Album Title: HUMAN. II: NATURE.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 10 April 2020
Here at manofmuchmetal.com, I hate to write reviews that are not positive, so I tend to steer clear of albums that I don’t particularly like. There are already far too many keyboard warriors out there, quick to reduce a band’s hard work to rubble in a few unkind comments. This simply isn’t my style.
That said, an album will come along every now and then that I feel compelled to write about, for one reason or another, even if I’m not overly enamoured with the music itself. That’s why, today, I bring you my considered thoughts about ‘HUMAN. II: NATURE.’, the new album from the Finnish symphonic metal sensation, Nightwish. And it’s a double album, to boot.
I realise that the album is already on the shelves but the promo was only made available to some of us the day before its release. I could have written a review after a cursory listen, but again, that’s not my style. I fully understand why this is the case and it isn’t a criticism at all, because we all know the size of the Nightwish fanbase and the price that those less scrupulous might pay to get their hands on an advance copy to leak. In this day and age, the risks are too great and I get that. It just means that this review is a little redundant in many ways because those that love the band will have already no-doubt bought it. I’m therefore effectively writing this for those on the fence, or those who are bored and want to read every word about Nightwish.
You can probably already tell where this review is going, but you might be mildly surprised. Having liked very little of the Nightwish output since ‘Once’, I didn’t hold out particularly high hopes for this one either. But, being 2020, the year that I challenge my normal tastes and preconceptions, I thought I’d give it a go. Plus, being on lockdown, time is plentiful right now. And, having given it a decent chance, I will happily admit that I like much of this record a lot more than I had expected at the beginning. And there are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, there are several positives to be teased from ‘HUMAN. II: NATURE.’, the most obvious of which is the vocals of Floor Jansen. She is a rare talent, able to sing with power, emotion and in a number of different styles, with a range that occasionally defies belief. There is no denying that she is a better fit for Nightwish than Annette Olzen was before her; she has made the position as the frontwoman of the biggest symphonic metal band on the planet her own, with a confidence and style that just works. The vocal situation is made even more entertaining thanks to the input from Marco Hietala and newest recruit, Troy Donockley, who also adds his Uilleann Pipes to the music. Together, the three provide a multi-dimensional narration to the album, which is naturally rather epic in scope, as the band seek to take us on the journey of music from the time of the cavemen to the modern day.
Then there’s the production which, as usual, makes Nightwish sound enormous. The guitars of Emppu Vuorinen are rich and really resonate, whilst there is a clarity and power to the rhythm section, meaning that the drums of Kai Hahto sound commanding, whilst Marco Heitala’s bass makes a glorious low-end rumble. Naturally, the keys of Tuomas Holopainen add the bombast and drama that is the cornerstone to the Nightwish sound. The end result is that, whatever the music, it is hard not to be impressed by the way that these six musicians sound when emanating from the speakers.
On the negative side, I have to say that there is very little within the first disc to surprise the listener. If a band has a certain style and it is popular, then this is not a problem at all. But when the band talk about capturing magic or a moment in time, I feel that the end result needs to wow me even more than normal. And, if I’m brutally honest, it all feels a little formulaic to these ears; I’ve heard it before and I’m simply not blown away. And, despite the bombast and theatrics, there are certain songs that cause me to lose interest almost entirely. The prime example is with ‘Harvest’, a folk-imbued track that fails to ignite my enthusiasm however many times I’ve persevered. And, as good as Floor is, I wish she’d be allowed a freer rein, to do exactly what she wanted. I may be way off the mark, but I get the feeling that she is being constrained to fit the Nightwish style too much. I told you I’d be honest.
That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy the first three songs in particular. ‘Music’ kicks things off in typical Nightwish style, full of energy, verve and majestic bombast once the impossibly long cinematic intro gives way. The melodic intent is actually delightful and I’d rank it as one of the best songs I’ve heard from the Finns in many a year. Jansen is both operatic and full-on rock diva in equal measure, whilst the choral vocals that support her are suitably epic and rousing.
‘Noise’ is a harder-rocking track, more aggressive in tone than its predecessor, allowing Jansen to sing with a real swagger. At this point, I’m thinking that Nightwish might have finally pulled me back into the fold. But ultimately, it is not to be, despite ‘Endlessness’ offering a final dose of epic grandiosity.
I’ve yet to mention the second disc, which is essentially an orchestral score with a film-like soundtrack feel to it. Again, it is laudable in it’s scope but as much as I enjoy the film score work of the likes of Hans Zimmer and Craig Armstrong, I find this whole affair just a little hit and miss. When it is good, such as the stunningly beautiful ‘Moors’, it is sensational and I doff my cap to the talents of Holopainen. Credit where it is due. But the material is not always that consistent and, again, I find my mind wandering at times unfortunately.
To sum up this epic and laudable endeavour, I find it to be an up-and-down affair, with plenty of aspects to enjoy but equally, a few to frustrate me also. Nevertheless, I’d suggest that it is my favourite Nightwish release since ‘Once’, even though by doing so, I could be accused of damning it with faint praise. Instead let me say that ‘HUMAN. II: NATURE.’ has some excellent material on it but I only wish it was more consistent on that score. It’s certainly not the coma-inducing affair that I had half-expected; in fact it shows flashes of brilliance that might just be enough to justify buying it when funds allow. We shall see…
The Score of Much Metal: 70%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: