The internationally-acclaimed symphonic metal band Nightwish has been through a lot since they fired lead vocalist Tarja Turunen in 2006. With Anette Olzon as their new singer, the Finns are ready to release their sixth studio album Dark Passion Play and embark on a US tour. Amaranth is the second of three singles from DPP (Eva, Amaranth, and to-be-released Bye Bye Beautiful).
Where to begin? I am a huge fan of symphonic metal and Nightwish was my gateway into the genre; as a classical violinist and singer and someone who loves power riffs, it was perfect. The four tracks on this CD are just a sampling of Dark Passion Play (for which I obtained a promo copy of). Nightwish itself has only changed in vocals. DPP is much like Once was, continuing the break away from their roots that began with Century Child, mixing in more than just operatic vocals, varying the sounds, and experimenting with new musical themes.
A bit about Anette Olzon. She sounds almost nothing like Tarja. Almost none. Very little vibrato as compared to operatic-style. Alto as compared to soprano. Rock-sounding as compared to classical-sounding. In my opinion she is just as good as, if not better than Tarja was, and I hold vocalists like Tarja, Floor Jansen, and Sharon den Adel in highest regard. Comparison is inevitable, but comparisons aside or not, Anette is a very capable and great-sounding vocalist.
A track-by-track analysis:
1) Amaranth: Amaranth is in no way representative of the huge, varied masterpiece that DPP is. In fact, until the band heard it recorded with Anette, it was to be a bonus track. Despite Tuomas' refusals, the band and producers and such thought it was a very catchy-sounding tune and forced it not only into the main tracklist of DPP, but to be packaged as the second single. Like Eva, neither sounds that much like the rest of the album, though considering the variety that DPP provides, the only song the band seems to call the "soul" of the album would be the 14-minute epic Poet and the Pendulum.
Amaranth itself is, as Tuomas and the band have said is very catchy and has a nearly-pop-sounding chorus, very much an ideal song for a single. With the full power of the London Session Orchestra behind them and a full choir as well, the song immediately blasts you after a soft opening. Anette is the sole vocalist on the track and much 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 and much more easily accessible than the rest of DPP. 9/10
2) Reach (Amaranth Demo Version): Reach is basically Amaranth with no orchestra and Marco singing vocals (presumably this was recorded before Anette joined the band). It is very much a demo, but still worth a listen. The chorus is completely different and for much of the song, Marco's strong falsetto seems to be in pain. 7/10, though it is a demo.
3) Eva (Orchestral Version): I loved Eva. I was always surprised by NW's decision to release a ballad as their first single, but it is an excellent song. Always nice that Nightwish chooses to release instrumental versions of their tracks because the orchestrations are very well-done and always worth a listen. 8/10
4) While Your Lips Are Still Red: While this is not a Nightwish song, it is definitely my favorite on the album. Written by Tuomas for a Finnish film "Lieska," it was originally written for a female vocalist to sing, but after hearing Marco record a demo of it, the director was convinced that Marco would stay. I am very glad he did because this song unleashes a softer side to Marco's voice we have not yet heard from in his time with Nightwish (The Islander from DPP, a Marco-only track is close to it, but not really). The vocal and piano parts of this piece are phenomenal and it is a very beautiful and emotional track. I hope that Tuomas continues to do works like this in the future, whether for NW or on the side. 9.5/10
Conclusion: Amaranth is a great single sampling an even better album. Pick up a copy to whet your appetite for DPP (if you're a NW fan, of course). If you don't really know NW or didn't like Tarja's vocals, have a listen to Amaranth and if it's something you like, buy DPP when it comes out.