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 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:
- 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.
- 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