Former Nightwish frontwoman Anette Olzon and guitarist Jani Liimatainen’s new album The Dark Element – streaming at Spotify – is a clinic in tuneful bombast. This heartbroken, vengeful song cycle sounds like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, if the ultimate bombastic symphonic band had existed back in the 80s. The minor keys and short, sharp riffs draw a straight line back to Tschaikovsky. Olzon’s English is excellent, and Liimatainen’s epic orchestration is unexpectedly taseteful in what’s usually a completely over-the-top style.
With its blustery, synthesized arrangement, blend of guitar crunch and whistle and a neoromantic piano break, Not Your Monster sets the stage. For all the underlying Pat Benatar, it also has punk rock bite. The album’s title track has a bit of a lush, symphonic introduction before the big backbeat stomp kicks in. Without the grand guignol, the nifty bit of a bass solo and the divebomb guitar, this is Blondie in a minor key.
“Unwanted guest inside your chest will claim you, and then it’s time to rest,” Olzon warns amid the bluster of When It All Comes Down. Silence Between the Words comes across as a pop-metal paraphrase of Prince’s When Doves Cry. In a similar vein, Pills on My Pillow is a powerpop tune beefed up with punchy string synth and crunchy guitars. Olzon’s narrator anxiously weighs whether or not to do the Big Job on herself – why not do those pills while you’re awake, homegirl, so you can enjoy them?
Olzon channels elegant resignation over stately piano and strings before the guitars kick in on To Whatever End. The Pallbearer Walks Alone – a cautionary tale which could be Kim Wilde with a Nordic metal band behind her – is one of those songs that screams out for a subtitle. How about “Dude, Help Me Out With This Damn Coffin!”
Olzon finally gives the evil narcissist the boot in Get Out of My Head, an even more surreal blend of enveloping metal and synthy new wave pop – and disco too! Numbness and regret permeate the somewhat more subdued If I Had a Heart.
There’s more wounded intensity in You Will Learn, built around a stark Finnish folk theme. The album ends counterintuitively with the sad waltz I Have to Go. Some people will hear this and say, oy, Celine Dion with loud guitars, but there’s no denying this will wake you up in a hurry.
One complaint: Olzon is a perfectly competent singer. Thankfully, her vocals aren’t autotuned, but there are places where you can tell they’ve been pitch-corrected, an unwanted and cheesy touch. Was time so tight in the studio that she couldn’t have simply punched in and fixed what was necessary?