Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Best Of The Poseur Goths: Highest Hopes - Another "Best Of" From Unknowns!

The Good: Musically and lyrically interesting at points
The Bad: Repetitive sound, Nothing extraordinary, Many of the lyrics are obscured
The Basics: On an unremarkable compilation of "symphonic metal," I find just enough to recommend a Nightwish album.

Every now and then, I come across a "Best of" or "Greatest Hits" that makes me laugh. Perhaps the pinnacle of these was when I was listening to a friend's mix and the song I was hearing was cited from the Greatest Hits of Alien Sex Fiend. If you, too, have never heard of Alien Sex Fiend, perhaps you can understand my amusement at them having a Best of compilation album. Finland's Nightwish amuses me to a lesser degree in that regard. Quite popular in Finland and Europe, Nightwish has only leapt the pond for the teen poseur-Goth crowd that enjoys the tiny genre known as symphonic metal. A friend of mine, not a poser, nor a Goth, loves the group and she encouraged me to give them a spin, providing me with two albums to listen to. Sigh. Not since listening to Evanescence's Fallen have I felt like the music I was listening to was trying to be something dark and edgy, yet falling vastly away from that goal.

Highest Hopes - The Best of Nightwish is an esoteric compilation containing sixteen tracks clocking in at seventy-eight and a half minutes. Prior to listening to the album, I had never heard the music of Nightwish and my ultimate recommendation of this album is extraordinarily weak, more a recommend for the novelty of the genre and the feeling that there is something worthwhile here, even if it's not quite my thing.

Symphonic metal, as produced by Nightwish, is a classical music form blended with modern instruments like electric guitars, keyboards and loud drums. The best analogy would be to think of the Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom Of The Opera; stylistically Nightwish's brand of symphonic metal all seems to fall within the range and depth of the songs from that production (ironically, they cover the title track from that production on their album Century's Child, reviewed here!). So, musically, there's a lot of guitars, banging on the drums, and synth sounds that resonate to create music.

Or something resembling music. "Elvenpath," the fifth track on Highest Hopes - The Best of Nightwish becomes chaotic in the instrumentation in its beginning and the drumming is just plain sloppy. This is a shame, because "Elvenpath" strikes me as a song I would like to like; it's a musical retelling tribute to fantasy, including The Hobbit, with lyrics like "At the grove I met the rest - the folk of my fantasies / Bilbo, Sparhawk, goblins and pixies / Snowman, Willow, trolls and the seven dwarves /The path goes forever on." So, Nightwish is not afraid to trend toward the esoteric and weird. This could be music for young geeks, at least of the international variety.

But, as an American geek (admittedly no longer all that young), the music just seems too loud and often indecipherable. Lead singer Tarja Turunen is usually singing in the high soprano ranges being drown out by the instrumentation. Between the volume of the accompaniment, the pitch of her voice and her heavy Finnish accent on tracks like "Bless The Child" (where the title and refrain are virtually the only things completely comprehensible), the music becomes tiresome quickly. Moreover, the album is poorly arranged in that regard. "Bless The Child" and "Elvenpath," next to one another on the album, both utilize similar sampling/male spoken word/chants that make them seem immediately derivative of one another. Had they not been right up next to each other, the technique would have worked nicely. As it is . . .

But at least Turunen has a fabulous voice. When she sings, the songs at least have the sad poetry of her voice to present something, whether it is comprehensible or not. Fortunately, she dominates most of the album with her voice.

Sadly, this is not the case on the entire album. Highest Hopes - The Best of Nightwish was almost tossed right away by me when the album opened with "Wish I Had An Angel," which is vocalized by one of the men in the band. Bad metal transcends continents, apparently. While this catchy tune about "burning angel wings to dust" ("Wish I Had An Angel") may be infectious in its sound, it seems remarkably . . . adolescent. The sentiment, lyrics and tone of the track scream of posturing. But c'mon, badass Finns . . . ?! That's hard to take seriously.

But there is some legitimacy to the album, even when the male-dominated tracks are featured. The cover of "High Hopes" - the Pink Floyd song - is adequate, though it does little new or different with the song. For fans, this track is no doubt nice, as is the superlative track of the album, a new recording of "Sleeping Sun."

"Sleeping Sun" represents something different from the rest of the album, as it focuses on Turunen's clear soprano voice against an accompaniment of softer guitars, gentle drumming and mellow keyboards. In short, we can hear the poetry of her lyrics articulated as opposed to being drown out. And it's beautiful and evocative of great imagery. "Sleeping Sun" has a wonderful operatic quality and if one has never heard symphonic metal, this is the song to impress one as to the legitimacy of the genre. It's musical, poetic, and just plain good.

It's too bad the best track is followed by the pretentious "Dead To The World," which seems like the anthem for posuer-Goths much the way that "Going Under" from Evanescence was when it was released. If it seems like I don't have much to say about the album overall, there is a reason for that (and it's not my disagreeing with my friend's musical choices); all of the songs on the album sound so similar to one another. So "Dead To The World" resonates in exactly the same way as "Wish I Had An Angel" and "Bless The Child" and "Sleeping Sun" bear some resemblance to one another.

The result is a terribly average album that has a sound that is attempting to be big and bold, but succeeds only once or twice on the album. The rest of the time, it's just recycling its own stuff. But hey, if Finland likes Nightwish and they're slowly creeping into one of the subcultures here, perhaps it's worth giving a listen to. I suppose those who like the music of Loreena McKennitt (Parallel Dreams is reviewed here!)and want something different might appreciate this album, though I know one fan of McKennitt's that did not appreciate this disc when I was playing it in the car recently.

The best track is "Sleeping Sun," the low point is the metal jig "Over The Hills And Far Away."

For other intriguing albums, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Tear The World Down - We Are The Fallen
The Dresden Dolls - The Dresden Dolls
One Cell In The Sea - A Fine Frenzy


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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