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TARJA – ‘THE SHADOW SELF’ REVIEW

TARJA – ‘THE SHADOW SELF’ REVIEW



Firstly, I’m sure that most long-term fans will already know the basics of the Tarja/Nightwish saga behind her dramatic exit from Nightwish. It’s all widely documented on the net, and by now has been done to death.

However, 10 years down the line, it is still surprisingly a huge topic of discussion on YouTube and Facebook Pages between the fans loyal to both Nightwish and Tarja.

How Tarja came to be parted from Nightwish in 2005 will be mentioned in an extended review of this CD, as it played a critical part in Tarja’s career and influenced many of the songs that were later written, including some I believe on this album.

It will give a clearer over view of Tarja’s musical direction and informs fans new to Tarja’s music just how she came to be a solo artist.

The CD opens with Innocence and starts with a short classic piano intro, followed quickly by a large hook that has the melody line firmly stuck in your head. The melody line simplisticly mimics the main chorus of the song – you hear the lyrics, “Inside of me – doors will stay open…” which the single piano notes echo in your head note for word.

Incredibly catchy and very Tarja.

At the main bridge, three minutes in, the song heads off for a further two minutes into an even more studious classical piece of piano. This at first seems very out of place amongst the hard rock edge provided by the Van Halen 1 sounding guitar.  It builds, and then bursts into a mini orchestral section while the classical piano continues to weave a playful Schubert style Trout Quintet – which then leads perfectly back into the chorus.

This opening track is typical Tarja and what all her fans have come to know and appreciate over the years – superbly crafted songs, top class musicianship and a voice that transcends the realms of musical excellence.

Tarja’s new CD was released on August 5th and to coincide, Tarja played the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany, duetting with Alissa White-Gluz on the song, Demons In Me. This was advertised as having been streamed live and I was keen to watch it. The comments below the video ranged from, bloody awful! To, OMG totally amazing!”

For those who haven’t heard of Alissa, who only joined Arch Enemy in 2014, then her vocal style of demonic singing is going to come as a complete shock.  Especially to people who love Tarja and who may find death metal not exactly their cup of tea.

Alissa is the blue haired little lady with the voice of what sounds like a host of demons battling in hell and I’m sure if they ever did a re-make of the Exorcist, there is no doubt in my mind that she would be first in line for the Satanic voice over.

I saw Arch Enemy at the end of last year when they supported Nightwish and while they were brilliant at what they do, I personally found it hard going to hear virtually every song sung in such a deeply distorted way. To be honest, by the time it got to the end of the concert, I was rather relieved the show was over!

Demons In Me features a 33 second intro of a Level 42 styled choppy guitar and funky bass, which builds, getting heavier then immediately plunges into an even harder, driving Metallica styled groove, then into a double lead vocal line.

This quickly changes again to a fabulous melodic chorus of, “Lost in the light, eternal seek for paradise – scared to lose the fight with what’s in me … found another side, the darkest thoughts, the deepest sea, where sun and moon arise, it’s me..”

Once again, another incredibly catchy chorus.

But the trouble with these doubled layered vocals, especially in this mix, is that it’s incredibly hard to make out anything Alissa is actually singing; it really is too garbled to be audible. Whilst Tarja wanted to give this song a dualistic theme of Dark Side v Light Side, the dual vocals actually significantly detracted from Tarja’s lead vocal lyrics.

However, I do love the melody line of the song, when both Tarja and Alissa are singing at the same pitch and Alissa sings clean, giving almost a poppy feel – in a way, giving it a touch of sing-along 80′s in what is essentially a very dark and heavy track.

The burning question is, “Does this actually work as a song?” My answer is Yes – but only as a one off!

No Bitter End seems to be following the format – piano intro, followed by something unexpected, with the brilliantly written catchy chorus of “Blackout the sun, light nowhere, tell me you don’t need it anymore – no bitter end…”

Again, just the way these lyrics are sung, they have that familiar huge melody hook in them which quickly has you singing along.

Tarja has been playing piano from a very early age and Love To Hate is introduced with another short piano intro. This track is rather like a musical storyline, more than an actual song that would have the usual set structure of intro, verse, chorus, repeat ect; but this is what Tarja does and she delivers these songs incredibly well, but it is also one if those songs, rather like a musical score in a movie, that after listening to it, you’ll find it incredibly hard to remember any particular section of it, let alone the entire song.

