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Endless Forms Most Beautiful

It is probably no surprise to make the jump from Within Temptation to Nightwish. And so here, an album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, inspired by a certain Mr. Darwin of the evolutionary sense.

The album is nicely presented. A hard bound booklet that reminds me of those Ladybird books from my childhood. A nice solid cover, the full colour thick pages sewn together as groups and glue-bound to hold it all in place. It looks and feels well put together.
There are pockets on each side for a CD. The first CD is the album. Since Tuomas Holopainen's musical style is overblown to the point of practically being excepts from a movie soundtrack, it is fitting that the second album is an instrumental version. Perhaps for the ultimate karaoke session, or just to listen to the myriad of small details that could easily be missed in the normal album version.

This is the first album of the lead vocalist Floor Jansen.

The mixing on this album seems rather bass heavy. Of course, this is perhaps to be expected given the genre, however interestingly it has a rather muting effect on the guitars, to the point where they blend into the orchestrated parts, rather than standing in the foreground. Indeed, this is not an album full of posy extended guitar solos. It is more an album of synchronicity. This is not a metal album with some orchestra added, this is more the very definition of symphonic metal.

Shudder Before The Beautiful

A brief spoken introduction by everybody's favourite athiest, Richard Dawkins, leads to a powerful orchestral opening. A few seconds later, the obligatory bass notes of the overamplified guitar kicks in and, doesn't ruin things. Nothing here is overstated. Indeed, Floor's vocals begin soft and build up as the song reaches the chorus. The song takes the beauty of the universe and our world's place in it and smacks you across the head with it. To remind you that you are listening to a metal album, there's a nice guitar solo around the three minute mark, then the bass guitar comes back for some orchestral power and a choir to add some added grandeur. Remember what I said about overblown? It appears to be something of a Nightwish trope. Suddenly everything ceases, for a soft vocal and gentle piano melody, before changing back up to high gear for the great finalé. A pleasing start to the album.

Weak Fantasy

A harder and meater slap-down to the concept of organised religion - fear is a choice you embrace. It is perfectly logical that an album that celebrates the evolution of life would strike a blow at the hypocrisy of organised religion, but I omit this song from my playlist because I don't feel it is in the same spirit as much of the rest of the album. This is negativity, not positivity.
That said; if rough vocals, growls, and bass heavy gothic darkness at super-fast tempo are your thing, this song has you covered.

Élan

From its perky opening to the chorus beginning Come!, this is just such a pleasing song. This is almost an orchestral pop song, with harps and uilleann pipes to flesh out the sound into something more expansive. I think if Enya tried metal, it might sound something like this. Floor, interestingly, performs this restrained instead of going full on operatic diva on us. The end result is all the better for defying expectations.
Some of the lyrics are... weird. I mean really weird, but kudos for including the line "sedulous mice" in a song. I like that. I also like the boot crashing through the fourth wall with the line "write a lyric for this song only you can understand".
Come!

Yours is an Empty Hope

Some say this song is about Internet trolls.
Some say this song is about their previous vocalist.
Some say that's the same thing (ouch!).
The band, perhaps wisely, have declined to be specific. Less orchestral and more shredding. Floor shows off her vocal range here by mustering growls almost as epic as those provided by the bassist; though the band doesn't stray into the wrong side of aggression, they make their point with power and not raw anger.
I also omit this one from my playlist. If I want dark, I'll listen to The Poet And The Pendulum, and thanks, I don't want to be growled at "yours is an empty hope".

Our Decades in the Sun

A soft and gentle ode to mother with some lovely piano work, and a very subtle piano-guitar duel, building into a power ballad for a song that sounds like it should be an insert song in some sort of massive Pixar anuimation trying to out-Ghibli Ghibli. Floor shows an impressive range tackling these songs with ease.
This one is also left off of my playlist. It's too damn slushy and if I want my fill of power ballads, that's what May is for.

My Walden

Opening with a few lines in Welsh, this is a ridiculously catchy folk-metal song (yes, folk) with chants of higher! higher! higher! in the chorus, and some nice lyrics about the desire to set down roots and create a place where one can feel safe from the world - my walden.
The song takes a change of pace in the final minute or so to bring us a drum-backed three-way pipe-violin-guitar duel that could easily be a folk march.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful

This is a condensed nod to our origins from the primordial soup. You might need the booklet (or the lyrics video on YouTube) to figure out what the heck they're on about. I'll help you out - the Tiktaalik is the fish that crawled out of the ocean and started walking. Panthalassa is the ocean that covered most of the planet when the land mass (Pangaea) was all jumbled up together. What remains of it can still be seen in the Pacific Ocean, where if you look at Earth just right (try it with Google Earth), it looks as if our world is just a huge ocean. Oh, and in either an example of the band not having done their homework, or are totally ass-pulling us, a Eukaryote may or may not be able to "find her way" as they are, to quote from Wikipedia: any organism whose cells contain a nucleus and other organelles enclosed within membranes. You decide.
Oh, and Eukaryotes are asexual and reproduce through various forms of cell division. Just sayin'...
Anyway, as a science geek, I think this song rocks. Dreadful pun intended. It isn't often you come across a song where the lyrics read like a wiki walk.
Go watch the official video on YouTube and enjoy the band hamming it up for the video.

