I don’t often do reviews of stuff, but I am a huge Tarja Turunen fan, and this double-release of two full length albums really deserves a place on my blog. If you’re not into metal, or opera, or the two together, maybe give this a miss, but if you have an open mind and are able to appreciate truly outstanding artists, I implore you, give these a go!
A bit of obligatory background: Tarja Turunen is a classically-trained soprano hailing all the way from Finland, and was for a long time the singer and (as these things so often turn out) “face” of Finnish symphonic metallers Nightwish. Coincidentally my absolute favourite band (though Epica come a very close second). Tarja no longer sings with Nightwish, and they’re on their second singer since her departure. I think I maybe reviewed Endless Forms Most Beautiful when it first came out. But this is about Tarja, who has forged a very successful and very good solo career since that creative combination broke. My Winter Storm, What Lies Beneath and Colours in the Dark are all fab albums, and What Lies Beneath probably ranks up there as one of my favourite all-time albums, if not in the number one spot. Just freaking listen to Naiad, Anteroom of Death, In for a Kill.
Now this year Tarja released two albums, which is a fair feat. And I don’t mean this rubbish of re-released a CD with a couple of extra weak bonus songs tacked on the end (every Top 40 artist, I’m looking at you). There are a couple of repetitions, but they are reimaginations of the same song.
When The Brightest Void came out, I was a little underwhelmed. I made the mistake of watching the video for No Bitter End for my first listen, and the hair-metal-esque performance didn’t fit right with the song (alas, in metal, so often the videos jar with the songs themselves, but I mean, anything is better than grinding up in the club). I listened to the album on Spotify for a while, and the rest of the songs were decent; I absolutely love Eagle Eye, that really stuck with me long afterwards, and Shameless was a good little rocking number. The more atmospheric, spacey songs, An Empty Dream and Witch Hunt, merit more attention – as background noise (I listen to music while I’m writing) they sort of just blurred into one. Overall, it was OK, but not quite what I was expecting.
Then came The Shadow Self, and oh my freaking god. This woman has blown it out of the park.
Tarja already has a sensational vocal range, and she just blasts it out here. If you listen to Innocence, the second single, good Lord, the chorus sends shivers down my spine, and the insane piano work accompanying – including the sublime solo in the middle – is just sensational. Love to Hate feeds amazingly into Supremacy, a cover of the Muse song, which had Matt Bellamy hitting those high notes – alright, OK, so his falsetto is you know, fair, but Tarja, a proper soprano, hits that note and soars miles above anything else. Diva is exactly as the name suggests; it’s like a more sinister, more cutting, and I imagine more personal version of Primadonna from Phantom; minus the cheese and the pantomime. A reviewer on Amazon speculated about the song’s focus on the painful split from Nightwish. I don’t want to go into too much about that, but I mean, the parallels are there. (Though: I Walk Alone, come on! Even Anteroom of Death, Dark Star – they could easily all have roots in that. And, dare I say it, as a fellow ‘artist’ I completely get that inspiration comes from personal experience, and what better pot of ideas is there than the one created by a post-break-up, be it romantic or professional or whatever.) Undertaker has a wonderful vocal line in the verses, and is dead catchy, and not quite as far along the inventive/creative/out-there track as something like An Empty Dream or Witch Hunt.
I prefer the mellower version of Eagle Eye on The Brightest Void, but I much prefer the version of No Bitter End here. And Demons in You parallels nicely against Your Heaven and Your Hell, though I love the unusual intro for Demons in You, and while Alissa White-Gluz’s growling vocals aren’t going to be to anyone’s taste, they are on-point here, and her clean vocals are lovely (plus she has great hair, but that’s nothing to do with anything). I’m not sure about the weird end bit at the end of Too Many: it’s a fab closing track, but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when bands and artists put “hidden tracks” at the end of songs – what even is the deal with that? It sounds naff on my car stereo, I have to listen through silence, I very rarely like both of them… and this one is just a bit random.
The Shadow Self is an excellent album. Colours in the Dark got a bit experimental in the middle, and sometimes the songs Tarja chooses to cover are a bit, uh, out there (I did quite like the Peter Gabriel cover, Darkness). But Supremacy is like something else, and sits so well on this album (here’s looking at you, Goldfinger). I think this well definitely be getting some serious listens for a good long time now!
Also, see the lady herself in concert! She blows my mind; I mean, she covered Vermilion by Slipknot, which despite being the only Slipknot song I like, is one of my favourite songs. Come on!!!
*Disclaimer: I’m totally in no way sponsored or endorsed by Tarja, I just think she’s freaking amazing. If you want to give her a listen, I think you’d enjoy! My favourite songs are: Our Great Divide, Anteroom of Death, Dark Star, Naiad, Victim of Ritual, Eagle Eye and I think every song on The Shadow Self.