Nightwish – Imaginaerum (2011) track by track first listen review

While Nightwish’ new album Imaginaerum is set for a November 30, 2011 release, for some reason my preordered edition arrived early in the mail, and I got the chance to listen to it right away. So I made som hot cocoa, light up some candles and popped the CD in. Here goes with my first thoughts on the new album.

1. Taikatalvi (02:35)

The first real intro the band has ever had (as an own song), and it works very elegantly. Soft playing and Marco Hietala singing in beautiful Finnish, a perfect introduction to the album. I am glad to hear how smoothly it moves into Storytime, the next song, and I start to hope for a smooth album with songs that work both individually and as a whole

2. Storytime (05:22)

Storytime was the first song released from the album, the first single released in early November. I still agree with my opinions then – it really works. It’s catchy without being too catchy (which I thought was the problem with 2007’s ”Amaranth”), and it has an excellent orchestral C-part (albeit quite reminiscent of the Crimson Tide musical score).

3. Ghost River (05:28)

Although this wasn’t as smooth as Taikatalvi-Story Time, it works nicely. A surprisingly hard rock-y intro is met by Anette Olzon’s somewhat AOR-y voice, followed by a Hietala heavy chorus. While not a particularly melodic chorus, it immediately sticks on me, and Hietala’s voice works well with the background riffs and Olzon’s backing vocals. The lyrics easily stick as well: ”He will go down he will drown drown deeper down / The mills grind slow in a riverbed ghost town”. The song has several interesting parts in only five minutes, including a slower Olzon bridge and a second bridge with a children choir. Feels like a given live song.

4. Slow, Love, Slow (05:50)

One of the more controversial songs due to it’s unusual jazz influence, this is one of the songs I’ve looked forward to the most (alongside particularly ”Scaretale”, ”Turn Loose the Swans” and ”Song of Myself”). It works really well, with a nice atmosphere which feels extremely Opeth-y (alongside the obvious 1930’s piano bar thoughts). And while I thought the song would have pretty much the same tone all the way through, the second section really builds up to something. The orchestra, keys, guitars and Olzon’s voice work extremely well together in the final two minutes or so.

5. I Want My Tears Back (05:08)

One of the songs that both by the released sample and the title sound extremely poppy to me, but let’s see. The vocals are indeed pretty cliched, as are the bagpipes – while I love bagpipes, it is really hard to get them do something special, and not just ending up sounding like the same old Eluveitie song over and over again. That said, the song really works, Olzon contributes with some interesting vocal lines, and the lyrics are some of the best of later-day Nightwish. The rather uninteresting chorus is if anything a break from the rest of the song (including the Escapist-reminiscent pre-chorus). Speaking of cliched bagpipes by the way – while the instrumental break of the C part isn’t super interesting musically, it truly rocks your socks of, and I can’t wait to see it live.

6. Scaretale (07:32)

Starting out like a horror movie, it has got me right from the start, with creepy sounds and super creepy singing children. Ah! Help! The song starts out with three instrumental minutes like it’s one of the good old Nightwish epics alongside ”Ghost Love Score”, ”The Beauty of the Beast” and ”The Poet of the Pendulum”, and then continues with more of the interesting ”new” Anette Olzon vocals that are much more varied than on Dark Passion Play. For some reason the song’s mid-section feels a lot Devil Doll-ish. And… without noticing it, the song is almost over.

7. Arabesque (02:57)

Much like Taikatalvi is Nightwish’ first real intro song, this is their first purely atmospheric tracks since possible ”Lappi” (Angels Fall First, 1997). They’ve done instrumentals several times in the past, but not like this – this feels more like a chase scene than the older ones, which are pretty much let’s-drink-some-vodka-and-rock-on-by-the-midwinter-fire. This… rocks. Oh, and I love how tightly it’s connected to ”Scaretale”.

8. Turn Loose the Mermaids (04:20)

The only real ballad on the album (though ”Slow, Love, Slow” and ”The Crow, the Owl and the Dove” are both debatable), it works really nicely. Olzon voice is yet again on the top, and the lyrics are excellent, alongside the music by itself – a fantastic mixture of piano, harpsichord and Troy Donockley’s several instruments, as well as the percussion towards the bridge section. As Holopainen has said before, the bridge has an interesting Ennio Morricone-like feel to it, and it really works.

9. Rest Calm (07:03)

Seeing as I am a huge fan of doom metal, this was one of the songs I was looking forward the most to, seeing as doom metal is the main influence. Much like Scaretale, the intro kicks it off extremely elegantly, though this has much more of a heavy metal feel. The chorus is both catchy and heavy metal, and Olzon’s post-chorus section is immediately melancholic and escapist. The lyrics are amazing as well: ”You are the moon pulling my black waters / You are the land in my dark closets / Stay by my side until it all goes dark forever / When silent the silence comes closer”. One of the best so far.

10. The Crow, the Owl and the Dove (04:10)

This was the other song I had heard before release (thanks, Aku Ankka!), but only once. It is excellently composed and works really nicely, if not for the rather dull chorus. Is a little subtlety too much to ask for?

11. Last Ride of the Day (04:32)

Starts out truly epic with orchestra and chanting before the band kicks in. The chorus is epic as hell, and reminds me of the good old power metal days. And I suddenly understand the idea of being on a roller coaster that Holopainen wanted to convey.

