The title says it all! Opinions expressed here are those of the authors. Personal tastes may vary, and we are cool with that.

Friday, October 22, 2010

CD Review: Tarja's What Lies Beneath (Eric's Version)


Listen to the Podcast Episode of this review here.

Since Tarja's departure from Nightwish, Finland's most popular female singer has been fully engaged in her own solo music career. Beginning with Henkays Ikuisuudesta (an album with Tarja singing Christmas songs) and followed by her first full-length album My Winter Storm, Tarja releases her latest album in 2010 entitled What Lies Beneath. Prior to the release of her new album, has Tarja truly been able to capture her former glory from her former band? Well, from what I had heard up to that point in time, not that much! Of course, this happens to a lot of musicians who break away from their former bands, especially when they first start off. Regardless, her voice is still very strong and she is improving every step of the way!

What set Nightwish apart from other female-fronted metal bands was this: not only did they have perhaps the greatest and most unique (in the 90's especially) female metal vocalist of all-time, but they also had a truly unique and inspired group of musicians that made the music possible. Sure, you could argue with me that Nightwish may not be as "fast" or "brutal" as other bands in the metal community, but their uniqueness is what gave them their edge from other metal bands. The problem with My Winter Storm was that it lacked that musicality and good songwriting quality that Nightwish (Tuomas) possessed. I realize that Tarja does not want to sound like Nightwish and comparing the two isn't fair, but some fans of old Nightwish are going to want something better than what has been brought to the table so far. There was hardly anything from My Winter Storm that was a slight bit memorable because it seemed so boring and dull to listen to. Could What Lies Beneath be any different?

In the same fashion as My Winter Storm, Tarja hired some of the most skilled metal and rock musicians around in order to make her project work. They definitely give her some much needed notoriety and recognition, plus their input to her work has really paid dividends for her! While My Winter Storm had only a few guest musicians, What Lies Beneath has many more acts on this release. Guests include world famous guitar virtuoso Joey Satriani, All That Remains vocalist Phil Labonte, members from German a capella metal band Van Canto, Living Color drummer Will Calhoun...wow..HOLY SHIT! I don't know how Tarja was able to pull this off, but she sure did! Of course, with this kind of pro talent on board, what can we truly expect? Will there be fist pumping metal action, or more of the same from the last album? Since I heard the Deluxe Edition, I am going to review each song off of that, including the European released single "I Feel Immortal". If you want to read my rant on the marketing of What Lies Beneath, click here. Well let's dive into my review of What Lies Beneath:

1. "Anteroom of Death": Without a doubt, the greatest song of Tarja's solo career! A great song and an awesome way to start the album! With the help of a capella metal band Van Canto who makes incredible harmonies in the piece, and with the creative "broadway-esque" style of songwriting displayed here, this is truly one song that stands out from the rest. The way the keyboard works in the song is just brilliant as well. This song does take a while for a casual listener to get used to at first primarily because of it's unique blend of musical styles meshed into one. But once you get the feel for it, it is a great track. But now, can the rest of the album be like this? Well, we will find out! (4.5/5)

2. "Until My Last Breath": Out of all of the songs on the album, this is by far the most radio friendly song she has. For the most part, it is a catchy song and while it appears to be a great karaoke sing along track, it loses it's staying power after a while. Recommended for fans who like instant catchy pop rock/metal music, but fans of more sophisticated metal songs may be turned off by this one. Or course, this song WAS designed to be a hit single. Listen at your own risk! (3/5)

3. "Dark Star": A much darker song in contrast to what she has done before. Taking it's roots from American metal along with Phil Labonte doing guest vocals, it no doubt has the ingredients to help produce a pulsing song. The song actually flows very well and while it is dark, it has an interesting contrast between radio friendly rock and dark music. So the better of both worlds here. (3.5/5)

4. "Underneath": The album's first ballad and my favorite ballad on this release. Tarja sounds very emotional and the instruments really help illuminate the feel of the music. I can honestly say that this is easily her best ballad to date without a doubt. It never lacks power and the guitar solo is very nice. (4/5)

