This review has been written by guest writer Joe Turner, the author of books like The Heart Collector, The Maker’s Hand and The Grave Dancer. You can find out more about Joe and his work by checking out his website here and Twitter here.
It’s been a tough journey for Anette Olzon. You might remember her as the Nightwish singer during the band’s Lost Years between 2007-2012. Her melodic-but-poppy voice didn’t translate well to the bombastic and grandiose sounds of the symphonic metal legends, pushing them into a more commercial sound which is widely considered to be the lowest point in Nightwish history. Additionally, Annette’s predecessor and successor are both once-in-a-lifetime vocalists, and Anette still (unfairly) endures comparisons to these inimitable singers on a regular basis.
Enter The Dark Element, the musical side project of Sonata Arctica founder Jani Liimaitanen. Songs The Night Sings is the band’s second album, with Anette taking the vocal reigns on both records, and it’s here that her voice is finally allowed to flourish the way it deserves.
The Dark Element combine sugary pop choruses and harmonious vocal lines with power metal-infused gothic melodies that could easily be planted firmly into Anette-era Nightwish. However, this band is much more streamlined and accessible than anything Anette has done before – even her solo material. There are no 20-minute songs and no extended orchestral sections. This is refined metal that, despite its simplistic nature, still manages to blur genre lines and maintain a sense of vastness with its rich, layered sound and radio-friendly hooks.
The album opens with the double assault of Not Your Monster and Songs The Night Sings, both of which are classic Dark Element tracks which set the tone for things to come. Both songs follow a relatively simple format established by the band’s stand out tracks on its previous album (My Sweet Mystery, Dead To Me) – an eerie keyboard intro followed by the main riff, leading to the dual assault between Anette’s voice and Jani’s masterful guitar playing.
Perhaps a word needs to be said of Jani’s excellence at this point. After these first two songs, it quickly becomes clear why Sonata Arctica lost their magic after Jani left them in 2008. All Dark Element music and lyrics were written solely by him, and while there are sometimes a lot of similarities in song structure, it’s a structure that works for what he’s trying to achieve.
The next three tracks, When It All Comes Down, Silence Between The Words and Pills On My Pillow see Jani stick with familiar territory. Loaded with infectious hooks which were designed to be hummed along with, the lyrical themes of the album begin to present themselves. Lost love, struggles and loneliness are constant subject matters throughout the album, much as they have been throughout Jani’s other work.
To Whatever End slows things down to a power ballad tempo, and lets Anette flex her vocal chops alongside a gothic piano melody. The Pallbearer Walks Alone and Get Out Of My Head is where the album reaches its musical crescendo, both loaded with irresistible synth work backed up by groove-filled riffage.
The album cools down with three slower songs, If I Had A Heart, You Will Learn and I Have To Go. The latter in particular being a stand-out track as it takes the band in a direction they’ve not been before. It’s the kind of track which I could visualize being sung by Anette while she sat on a piano in jazz lounge. It’s quiet, slow and seductive, and breaks new territory for the group.
In the interest of unbiasedness, I should mention a small downside. While there are no major negatives, the only thing which sometimes throws me off is a few of the lyrics. Finnish power metal often has that broken English approach which can sometimes result in cheesy or infantile lyrics. There are a few instances of this, but nothing overtly off-putting.
Overall, Songs The Night Sings could easily be the best power release of 2019. And in a year which has seen Demons & Wizards remasters and new albums from Sabaton and Within Temptation, that’s quite an achievement. Anette and Jani are an ideal music pair whose styles complement each other perfectly. Anette in particular feels much more connected to the music than she has in her previous endeavours. If you’re a fan of power, symphonic or female-fronted metal, definitely check this album out.
The Dark Element – Songs The Night Sings Full Tracklisting:
1. Not Your Monster
2. Songs The Night Sings
3. When It All Comes Down
4. Silence Between The Words
5. Pills On My Pillow
6. To Whatever End
7. The Pallbearer Walks Alone
8. Get Out Of My Head
9. If I Had A Heart
10. You Will Learn
11. I Have To Go