With its immediate James Bond styled big and punchy staccato of “dah – dah – dah – dah”, you can’t help feeling that Muse’s cover of Supremacy could be a strong contender for the next Ian Fleming classic. Within seconds, this song has you imagining those dancing silhouettes of beautiful women, moving in time to higher and higher reaching flames, as a snare drum rolls out its marching beat and an occasional Walther PPK is brandished about.

Strangely, it is slightly reminiscent of Duran Duran’s View to a Kill and ends with that unmistakable string of notes that introduces a 007 movie.

If this doesn’t tell you what to expect from this song, nothing will.

Move over Miss Bassy, there’s a new lady in town…

I adore Tarja’s voice and have done so since I first heard it. When Tarja sings, she sings with such beautiful, captivating tonal inflections, sometimes you just completely forget you are even listening and you are somehow carried away deep into the music and the lyrics. Without realizing it, you’ve become lost for the length of the song. The Living End is a song like this, as are Sing For Me, I feel Immortal, Minor Heaven, Archive of Lost Dreams and many other of Tarja’s wonderfully delivered ballad classics.

Simply called Diva, and as soon as Tarja started singing this song, I instantly believed that this was going to be another one of those no holds barred reflections of Tarja’s inner mind, specifically regarding her treatment by Tuomas and the band.

Again I had to wonder, (as I did when I heard Until My Last Breath from Tarja’s second CD, What Lies Beneath), if she had purposely written a song specifically about Tuomas and how she secretly felt about that 2005 open letter, after all, Toumas went on to specifically write Bye Bye Beautiful for Tarja – did he not?

“Diva was, after all, said to be a reference in that letter and the connotations were clearly negative, rather like she had become aloof, even impossible to work with, therefore, Diva certainly was not used to mean, “A woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera!”

The opening and slightly mocking lyrics begin, “We can laugh at it now, I don’t mind all the burning daggers, piercing me…shaping me… turning the blade on YOU.”

The lyrics continue in the same vein…

“I revealed my escape, sweetest mutiny, ship was sinking, deeper and deeper, and deeper on top of YOU” …leading into the rousing, brick-in-your-face chorus of “…Just look at me, …just look at Diva – Diva – Diva – Diva!”

This is an absolutely stunning song, with superb vocals and flawlessly put together.

Whatever its meaning – I absolutely love this track… this is Tarja at her best.

And as Tarja is unlikely to say one way or another who she was truly singing about, after all, she is a lady…., she has left us to speculate about those lyrics. Personally for me, this song is so blatant and with it’s Pirates of the Caribbean theme, my money is on the table for Mr. Nightwish himself.

Eagle Eye has Tarja’s brother on lead vocals and I was immediately blown away by Toni’s amazing vocal style, sound and range, which complements Tarja’s perfectly.

Although he has appeared with her live on stage, why he has not featured more prominently on Tarja’s other albums is beyond me.

Not just one fantastic singer in the family – but two!

Previewing this CD, I had to skip back and play this track again and just listen once more to the stunning dual vocals from both brother and sister which lift what is already an soaring song, to an even higher level.

Initially sounding like the sound track to an unknown, but somehow familiar movie, Undertaker makes you feel that you are being drawn into some dark forbidding film.

That enigmatic kind of film that leaves you slightly unclear as to what it is actually all about, and how will it end.

Gathering speed, it quickly reaches a rock steady pace; again, with that simplistic single keyboard harmony precisely matching the vocal line, and drifting along in the background at a slower pace, is to me what sounds very similar to Vangellis’ End Theme from Blade Runner.

As you would expect from the name, the words are dark, eerie and morbid but the tune carries you firmly along – as sure as the Grim Reaper himself, for just a penny, will ferry you over the River Styx to meet your maker.

When you read the words to this song as you listen along to the music, you can’t help but begin to see and appreciate how deep and intricate this song really is, and like all of Tarja’s songs, how perfectly it is constructed lyrically around the music. The twisting vocal melodies deftly showcase not just the song Undertaker but also the depth of Tarja’s sometimes rather dark thoughts.

Calling From The Wild is another track where the music seems to have been put together to match the words, with the words seeming more like a story than a lyrical song.

After a short intro, we are taken into a ritual chant styled offbeat drive. This leads to a small speaking part, which seem quite popular to slip into to songs nowadays, but personally, I find these spoken lines, (usually referring to humanistic morals, earthly advice and world peace) to be a bit pretentious.

It’s probably the least catchy track of the CD and, like to Love to Hate, you don’t catch yourself humming it afterwards. While the offbeat drive is quite predominant and ritualistic and the chanting stands out, you just don’t find yourself remembering other elements as strongly once it has ended.

