2020 has seen Nightwish with what to my ears is their finest work to date, as the individuals within the group combine to produce the album I had hoped and expected with ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’. Here the bombast has purpose, real purpose, Troy’s pipes have become integral, both he and Marko have a much bigger role with the vocals, and then at the front there is Floor. No longer is she the quick replacement who learned the set on a commercial airplane, no longer the third singer, now she stands astride the band like a colossus, prepared and more than ready to deal with anything thrown at her by Tuomas. With this album, the band have finally mastered their craft, and possibly created yet another subgenre, progressive symphonic folk metal anyone?
The music swoops, drives, demanding supreme performance from everyone, with Floor in particular being asked to sing in multiple styles, from the commerciality of Olzon and the soprano heights of Turunen through metallic gymnastics in a manner which neither of her predecessors managed. One of the major delights of this album is that although there is plenty of the bombast which one expects from the band, it can also quickly disappear as on ‘Shoemaker” where the guitars stop to allow simple harmony vocals to take place instead. Towards the end of that particular song Floor is at her most operatic, lifting that trained voice above the maelstrom and bringing back memories of how the band sounded 15 years or more ago. Emppu Vuorinen has always reminded me of Tony Clarkin in that he has an unusual role as guitarist, very rarely taking a musical lead but instead there to provide force and presence, and here he delivers dramatically. Kai Hahto at the rear is also no longer the new boy, as he has been blooded on the road, and now is making the seat his own and has a quite different style to Jukka Nevalainen which works well with the new form of Nightwish being crafted by Holopainen.
Contrast all this to “Harvest”, a Celtic-style song where Troy is given the lead vocal role. Here we get some bodhran-style drumming, acoustic guitar, and even a stunning a capella chorus. I can guarantee anyone playing this will be reminded more of Iona than Nightwish, and it is an absolute delight. But not to be outshone, Marko has the lead on “Endlessness” where his growls and attack are far more metallic. As if all this was not enough, there is a second disc which features "All the Works of Nature which Adorn the World". This is a symphonic orchestral piece in eight connected but far ranging movements which Tuomas describes as his love letter to our world. This isn’t the first time they have had orchestral interpretations, but this time the music is totally different from the first disc, allowing the listener to understand that here is a composer of many different talents, and a band who are still reaching for new heights nearly 25 years on from the beginning. This is a simply stunning release from the band.