Edema Ruh

The Edema Ruh are a nomadic group of storytellers known throughout the four corners of civilization, in Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles (a fantasy trilogy). To make a song about a fictional group from a fantasy story is pretty nerdy. Its understated power and that sublimely rich opening may place it as the best damn song on the entire album, and I love the leaning on the fourth wall again (and repeat the chorus once more (followed by exactly that)).
Here's a video of the band pratting about, and performing, set to Edema Ruh (YouTube).

Alpenglow

A catchy and solid song about the evolution of mankind as a species. It seems to note the fact that we as a species are a walking talking paradox of wanting safety while conquering or being conquered. There is a subtle callback to My Walden.

The Eyes of Sharbat Gula

This is a sombre track referring to the Afghan girl that was featured on the front of the National Geographic back in the mid '80s. There are no vocals other than distant voices and a choir of children. It is a good piece of music that could easily play as the credits roll to a feature film; however it is omitted from my playlist as I feel it is better to segue directly from Alpenglow to The Greatest Show on Earth.
Speaking of which...

The Greatest Show on Earth

Here, Holopainen's desire of writing movie soundtrack style music comes to the front for the numerous parts of the 24 minutes of this song, covering everything from the origins of the creation of our planet, to the inevitable fact that we are dumb enough we'll probably blow ourselves up. But don't worry, our planet has already survived five catastrophic extinction events (and two "lesser" extinction events). It will survive us. So future generations of self-aware rats will dig up plastic Ikea chairs and make all sorts of wild theories about the creatures that might have sat upon them. And their ideas will look nothing like us.
That said, our species may well survive a global nuclear war. We won't, however, learn from such a mistake. We never seem to...

A lengthy intro leads to some actual opera style performance, then a short quote spoken by Richard Dawkins again - in which he actually says isn't it a noble and enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun? to work and understand you, the universe, and how we have come to wake up in it? This might be the closest Dawkins has ever come to acknowledging a "higher power".
Gear change for some metal for the creation of our planet. LUCA, by the way, is Last Universal Common Ancestor - which might be closer than one might think. And the bit in the chorus that you might not catch the first time is "scions of the Devonian sea". Damn, I like songs with nerdy lyrics. You won't get that on some stupid Bieber album!
The greatest show on earth isn't a poncey self-obsessed opinion of the song itself. It is referring to... life. Culminating in a form of life that understands that it is alive, and what that means. Us, in other words. We are the greatest show on earth.
Another gear change leading into various random animal noises to cover the period of, well, evolution of the mammals. But all is not well. As anybody who has watched an Attenborough documentary will know, everything is dinner to something larger and nastier.
Gear change once more for Marko to provide some male vocals for the eventual evolution of mankind - not a single one of your fathers died young - a nod to the fact that your entire ancestry could be traced back, right back beyond the sisters of Eve, beyond the Tiktaalik, back to the slime from which life itself was born. Because every single creature in your entire chain of evolution lived long enough to reproduce. The eventual result? You.

Take a moment to think about that.

After the verses, a brief quieter period to symbolise the gathering of humans into enclaves, villages, towns... and then back to the chorus; culminating in the epic We were here! (note the past tense) and the fitting guitar support, leading to the big bang that will presumably be our downfall.
Silence.
But not for long. Andean style pipes and delicate piano lead to another speech from Dawkins, which begins We are going to die...and that makes us the lucky ones. Whether you think this is awesome or awful will depend upon your thoughts of Dawkins. The point, by the way, is that our DNA allows for a huge number of potential people, many of whom do not exist. So we're the lucky ones in that we were born. All those other possible humans...might never be born. Assuming, of course, that DNA works like that...

The music sounds more hopeful. Even after us (or not), the world, and life, will continue. After a truly epic ending, the tone is spoiled somewhat with whale and dolphin noises and Dawkins finally quoting the writing of Charles Darwin that gave this album its title. Personally, I think the track ought to end around 20m36s, go out on a high note.

 

So, there you go. A symphonic metal/folk album dealing primarily with evolution and man's place in the world. That pretty much ticks all the boxes and makes a startlingly different diversion from Chihiro Onitsuka CDs. ☺

 

 

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