5. "Little Lies": Like "Dark Star", this is another pulsing "American" styled metal song. The opening palm-muted guitar riff reminds me of something a metalcore band would do during a breakdown. Tarja sure is experimenting here. The song has a decent flow and it would really impress fans of metalcore and nu-metal, but the detuned guitar riffs are a bit tedious to me and it isn't as impressive as needed to be. (2.5/5)

6. "Rivers of Lust": Another ballad which features no metal instruments, but that of acoustic instrumentation and epic choirs. The listener is treated to Tarja's own style of mixing new age, classical, opera, and theater all into one in order to create this unique piece of music. Another emotional and heartfelt song. (3.5/5)

7. "In For A Kill": Another pulsing metal song. What's funny is that this song title sounds like it could be the next James Bond movie! Maybe Tarja will sing in the next movie! That would be pretty cool, but unlikely at this point. While not the strongest song on the album, the orchestra gives the song some serious justice here and the chorus is fun and powerful with Tarja chanting and shouting "In For A Kill"! (3.5/5)

8. "Montañas De Silencio": This was a wasted track. Sorry Tarja, but you really could have left this one out. Tarja sounds pretty as usual, but it is just a boring track overall and I think it is lackluster compared to the other two ballads so far. Definately skipable. (2/5)

9. "Falling Awake": The other hit single on this album. Like "Until My Last Breath", it is a little too radio friendly for my taste. Though I find this song pretty dull overall, the one thing that makes this song stand out however are Joey Satriani's guitar solos. The first solo after the second chorus and breakdown is amazing. Though not playing to his "full" capability, he makes the listener understand why he is one of the greats. The second solo after the last chorus, though not as impressive, still ends on a very impressive note with a very cool dive bomb. Without his guitar solos, this would have been a 2.5/5 from me, but he has elevated it some. (3/5)

10. "The Archive of Lost Dreams": Another ballad? Seriously?? Tarja, I love your voice in ballads, but I would like to hear more metal songs from you! Not only is this another ballad, but it is a boring one too. It does have a neat little piano solo section from Tarja, but this would be another song I would probably skip over as well. (2.5/5)

11. "Crimson Deep": Easily the most progressive song on the album. Cool, Tarja ventures into progressive metal now! Woo hoo! Anyways, the riffs, melodies, and orchestral arrangements are all very well put together in this song. The lyrics are poetic and very haunting too. Trust me, this is no "Ghost Love Score" or "Fantasmic", but this long song is easily the best long song put together by Tarja in her solo career. The dramatic nature of her voice really speaks loudly for this song as it makes it sound very epic and powerful. Will Calhoun's drumming at the end is also very impressive! Tarja, we need more like this! (4/5)

Disk 2:

Disk two of the Deluxe Edition:

1. "We Are": Though the song starts out very nice and pretty, it gets VERY repetitive and the song loses steam immediately. This goes without saying, but this is not a very good song in comparison to some of the counterparts on the main disk. Very plain is the word to describe this song with too many nu-metal influences. The breakdown section is very interesting, so I have to give credit where it is due. (2.5/5)

2. "Najad": You guessed it, ANOTHER BALLAD! :p I will admit that the lyrics are touching in this song, even though it is not the best ballad Tarja has written. The song musically has very strong points, but at times is a little dull and can drag, but it isn't bad and I recommend this one if you like the majority of Tarja's ballads. (3/5)

3. "Still of the Night" (aka how to rape an 80s hair metal song): *Facepalm* WHY TARJA, WHY???? WHY COVER WHITESNAKE TARJA!?!! Sorry, I just had to let that one out! XD But in all seriousness, this is just one example of a poor song choice to cover. Playing the guitars a whole octave lower than the original makes it sound ridiculous, and Tarja's voice is VERY unfitting. The lyrics are basically about men having their way with women. Hearing Tarja sing it is just awkward as hell! The only redeeming factor is the bombastic outro, but even then it still is very overdone. First "Poison", then "Smells Like Teen Spirit", now this???? Please cover songs that are more of YOUR style Tarja! Thank you! (1.5/5)

"I Feel Immortal": The one song that did not get released in America happens to be yet another ballad. This song was a pretty big hit on the German and European charts, so I wonder about why they did not want to include this song with the rest. Anyways, this is in my opinion the worst ballad Tarja composed for What Lies Beneath. So the fact that it did not come included in the North American version does not make me feel bad at all. It's a bland and boring ballad. (2/5)

So that is my song by song review of What Lies Beneath. Here are my overall thoughts:

Pros:

  • Surprisingly unique, experimental, and creative music from Tarja.
  • Great variety of styles in music.
  • Musicmanship is much better than on My Winter Storm.
  • Noticeable improvement in Tarja's songwriting skills.
  • Heart filled lyrics throughout.
  • Guest musicians make this album way better.

Cons:

  • Too many ballads.
  • Some very boring and uninteresting songs.
  • The album seemed too overproduced at times.
  • The variety of styles can confuse the listener into what to look for here.
  • Poor songs on the bonus disk.

As a follow-up to My Winter Storm, this is a HUGE improvement to that. What Lies Beneath takes Tarja's career to a new level, proving that she too can write very well written music as she was able to get from Nightwish when she had success with them. This is a step in the right direction for her which is very exciting to see that she is finally coming into her own as a solo artist. All of the guest musicians really did a great job contributing and Tarja is now using her voice toward the music much better than what we have heard before. A criticism I have here is that of the confusion of what audience she wants to draw in. Fans of classical, heavy metal, top 40, rock, and even new age can find many reasons to enjoy this album with a doubt in my mind. For metal purists though, I would listen at your own risk because if you want fast upbeat power metal action much to what Nightwish provided with her, this is not it, and that goes for her first album too. But keep an open mind because I think Tarja can really win a lot of new fans over with this release and I truly believe that she found a unique sound and style for herself in a genre that has gotten a little over saturated in recent years. I recommend a couple of things on the next album for Tarja: more fast songs and less ballads. I am not saying ballads are bad, but too many on a metal album can really throw off the listener if someone is expecting more metal songs. Also, I think that Tarja should cut down on some of the radio friendly singles, but that is asking a lot since she is signed to a major record label like Universal so that is to be expected. Nonetheless, we can finally get an album that can truly complement her voice well! This album is a horns up from me! \m/ It isn't a masterpiece album, but there is indeed a lot to enjoy here as well! Fans of Tarja and Nightwish are sure to be satisfied with this release!

Overall rating: 3.5/5

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow you did hell job with the review but... i wouldn't compare her to NW cuz she said many times that she doesn't want to copy them. WLB is more rock album than metal cuz she's more into American rock/metal bands than European and she admitted it. And why compere her to NW? Personally i like Naiad and Underneath, especially Underneath shows her big music potencial. :ashemedtosaymasterpiece:
Anyway thank for review:)

Eric James said...

@ Anonymous

Thank you for your comment! Anytime Tarja releases an album, there is always going to be comparisons between her and NW. It is bound to happen but now that I see that she is trying to create her own sound, that is very impressive for her own career and she really doesn't need to have too many NW/Tarja comparisons. I actually thought the album was a lot better than I anticipated it to be because I was not a big fan of the singles that were out prior to the release of WLB. I see a great career ahead for Tarja and I do wish good fortune for her in the years to come.

I agree, Underneath is a great track and I would like to hear more emotion like that on her ballads in the future! See, even I can like ballads too.. :P

Anonymous said...

Eric, i'm not suprised that you like it cuz it's very very good ballad:)
We can compare her to Epica or Within Temptation or even Lacuna Coil:)

Almagest said...

Isn't your review a little inconsistent appearing? At the beginning it sounds quite negative, continues in a not too enthusiastic manner, and at the end suddenly there is such a positive bottom line - a bit unexpected I find. Perhaps that reflects how torn you are about the album, having certain expectations while realising that they are probably not going to be fulfilled, but still realising that the final product isn't bad at all if you think about it?

I really think the true problem is Universal pushing her to release radio-friendly songs, such as "I Feel Immortal", which was originally written for Kerli (sic!) and basically forced on Tarja as a single, so she tried to adapt it to her style as well as she could. You can see her stylistic struggle on this album, which produces a certain inconsistence.

She seems to be REALLY unhappy with her label and constantly fighting to get her ideas through and to get attention. The label really seems to neglect her and appears ineffective.

As for "In For a Kill", it actually is INTENDED to sound like a JB theme, I think the violin "riffs" are what produces the "Bond sound" :) I love the song, but the live version with only orchestra sounds better, in the recording the orchestra is too low in the mix.

I like "The Archive of Lost Dreams" - sure, it's not exactly memorable, but it's pretty and creates a nice mood. But then, I really like the acoustic/semi-acoustic songs on My Winter Storm, too; they are very evocative. "Montañas de silencio", on the other hand, I can't really get into, either. That one is really too thin. "If You Believe", on the other hand, is a lot stronger despite having only piano and vocals.

I think "We Are" is really cool - not only the bridge, but also the verses. Only the chorus is lacking, but the buildup to it is masterful.

I don't quite agree with you on "Naiad" - the chorus is really epic and even relatively fast (just compare "Creek Mary's Blood", another lengthy ballad), and the keyboard riffs are quite nice. There's not a whole lot going on, to be sure, but the same is true for "Crimson Deep". That one is actually more like gothic/doom metal to my ears, with a psychedelic/progressive sound, a bit like "On Most Surfaces" by The Gathering.

Well, perhaps Tarja does love ballads a little too much, but see, this album has only four true ballads, which isn't THAT excessive, especially considering that it's not a metal album by any standard - the Nightwish average is three ballads per album.

Can't see a problem with "Still of the Night", either - at least it's a bonus track this time, for those who don't like her covers, and personally I think it's epic and fun and obviously quite tongue-in-cheek - never intended to reproduce the original, because I don't think you can improve on it, anyway. ;-)

Almagest said...

I believe the main problem is that the songs are so obviously built around her vocal lines - the instrumentalists are rarely allowed to shine, and I'd strongly prefer more melodic and prominent riffs and leads, on guitar but also piano, for example. Also, the verse-chorus structure is always there, essentially, although she does do quite a lot with it.

She seems afraid to write songs that are a bit more complex instrumentally and less conventionally structured - not excessively complicated, mind you, but at least more elaborate, less obvious and straightforward, with more melodies and countermelodies, and at least sometimes, changes and different parts. Is she fearing that that could reduce the accessibility too much?

I mean, there's just so much potential when you have all those musicians to work with, I'd just like to see more of it.

Of course, given that songwriting and producing in earnest is still a relatively new thing for Tarja, a lack of experience is to be expected, but so is a steep learning curve. "Enough" is the point where she started to really begin to find her feet, and her style.

Eric James said...

@ Almagest

First I want to say, thank you for your comments! They are greatly appreciated! :D

Okay, I will admit that I may have been a little too overdramatic about the Whitesnake cover on my review, but I wrote that more in a joking manner just because I needed a way to show off my displeasure in some unique way! LOL XD In all seriousness, I just think she can make better cover choices and this one just seemed too awkward to reproduce, especially considering the kind of music she plays. "Naiad" is not a bad song, but it is just average to me and it isn't a song I would listen to over and over again. "Falling Awake" is just a bland song with cool guitar solos. And "Until My Last Breath" has similar issues.

I did not like My Winter Storm that much because when I listened to it, it seemed too simplistic, dull and uninteresting. I can tell that Tarja was new to songwriting and there was some work to be done. I think she knew that she could do better and with age comes experience. I think that she is making significant improvements!

The reason why I wrote the intro to my review in a negative way is because what happened between NW and Tarja was very negative, and she was going through a rough couple of years. Her first album was a bit of a subpar effort and I think that making the transition from the negative to the positive sections in my review shows her progress as a musician. It was more foreshadowing than anything else.

