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Album Review: Tarja – Colours In The Dark

Photo: Poras Chaudhary

Imagine this – you’re thrust into the metal world and, as a classical singer, it’s pretty alien. But you do your job, sing your songs and the money comes in. And your name gets bigger. And the band become enormous and before you know it – you’re literally singing for your supper. Your ultimate passion becomes your job. But is the world of metal really a place for a classical singer? Many thought that, once ousted by Nightwish, Tarja Turunen would soon return to her classical roots. Not quite. She began producing symphonic tinged material that, dare we say it, took the same path as the band that brought her success.

The cynics are always going to be around, and I admit, I had the tendency to be one of them – Tarja is clearly only sticking with the guitars because it pays the bills, right? If it was up to her, she’d be singing ‘Ave Maria’ until the cows came home, right? Some of you stubborn lot will never shift from that point of view, no matter how many metal albums she releases, but it has become clearer than ever whilst listening to ‘Colours In The Dark’, that Tarja has found the beauty of orchestral metal just as captivating as Nightwish fans and her conviction is growing ever more powerful – if you don’t believe it, check out the Romanticide-styled outro of ‘Never Enough’. There’s plenty more headbangs left in those raven locks – know that!

‘Victim Of Ritual’ highlights the way Tarja commands a song vocally and suits it’s position as opening track. The rolling ‘R’ in the title refrain and the silence she will inevitably conjure during live renditions of the accapella bridge stand to prove why she is such a beloved vocalist. Musically, the track deals in ‘Phantom Agony’-era Epica, orchestra-lite and guitar heavy. It also has the most addictive refrains on the album, so it’s position as single is proven correct. Likewise ‘Never Enough’ is instantly enjoyable – the chorus still sounds as vibrant and exciting as when it premiered. The real standout, surprisingly, is the Peter Gabriel cover though. ‘Darkness’ is not half as pop-ready as her take on ‘Poison’ and much more Tarja-friendly than ‘Still Of The Night’ – it shows just how successfully she can transform a cover and make it into her own. The thick strings and swooping instrumental wrap around her versatile vocals as Tarja switches between sinister and emotional at the drop of a hat.

It can be a little taboo to mention the language problems, but the purity in which Tarja approaches her English lyrics is both a positive and a negative. Whilst there are the odd cringe-worthy blips throughout (‘A conquest of fear, lonesomeness and dislike’), there is a richness to the lyrics of songs like ‘500 Letters’ that simply tell a story, without killing it with too many pretence-laden metaphors. Tarja’s infamous pronunciation also serves in her favour on the record – as minor as it may seem, her slightly peculiar delivery brings an unfamiliar flavour to the songs and possesses the ability to coat any banal lyrics with seductive and intriguing overtones just with a twist of a syllable.

The record does have plenty of moments to excite you, as I mentioned, but it’s not an entirely smooth ride. Too often, the songs feel a little lengthier than they should. I noted in my review of ‘Never Enough’ that the closing guitar riff went on for too long and a lot of the songs have a similiar fate. None of the tracks are skippable and every single one has it’s merits, but it feels as if their strengths may be washed aside by a niggling thought in the back of your head, pondering whether you can bother to venture into a seven minute song for three minutes of beauty. ‘Lucid Dreamer’ is one such track that would have benefited from a little chopping. ‘Mystique Voyage’, too, could have seen a shorter track length further highlight the triumphant classical influence on the chorus.

Though I exaggerate her operatic past, Tarja has spent most of her vocalist talent and career amongst metal music and it has really shown. What is both frustrating and rewarding, though, is that she is learning as much as the fans are. The music she has produced so far has been on a huge upward curve. The saccharine tendencies of ‘My Winter Storm’ pale in comparison to ‘What Lies Beneath’ and it’s fantastic manipulation of orchestra, ambiance and metal. ‘Colours In The Dark’ comes as the next step up – slightly better than it’s predecessor but, and this is where the frustration might set in, not quite as brilliant as you predict the next release will be. Editing the tracks a little more and emphasizing the true moments of beauty that linger within the songs is the next mission for team Tarja to take on.

Watching an artist grow into the music that gave her the career she has  is not something you see everyday and Tarja is truly and deeply passionate, something many musicians don’t retain after many years of the same old record-and-touring routine. She has eager ears and versatile lungs that want to explore. They want to learn and they want to become better. Listen to that aforementioned discography and you’ll see how much Tarja has grown and become a force to be reckoned with in metal. ‘Colours In The Dark’ is nowhere near perfect but it’s another chapter in the increasingly refined career of a woman that is, quite rightly, sticking her middle finger up at those who have written her off much too soon.

Photo: Poras Chaudhary
Words: Simon McMurdo

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