Nightwish – HUMAN :||: NATURE
Anyone that’s met me from 2006 and on has probably heard I’m a big Nightwish fan. I’ve got the tattoos, ticket stubs, concert posters, band tees, flags and every studio album to prove it. So it should go without saying that I’m always excited when they get to work on a new album. I think it also goes without saying that during the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, new music from our favorite artists is even more anticipated to help keep us all sane.
While Human Nature released a week ago, it took me a couple days of coming back to the album to complete this review. I wasn’t in love with it after the first listen, but it did start to grow on me after the 3rd or 4th run. That’s not something that most people probably look for in an album, but I have a handful in my collection that started out this way and turned in to some of my favorite albums, so I didn’t lose hope.
The album opener “Music” sounds like it could’ve come straight from Nightwish’s previous album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful. The themes of birth, humanity and wonder are still front and center, while the tone of the song moves from a soft build to an epic tale. Floor dominates the vocals on this track, making Nightwish’s new, evolved sound with her soft but powerful voice recognizable right off the bat.
The second track on the album gets right in your face in classic Nightwish fashion. “Noise” has a lot to unpack, and I won’t lie, the music video almost ruined it for me. It was the debut single and the first music video for the album, which I watched before hearing the song by itself. I know you can’t judge an album by the cover, just like I try not to judge a band based on a music video, but I’m guilty of breaking that rule sometimes. The music video pictures a technological dystopia, and all of the seven deadly sins are there if you care to play a game of ‘I Spy’. It was too busy and a little in-your-face for my taste, but after listening to the song on its own a few times I got a better feel for it. The lyrics are extremely concise, with no more than three or four words making up each line. Put to the quick tempo, it gives you an ominous feeling that maybe this tech-heavy world we live in isn’t so great after all.
“Shoemaker” is a song that’s a little lost on me. The lyrics are extremely metaphorical which makes it a little hard to follow any single, unique idea. However, Floor demonstrates some impressive vocal skills on this track with some high note trilling throughout, and more operatic styles accompanied by a choir backing towards the end. My favorite part about this song is that Troy Donockley finally makes his first vocal contribution singing alongside Floor in the chorus.
“Harvest” is number five on the album, and it was the second single released after “Noise”, and I loved this song immediately. It’s more of a mellow tune that made me reminiscent of breezy summer days, and I can’t wait to crank up this tune around a campfire later this summer. Troy comes back for the main vocals through the entire song this time and I found it really refreshing. Fans of the guitar/ulean pipe breakdown in “Last Ride of the Day” from the Imaginaerum album will really enjoy the instrumental harmony in the middle. My only qualm with this one is that the chorus feels very repetitive, but as a whole “Harvest” is so upbeat that it’s easy to get past. Arguably, this might be my favorite song on the album.
“Pan” gets you back into the Nightwish groove; whimsical, but heavy. Of all the songs on this album, this one might be the most classic “Nightwish” sounding. Being a longtime, passionate fan, Tuomas’ ability to mesh the symphonic sounds with heavy metal has always amazed me, and this one hooked me in from the first riff. I would have picked this track as the first single, but that might just be me.
Next is another song that took a couple listens for me to get behind, but the lyrics really clicked with me. “How’s the Heart?” has some themes that reminded me a bit of Rest Calm (Imaginaerum), but it’s a very different song. Like so many others, I struggle daily with anxiety and depression, and this song resonated with those feelings of silent suffering. It’s a struggle beneath the surface that’s hard to describe, but you know you can feel it in your heart of hearts. This may not be the case for everyone when they hear this song, and it’s not exactly a tune I would play on repeat, but it touched me in a personal way that I have a subtle appreciation for.
“Procession” dials it back down as another mellow interlude, but in a different way than “Harvest”. The overall tone stays pretty even throughout the song, although there’s a bit of a pickup near the 3 minute mark. The song title is fitting as it seems to tell the story of the earth and humanity’s beginnings, but I might debate that it could have also been called The First Acorn since that recurs in multiple verses. It’s not a particularly spectacular song; I’m so used to being wowed by Nightwish -even the slower songs- so while it’s still pleasant, nothing here really stood out to me.
If the last song bored you, “Tribal” will reel you back in – it lives up to its name almost immediately. The first time I heard it while getting ready for work, my actual first thought was “Wow, this is really tribal sounding”, before I looked at my phone to see the song title. In my experience, every Nightwish album since Dark Passion Play has had one super aggro song, and this is it for Human Nature. While it’s the shortest song on the album at just under 4 minutes, it might be the most fun. Out of character for Nightwish, they even snuck in some metal growls that really get me pumped. Right as you think it’s fading off, it comes back full force at the 3 minute mark and features more of Floor’s talented vocal abilities before coming to an end. I wish it was longer, because it’s pretty groovy
Oh yeah, Marco Hietala is in this band. And he finally makes his first major vocal debut for the final song on the album, “Endlessness”. While you can still find him in the choruses of some other tracks, Marco has made more vocal contributions to past Nightwish albums than he has Human Nature, so when his voice alone finally hit my ears, I was stoked! I love him as a musician and as a person from the brief opportunities I’ve had to meet him. Lyrically, I get the impression of an ethereal/higher power or some kind of unseen force giving a warning about the darker side of life on Earth; not everything is sunshine and daisies. Floor comes in later at the 4:35 mark to be the metaphorical light in the dark. And the ultimate message ends with the circle of life with Marco and Floor singing together – death is a new beginning. It’s a very fitting song to end the album on.
Ultimately, Human Nature is a really well put-together album. Nightwish is taking a new direction with their music, incorporating more science, nature, and worldly ideas. I was nervous about that, but Tuomas Holopainen knows how to compose the shit out of an album and make it all work! I highly encourage anyone that dislikes it to give it a couple more chances, it might grow on you like it did on me.
Ever since “Dark Passion Play” in 2008 (unless I’m mistaken), Nightwish has included a Bonus CD with the instrumental and orchestral versions of each song. They changed it up with Human Nature and instead did a series of unique instrumental songs with their own nature-related themes. A very pretty music video was made to the last track “Ad Astra” in colaboration with the World Land Trust, which is an international charity focused on the conservation of endangered forests. As a big fan of the great outdoors, I love that Nightwish and the WLT partnered up to help bring more awareness to their cause.