I was expecting the album to be worse than it turned out mainly because the singles were not that great and seemed a bit like formula radio rock. That was a very discouraging sign for me. So as I listened, I was very impressed by how it turned out! I know that she is trying her best and her hard work is now paying off! :D

Eric James said...

Almagest, I read my intro again, and you were right. It was a little inconsistant with how the review should be. I made the intro negative only from the first album perspective rather than the present time. That was what the problem was and now I rewrote some of it. I wrote this review really late last night and I did not have a chance to proofread some of my mistakes! Thanks for pointing that out! :D

CanuckFan said...

Hmmmmmmm...

Well, I'll have to get my ass in gear & do my own review, because it will be quite different (as you know, Eric!).

Just a couple of things: I feel Immortal is on this release, however it is a different version from the GAS/video version, and I have to say I don't like it as much.

As for Falling Awake, I love that song because the lyrics really speak to me and, as you know, I am a lyric girl. But my complaint here is that on this release it's again a different version from the GAS/video version, and I have to say, though the guitars to rock on it, I don't like it as much! I prefer the other version. In this version, it just seems like the guitars were added on as a last minute thought and there are places in the song where they sound quite out of place.

Anyway, I hope to have some free time in the next few days to do some reviewing; my list is getting rather long...

Thanks for your review, Eric! Great job!

Almagest said...

The Satriani solo is on the GAS album, the Barrett solo is on the version that was for free download, and the Hook solo (which I haven't heard, unfortunately) is on the vinyl single of Falling Awake. The Barrett solo is the one that uses a lot of relatively large intervals, is a bit "jumpier", therefore, but also sounds more melodic or power-metal-like in my opinion. Hope this helps!

Almagest said...

I forgot to say that your review is really thorough, Eric, there are a couple of very interesting observations! Thanks!

CanuckFan said...

OK, the Satriani solo is the one on my version of WLB, too, so who is doing the solo on the FA video? That is the one I like better than the album version.

Eric James said...

@ Almagest

Thank you for you insight and complements! :D I worked pretty hard on this one and I wanted it to be good, which is why I went back into it and fixed some of my mistakes.. which is great that you and a other ppl were able to point out so the review is as good as can be! :D

@ Canuck

I know your review with be a lot different! ;)

Almagest said...

CanuckFan, it's the same solo, just the second part is cut. Pay attention how she thanks Satriani with the little doodle in the video.

Or do you mean a different version, not the one that was uploaded on Tarja's official channel?

By the way, I had "Archive of Lost Dreams" stuck in my head at noon, so I don't think of it as being THAT forgettable anymore :P

CanuckFan said...

@ Almagest: check this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu-t7Jg7gKU&feature=related

It's a different solo altogether, and I originally heard it on a free download I found somewhere around the time the video was released.

Almagest said...

Then by the principle of exclusion, we arrive at the conclusion that it is Hook's solo, right?

CanuckFan said...

Or is it Julian Barrett?

Almagest said...

I can't watch the video, but I thought you knew the version with Barrett's solo! If not, I can upload it to Dropbox for you.

CanuckFan said...

Hmmm...

Can you view this one?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoB5huShO3o

Almagest said...

No :(

I'm sending you the Dropbox link as a private message on Facebook, easier that way.

Almagest said...

I agree with you, from a personal taste point of view, I like Barrett's solo better, too :) It's just more ... melodic, hard to put my finger on it. Satriani's may be flawless from a technical point of view, it's just not as pleasing to my ears.

Eric, can you tell what I'm going at? I think it has to do with the harmony or scale used, Satriani's are more "rock"-like (blues? pentatonic?), Barrett's more "power/neo-classical"-like.

Natalia said...

I'm happy to know that I'm not the only one who liked Barrett's solo better :)
I love this album . it is such a huge step forward in Tarja's career especially when it comes to taking a direction. My only complaint with it is that Tarja doesn't use her voice potential to the maximum - I mean, I want more of her vocals as in Rivers of Lust and In for a kill.
Very good review, btw!

ROCxolan said...

Yep, good point! Even though she did say that several melodies were very challenging for her to sing.