence – presumably for contemplation of the incredible journey the listener has sadly come to the end of – and there Endless Forms Most Beautiful ends.