At almost 13 minutes long, Too Many is a great mini epic but one that really should have faded out and ended somewhere around 6 minutes. Instead it is stretched out, with the bands instruments fading out one by one, until finally only the drums and Tarja are left, then it’s just Tarja, …singing the last line over and over and over and over again… she stops singing at 7 minutes and 45 seconds – but it doesn’t end there.

The track length states 12 minutes 54 seconds and we are treated to a very long silence while the CD still spins – then… at around 10 minutes 50 seconds, for some obscure reason, we are presented a with cacophony of some kind of thrash metal mix with a playful, almost child-like-teenage disco tune added in.

This felt really silly and totally unnecessary, but I get the feeling by doing this and adding this to what is a tremendous song to end the CD with, Tarja simply doesn’t care.

Sure, if you want to have fun in the studio and mess around, then by all means do – but keep it in the studio.

Recording it and tacking it on the end of an overall brilliant album really detracts from the previous tracks you’ve just heard and raises the question, “What the hell was she thinking?”

Perhaps a band member should have told her that doing this is not a good idea; that just because you CAN do something, does not mean you SHOULD do something. But Tarja is a lady who does seem to like to take things a bit further than most, and occasionally throws in something quite expected, and in this case, sometimes quite pointless.

A perfect example is the ending to Never Enough.

Instead of ending where it naturally should, Never Enough is deliberately drawn out and then quite deliberately becomes increasingly more and more distorted, to such an extreme degree, so much so, you think your speakers and your ears are going to split. While all of Tarja’s fans love Tarja’s music, you are silently praying for Never Enough to end, and very relieved when it does; but perhaps this is exactly how she wants you to feel?

If her intention with the last segment of Too Many was to get your attention in a negative way, she definitely succeeded! But why? I have no idea.

Too Many is a great song, but it falls into the towering shadow of the magnificent Crimson Deep, which ends Tarja’s What lies beneath CD.

 

Tarja’s music is very unique – with intricately technical classical piano pieces Frédéric Chopin would be proud of, blended with very heavy riffs of Van Halen 1 styled guitar sounds, mixed with Metallica styled grooves and the occasional orchestral cello thrown in, …all playing host to those single note – ghostly keyboard themes, and of course, the most stunning vocals from one of the world’s best known and loved Sopranos.

Tarja’s music really is a bitter sweet mix of musical elements which, shouldn’t really fit together but actually fuse amazingly well to produce something very original indeed.

For me personally, and I would imagine many others, the difference between Tarja and other female performers of equal musical talent, is the sheer power and range and those unique tonal inflections in her voice.

While all songs are constructed, (usually by one or more artists), a number of Tarja’s tracks appear to be a mix of several strong, individual ideas that have been combined to make a song. Maybe someone had an idea for an intro, another had an idea for a riff, (one that is completely different to the intro idea), then another idea is thrown in that goes in another direction altogether.

Surprisingly the end result is not disjointed, it flows, but flows through the song in distinctive sections.

For instance, the intro into Demons In Me could easily be dropped altogether as the tinny, high pitched and rather sharp jaggy notes don’t lead smoothly into the main body of the song, and although everyone loves a bit of slap funk bass now and again, it does not match the overall theme of the song of Angel / Demon…. Good / Bad… Dark Side / Light Side… The Shadow Self.

It would have worked much better with a simple 1 2 3 4 – then straight into that heavy riff.

Since 2007 Tarja has been nothing but prolific in creating incredible music.

From performing Schubert’s beautiful and timeless Ave Maria and You Would Have Loved This from her Christmas Concerts, plus all her solo and orchestral works, she has been extremely busy and this new CD is actually the second of her solo work this year, in June of this year she released a prequel to it, called The Brightest Void.

Not many artists can claim to have released two new solo albums, packed with new material in the space of less than two months. However, just because you have the talent to sing anything and have your band play anything, does not mean that you should …and sadly the last part of the last track is a prime example and by doing things like this, …this could actually be Tarja’s Achilles Heel.

You most certainly would not have had this at the end of 1964′s Goldfinger, …Pussy Galore would have had kittens.

Tarja’s voice is without doubt, the closest thing to the perfect singing voice.

She is a lady who is seriously passionate about her music, she is in huge demand, having lots of fun along the way and at the moment, one with the world at her feet.

But “Beauty -    it seems, does indeed    – always comes with dark thoughts…”