First of all, let me say, I had one hell of a time actually getting this CD into my hot little hands. I ordered it from The End Records in the States and it took over 4 weeks to get to me. I could have ordered it from Amazon Canada, but at the time the pre-order became available on The End Records, Amazon didn't have its act together and the CD wasn't available from them for several days after I decided to go with TER. Also, the price wasn't as good, and here in BC we now have an extra sales tax that would have added more to the price. The US exchange rate, however, is around par, which is excellent, so it was going to be less expensive for me to get the CD from TER instead of from a Canadian vendor. BIG MISTAKE. Given how long it took for the CD to arrive here, I should have spent the money and gotten it from Amazon because I would have had it in one week as opposed to 4.
Anyway, now that I do have the CD and have had ample time to listen to it, let's get down to what I think about it.
To put it succinctly, I love it.
As Eric said, it has its weaknesses. I think "Until My Last Breath" is probably the most commercial track and probably the weakest - which isn't to say I don't like it, but it's not quite up there with many other songs I can mention. I also can't quite get behind "Montañas de Silencio;" while her voice sounds amazing here, it's just not my cup of tea. And "Little Lies" doesn't quite enthrall me, though I appreciate its heaviness.
Other highlights for me are "Anteroom of Death" which I think was an awesome choice for the first song; it's progressive, it's heavy, I love the imagery it evokes, and I love that van Canto makes an appearance in it. I also love "Underneath", "In for a Kill", and I really do love "I Feel Immortal." One song I find especially evocative is "Naiad", which appears on the bonus disc. This is such a beautiful, romantic song that I can just imagine myself dancing to with some lovely man under a glitter ball in the dark. If you think that sounds cheesy, tough tiddlywinks. But if I ever get married again, this will be the first dance song - and that's saying a lot since I hate weddings, I hate dancing, and I hate the concept of the first dance - and I will even consent to a dancing lesson or two so I can do this justice! So there!
In general, I really admire the variety of sounds and styles Tarja plays with here. If this is the new musical direction she is taking, then bring it on, because it's awesome, and it outshines MWS by a million light years.
All that being said, I do have some complaints (this is me, after all). First of all, we all know of the confusion pre-release about the various versions of the album and some of the songs, who was getting what artwork, and all that. Yeah, I'm a little pissy about that still, actually, especially because the version of "Falling Awake", which features a guitar solo by Joe Satriani, isn't as good as this version I found on another site with a different solo. The Satriani solo seems like it's more of an afterthought and that it's trying to hard to stand out. I also prefer the GAS video version of "I Feel Immortal." The version on my CD is rather different, where some of the keyboard melodies have been left out or re-done, and I don't find it as effective as the GAS video version.
Additionally, I am not impressed at all with the el-cheapo digipack packaging this CD set came in! Basically, we have no spine here and two sleeves. The CDs are tucked into the sleeves, one with the booklet itself. I have plenty of other digipacks that have a hard plastic CD holder in them, which makes the product more durable and gives me a little more confidence that my CDs are being protected when they get shuffled around or when I move, or whatever. I love the album art a lot, but this digipack sucks.
I am super happy for Tarja and what she's accomplished here, and I am very excited about her future because she has it made, people! I hope she announces some North American tour dates soon, because I WILL go out of my way to travel to Vancouver or Calgary to see her live!
Horns up! \m/