The legendary Finnish Symphonic metal band Nightwish will release their ninth studio album Human Nature, a two-disc set on April 10th. The band’s most recent previous releases have taken a musical direction towards a more folk metal avenue. And with their new album Human Nature they not only go further in the direction of folk music, extending its roots to pull inspiration from the most ancient musical traditions and tribalism in a cinematic orchestrated way, but they also return to explore some of their heavier side.
With metal riffage backed by dense orchestral textures, vocal chants, and even an occasional blast beat. Most of the songs on the first CD follow a verse-chorus structure, while the second CD is one large orchestral piece in 8 movements. You can also expect to hear some large spacey synths, choruses, vocal harmonies, and a variety of different traditional/world instruments and percussion. Performed with excellent execution and with very high-quality production.
This two-disc set is also packed with lyrical references to many various books, stories, playwrights, science, pop culture, etc. that it takes some time to unpack everything and appreciate this piece as a whole. The overall theme of this double album is evident within the title “Human Nature” and it aims to encapsulate everything that is human. Toumas remarked in an interview “We decided on the name Human Nature after noticing the common theme of human nature…I felt the need to bring out these songs, I had immense fun writing them”
Which you can hear in the first track “Music”. This song is filled with everything you can expect to hear on the whole album, including tribal drums, quite intimate singing, heavy riffage dreamy orchestra textures, fast arppeggiated string sections, large choruses, and serves as a well-crafted introduction.
The next track “Noise”, has some trademark Nightwish sounding sections with good ole chanting vocals and upbeat riffs that older fans might appreciate. The lyrics criticize our current screen culture in a satirical way that has some ominous undertones. As the song progresses there are some changes in the texture as orchestral parts weave in and out with brief synth moments, then a drum interlude leading to a heavy breakdown.
Following with “Shoemaker” begins with the main melody played on a dulcimer, then Floor comes in singing backed by a chorus and the large Nightwish sound. The song takes a dip before the final climax with an intimate section with dark synths. A quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is spoken, where Juliet is speaking of Romeo entreating that when he dies he may be sent to the stars. This narration is followed by beautiful operatic vocals performed by Floor in an epic massive chorusy ending with major harmonies and a triumphant march finish.
The song “Pan” has a lyrical intro with an eerie chromatic vocal melody, but falling into chugging guitar riffs and chanting vocals. Toumas says about Pan “it is an ode to human imagination” which becomes clear as this song is jam-packed with references to stories, authors, playwrights, scientists, essentially anything or anyone that is or inspires imagination.
Some of the more recognizable ones being Shakespeare “something wicked their/this way comes”, Carl Sagan “Pale blue dot/stage”. “Procession” begins with synth arpeggiated minor chord ostinato and delicate vocals. And continues with a slow build. Procession has lyrical references to “father pikaia” which is an extinct prehistoric sea creature.
It is telling the story of evolution and the history of humanity and the world. This song appears to be written in a way that is speaking to current and future species which may or may not be human. As it says “we are, we were, and we’ll not be ” followed by “We wrote this in a tongue you will understand, words, melodies…” So it is almost symbolic of a document in a similar vein to that of the voyager golden record.
A golden record sent out into space in 1977 loaded with music and instructions on how to play it in the event that another species out in the ether come into contact with it. Given the many other references Toumas has about science and evolution, I don’t think this comparison is a reach, in fact it seems quite fitting even if the connection was not intentional. There is also mention of the first acorn, which is a metaphor for the first seed of life on earth, as the oak tree is regarded in many cultures as a sacred tree and a bringer of life. The song ends with more 7th chord descending synth arpeggios, which often invokes images of space and mystery.
The second CD is one large orchestral piece that is divided into eight different movements. The band does not play on this CD; it is just orchestral. The music minimalistic and ambient mostly throughout, and is similar to a classical tone poem piece as each section is labeled with either some kind of earth, human, or space reference. And it is like these eight movements played together as one piece tell a story of our world.
On the second CD I found the piece “Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal” to be most interesting. As it uses a fragment of the oldest known recorded music in a new interesting way. For those that may need a brush-up in music history, the Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal dates back to roughly 1500 BC inscribed on a clay tablet in cuneinform, one of the earliest systems of writing.
(Interesting side note: the cover artwork for Human Nature looks uncannily familiar to these markings found on these ancient tablets, I suspect they were a source of inspiration.) And the instrument that this ancient song likely would have been played on was the lyre. Interestingly enough when the melody of Hymn to Nikkal is played on the CD it is played pizzicato in the string section emulating a lyre sound.
There are many more references and nuances that I did not even go into here, that dwell deep in this double album set titled Human Nature. I suspect there is yet still more I have yet to discover myself. To have the full experience one must listen to the whole set entire. It takes a few listens to gain an appreciation for this large work, but I think it is worth the effort. Not all of the songs contain the heavy punch that some may be looking for from a metal band, but rather this album is a journey, a human epic, a snapshot of humanity. In my opinion, it is a well-crafted work that most Nightwish fans will enjoy.