After the lullaby-like intro song “Taikatalvi,” which is in Finnish, the band's trademark sound kicks in with “Storytime.” It's symphonic and grandiose, with an orchestra and backing choir, and also very accessible. Nightwish's music has always been cinematic, but the movie tie-in gives Imaginaerum even more of a film score vibe.
It is also a very diverse album. Upbeat and heavily orchestrated songs like “Ghost River” are contrasted with sparser ballads such as the jazz-tinged “Slow, Love, Slow.” Perhaps the catchiest song on the album is “I Want My Tears Back,” with a memorable chorus, a Celtic vibe and both male and female vocals.
Sometimes albums are so diverse that they become disjointed, but that never happens here. Even though there are a lot of different styles represented, there's still a cohesiveness and common thread tying everything together. From the quirky “Scaretale” to the frenzied instrumental “Arabesque” to the delicate “Turn Loose The Mermaids,” it all blends together seamlessly.
Olzon's performance on her first Nightwish album Dark Passion Play was good, but she takes it to an even higher level on Imaginaerum. Part of that is her own comfort level, but also the fact that songwriter Tuomas Holopainen is now much more familiar with Olzon's strengths and style, and was able to tailor things specifically to what she does well.
Not only does Olzon show the ability to sing in a variety of styles, her voice is very expressive and emotional. Some of the songs almost go over the top, but Olzon's singing reins them in and keeps them on the rails. I'm sure it is not an easy thing to do, but she makes it sound effortless.
Imaginaerum is a very ambitious album, but not a perfect one. The 13 minute “Song Of Myself” utilizes a lot of dialogue, and could easily be trimmed by several minutes. And at an hour and 20 minutes, the album is a bit too long. But these are minor criticisms, and in the larger scheme of things don't dilute the album's impact by much.
This album took a few years to compose and record, and the band's effort really pays off. Imaginaerum is a tour-de-force, taking the listener on a dynamic ride through different styles and tempos, always maintaining interest and building an emotional connection that becomes even stronger with subsequent listens.
(released January 10, 2012 on Roadrunner Records)