12. Song of Myself (13:38)

1. From a Dusty Bookshelf
It’s not an overstatement to say this is one of the songs I’ve been looking the most forward to. Its length alone is enough to make me think of earlier songs in the Nightwish repertoire. Still, I’ve heard a lot of bad disappointed comments on the net, so I try my best not to have too high expectations.

2. All That Great Heart Lying Still
It starts out nicely, but not really surprising. The lyrics are interesting though. The chorus when it comes up lifts the whole song, and it works excellently. I by the way love The Dead Boy getting some mentions in a song for once (I think there was a line earlier in the album as well).

3. Piano Black
Excellent lyrics and vocals mixed with beautiful, epic music (though somewhat boring guitar riffs, as have been a feature throughout the album). The music dying for a moment in the end of this section is one of the most epic moments of the album.

4. Love
I have heard a lot of bad stuff about this section. The monologues… they are supposed to be boring. I loved them. I couldn’t help myself crying like never before. I loved it. The music may be simplistic, but it works excellently. It’s perfect. Just about perfect.

13. Imaginaerum (06:18)

There is currently not much to say about this outro. And yes, outro is exactly what it is. Pip William’s orchestrated medley of the major themes on the album. It works… so well. So fantastic. But I can’t judge it alone. The entire album as a whole works so well.

Awesome.

Chinese word of the day #1: 圆珠笔

Studying Chinese every hour of every day leads to some words getting stuck and constantly repeating themselves in my head – especially since some word really sound funny to say, or since some words have extremely cool characters or origins.

The word of the day, that has been repeating in my head for the past few days (even though I first learned it several months ago):

圆珠笔

yuán zhū bǐ

”ball point pen”

”圆珠笔” translates to ”ball point pen”, and a word by word translation gives ”round pearl pen” or something along those lines. Similarly, just a pen is called ”笔” (bǐ) and a pencil is called ”铅笔” (qiān bǐ). The character for pen (笔) is a combination of the character for hair, ”毛” (máo), and the radical form of the character for bamboo, ”竹” (zhú). I don’t know the reason for the combination, but I don’t think it’s entirely out there to assume that old Chinese pens where constructed from bamboo and animal hair.

Incidentally, 毛 (máo) is also the surname of the old Chinese dictator (and founder of the current republic) Mao Zedong (毛泽东). His full name would literally translate ”the hair east of the pond”.

”Storytime” review

The new Nightwish track ”Storytime” is finally out. The single can be bought or downloaded, and the video can be viewed on YouTube (the video version of the song is shortened by a minute and twenty seconds, with parts of the intro and the symphonic section removed).

The song is surprisingly good, both melodic and interesting, with good melodies and an amazing symphonic section (even though it does feel rather Crimson Tide inspired at 03:22 – 03:34). The beginning and end (not the video version) seem to connect it to the other songs of the album, which gives me further hope of a connected album in the likes of other symphonic metal masterpieces such as Kamelot’s Epica. The song also feature some really cool steel drums, which are rarely used well (or at all) in metal music. It also features Anette Olzon’s voice much more smoothly with the music than on some of the Dark Passion Play tracks.

Nightwish’ new album Imaginaerum will be released November 30, 2011, and can be pre-ordered in their shop.

Updating shared deck in Anki (the complicated but as far as I know only way)

After having used Anki for about two months, primarily for my Chinese studies, I have discovered an annoying inconvenience – decks that are uploaded by one user and downloaded by another can’t be updated  by the downloader without erasing and replacing the deck. In other words – if I update one of my decks (like ”Additional Chinese-English Vocabulary”) with a few additional cards, and upload the new edition to the Anki repository to be used by others, the only way for a user to update his or her ”Additional Chinese-English Vocabulary” deck is to erase it and download a new one. My realisation of this was confirmed by this thread in an Anki help forum, in which the user Damien Elmes adds that ”[s]upport for pulling in updates from shared decks is planned for 2.0. This would pull in the new facts only, as existing users may have customized card templates, study options, and so on.”

Unfortunately Anki v. 2.0 seems to be taking awhile (there is an alpha version I don’t dare to use), but I thankfully found a manual, albeit annoying, solution. Observe that this is for the desktop version, and for the Windows version specifically, but I assume the program looks somewhat similar in Mac OS and Linux.

  1. Download a second version of the deck you want to upload. For example, if you have version 4 of my deck, and want version 5 (the latest), go to the regular download place (where you got version 4 to begin with) and get the new one. Do not erase your old one, just get a second one of the same type (but newer).
  2. Now you have two decks by the same name, except the newer one (version 5) has a string of numbers after the name (for example ”Additional Chinese-English Vocabulary3958259863259”). Your old version still has all your old data – your statistics, your answered cards due in a couple of days, et cetera, while the new one is a brand new deck with no answered cards, but with a larger decks. Go to the version 5 deck. Click ”File” in the top left corner of the screen, and then click ”Export…”.
  3. Let the ”Export format” field remain ”Anki Deck (*.anki)”, and let ”Limit to tags” remain empty. Just click ”Export…”. Choose a convenient place to save the file.
  4. Extract the files in the newly created zip archive with for example WinRAR.
  5. Go to the version 4 deck (your old deck that you want to update with new cards). Click ”File” and ”Import…”. Choose the file called ”shared.anki” which you just extracted from the zip archive.
  6. Your original deck (v. 4) should now include all cards from the newer deck (v. 5), but still have all your statistics and due cards remaining. You can now erase the version 5 deck (the one with all the digits) and start studying.
If there’s a simpler way, please inform me.