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Review: Élan (Single) by Nightwish

Review: Élan (Single) by Nightwish


Artist: Nightwish                                   Release Date: February 13, 2015

Album: Élan (Single)                            Rating: ★★★★ out of 5 stars

Genre: Symphonic Metal

Recommended If You Like: Delain, Sonata Arctica, After Forever, John Williams


Élan the Perfect Taster For Upcoming Masterpiece

After several years of uncertainty, Nightwish is back to reclaim its place at the forefront of symphonic metal. The future of Nightwish was unclear back in 2012, when the departure of Anette Olzon marked their second turnover in lead vocalist in seven years, and the longevity of their tour in support of Imaginaerum (2011) was threatened. However, since then, the band has rebounded beautifully, and with the addition of vocalist Floor Jansen (ReVamp, After Forever) and longtime collaborator on flutes and Uillean pipes Troy Donockley, and evolved into a truly unique musical phenomenon. This single is a musical message of the band’s triumphant return, and an indicator of bigger things to come.

Élan is both typical Nightwish fare and a step into new territory. It has all the hallmarks of what the band does best: a wonderful, flowing melody, a riveting, powerful chorus, and a beautiful blend of the band with the orchestral elements. The lyrics are uplifting and strong, and Floor Jansen delivers them with refreshing and reassuring strength. Troy Donockley is featured more than ever before, his pipes setting up the melody from the onset, and playing a significant part in the transitions throughout the piece, heightening the Celtic feel of the song. The music carries the same power, but the tone is also different from Nightwish’s singles of the past. The differences are subtle, but the evolution in direction can be felt. As a standalone single though, this was another excellent showing by Nightwish that is relaxed yet powerful, and should have strong appeal within and outside the genre as a result. However, in the context of the band, this piece is much more exciting and telling, because the subtle differences in Élan demonstrate the band’s evolution and ascension to new heights. Here are three clues Élan gives us as to why the upcoming album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, could be the best Nightwish record yet.

They’ve finally found their singer.

Since the firing of their original singer Tarja Turunen in 2005, Nightwish has struggled to find a vocalist that possesses both the versatility and power they seek to fully utilize the potential of their music. Anette Olzon did an admirable job on Dark Passion Play (2007) and Imaginaerum (2011) with her silky, vibrant vocals, but she lacked the power that the operatic Turunen had become famous for. Finally, it seems, the band has found their perfect match.

Floor Jansen is a phenomenal artist and a match made in heaven for Nightwish both musically and spiritually. As a vocalist, she possesses the elusive balance of both previous singers with none of their weaknesses. She has a powerful vibrancy to her voice that rivals Turunen’s, with a clearer tone. One issue with Turunen’s famed operatic vocal delivery is that it was harsh at times; the operatic style is not common in mainstream music, and thus has a less approachable feel to listeners. Though Jansen has shown herself capable of singing in such a style, she has much more palatable tone. On the flip side, Anette Olzon, the vocalist after Turunen, had a much more approachable feel to her voice: her background was in pop, and she sang in a way that sacrificed power for silky sweetness. However, as a result, she struggled to sing the band’s more ambitious repertoire. Floor Jansen has the versatility to sing in both these styles; she has the operatic power of Turunen along with the approachability of Olzon. She can even growl with the best of them. Musically, Floor offers everything Nightwish has wanted, and more.

Furthermore (and almost more importantly), Jansen fits in with the Nightwish culture. She has meshed with the band, and it is clear through their undeniable chemistry that she understands the spirit and philosophy of the band, and has bought into it completely. Nightwish has never had a singer (in my opinion) that has completely bought into the group’s concept of art; both previous singers just didn’t fit for one reason or another. Turunen was there for the band’s rise to fame, but she always seemed a bit distanced from the rest of the band, both onstage and in the media. This, along with the details surrounding her dismissal, paint a picture of an artist who was more invested in advancing her personal career than her commitment to the band. Olzon, on the other hand, seemed to genuinely enjoy her time with the band, but she never managed great chemistry with the band onstage, and she quit over ideological differences. Floor is a different story. Since they brought her on mid-tour in 2013, Jansen has demonstrated her compatibility and intense commitment to Nightwish. Two tours and one album recording later, her bond within Nightwish appears inseparable, which is a relief to fans and band alike. She even learned their setlist in two freaking days. TWO. Who does that?

Troy is piping up.

Troy Donockley has been collaborating with Nightwish for roughly three albums now, with his mastery on the Uillean pipes becoming known on songs like “The Islander“, so his name is not new to fans of the band. When the band announced his permanent addition to the band in 2014, it felt fitting, but it left fans wondering how this role would increase in the band. Troy was an integral part of Nightwish’s music-but only on certain songs. He was never featured on enough tracks that anyone would think he would become more than touring accompaniment. Furthermore, Marco was already well-established as the secondary vocalist, so would Troy become a third singer? Donockley was a known part of the Nightwish family, but how would he fit into the band musically?

Élan answered that question right out of the gate and put doubters (like me) to shame. Of course Troy would fit right in! The beautiful Celtic influence he brings to Nightwish was at full strength on Élan, promising that the rich flute and pipe work heard on songs like “The Islander” and “Let Loose The Mermaids“will be a constant force in future releases.  With Donockley’s permanent addition to Nightwish, the band guaranteed that the Celtic spice he brings to the music will become a thicker part of their recipe.

They’re just getting started.

Finally, Élan shows that Nightwish is just getting started with elevating their music. Though Nightwish has never been a band to rest on its laurels, after all the success of previous albums like Imaginaerum, the production of the Imaginaerum movie, and an exhaustive year-long world tour, many would have not blamed the band if they took a break or if keyboardist and lead composer Tuomas Holopainen settled for a more “comfortable” record. However, this single only goes to show that the cinematic thrill of Imaginaerum was only the beginning of a progressive evolution, and that Nightwish will continue to push the envelope for years to come. With heavier doses of Celtic influence, enticing guest appearances from the likes of Richard Dawkins, and progressive song structures, Endless Forms Most Beautiful promises to be the most ambitious Nightwish record to date, yet another answer to awestruck fans wondering, “Ok, how can they top themselves THIS time?” After nearly 20 years, most bands would be content to produce the same album over and over again or call it a career. Not this band. With Élan, Nightwish shows that their self-described “vehicle of spirit” has many more magical miles to go.

Sean Kennedy

February 25th, 2015

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