Personnel: Marco Hietala (vocals, acoustic guitar); Troy Donockley (vocals, bouzouki, Uilleann pipe, bodhran); Floor Jansen (vocals); Emppu Vuorinen (guitar); Tuomas Holopainen (piano, keyboards); Kai Hahto (drums).
Audio Mixer: Mikko Karmila.
Recording information: Hats Off Studios, Oxford (08/2014-09/2014); Petrax Studio, Hollola (08/2014-09/2014); Röskö Campsite, Kitee (08/2014-09/2014); Hats Off Studios, Oxford (10/2014); Petrax Studio, Hollola (10/2014); Röskö Campsite, Kitee (10/2014).
Arrangers: Emppu Vuorinen; Troy Donockley; Floor Jansen; Marco Hietala; Tuomas Holopainen; Jukka Nevalainen; TeeCee Kinnunen; Kai Hahto.
The eighth studio long-player from the audacious Finnish symphonic metal outfit, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is also the first Nightwish outing to feature new vocalist Floor Jansen (After Forever, Revamp), who joined the group on the road in 2012 after the mid-tour departure of Anette Olzen. Nightwish has endured numerous lineup changes throughout its nearly 20-year career, but the band's sound has remained remarkably consistent, due in large part to the stabilizing presence of project founder and chief songwriter Tuomas Holopainen, whose overall vision for the band remains unchanged. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, like most Nightwish outings, is a concept album, though unlike 2011's narrative-driven Imaginaerum, it's a loosely conceptual affair that, according to Holopainen, celebrates the "beauty of life, the beauty of existence, nature, science." The title is taken from Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and the reliably opulent (full choir and live orchestra) inaugural cut, "Shudder Before the Beautiful," opens appropriately with a spoken word intro from evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. It's a truly majestic piece and an excellent showcase for Jansen, who brings both gravitas and versatility to the table. Whether it's lilting Celtic folk-rock ("Élan"), Enya-esque fantasy-pop ("The Eyes of Sharbat Gula"), or straight-up, anthemic power metal ("My Walden"), she never overplays her hand, but she also never gets lost in the mix, which is impressive considering the swirling cacophony of sound cooked up by Holopainen and crew. Overall, Endless Forms Most Beautiful succeeds despite its strict adherence to the Nightwish formula. It's a well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders, both expansive and familiar, and it's arguably the group's most immediate-sounding record in years. ~ James Christopher Monger