Tuesday 10 September 2019

Tarja - In the Raw (2019)

Country: Finland
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Aug 2019
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I was intrigued to listen to this new album from Tarja, the solo band of the former lead singer of Nightwish, Tarja Turunen, because I don't believe I've heard her solo work before, even though this is the eighth studio album from Tarja since 2006. It sounds rather different to what I remember of her from Nightwish, though not in any incompatible way.

Dead Promises begins not only with tasty guitarwork but also surprising drum programming. It's a decent song, but Tarja doesn't stretch her pipes too far on it, not least because she's sharing the mike with Soilwork's Björn Strid. Her voice is still pure, clean and powerful, but it's mostly content to play a lot lighter than I remember from those early Nightwish albums.

It takes four tracks for her voice to demonstrate its operatic range. That's Railroads, which is very light and playful until its operatic chorus. Tarja is clearly happy to wander all over the musical map rather than remain in a single style, even if she happens to be one of the most important innovators in that style. I appreciate that.

The heaviest the album gets is the midsection of Tears in Rain, which builds with that vocal harmony escalation that everyone who's ever sung Twist and Shout knows really well, but turns into a heavy workout for the musicians in the band, which mostly translates to Alex Scholpp. Just on Tears in Rain, he provides the guitar, bass, keyboards and additional vocals.

I'm not sure if the lightest the album gets is The Golden Chamber or You and I, which are coincidentally the middle two tracks. You and I is a ballad with little except Tarja accompanying herself on piano. It's theatrical and would fit somewhere in a Disney animated feature if only Disney had balls. I think The Golden Chamber is mostly Tarja solo too, but it's more like Enya, a combination of swirling keyboards, tinkling piano and a vocal that doesn't often involve words but creates a great atmosphere regardless.

Everything else fits somewhere in between, whether it's a rock song, a metal song, a pop song, a show song or whatever Tarja feels like singing. A couple of other names guest on one song each: Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, who lends a hand on Goodbye Stranger, and Tommy Karevik of Kamelot, who helps on Silent Masquerade. Both are solid tracks in the more traditional symphonic metal vein. The latter is one of the album's highlights, instrumentally and vocally both, coming from Nightwish via Queensrÿche.

I liked this album, though I don't buy much into the theme. Perhaps there's some "raw, personal places in her lyrics" but, even with the orchestration dialled down, this is still immaculately crafted and produced material. I'd be able to conjure up a lot of different adjectives to describe it but "raw" is never going to be one of them.

Clearly I need to listen to more solo Tarja. I have massive respect for what she and her bandmates accomplished in Nightwish but somehow lost track after that. She's obviously keeping herself busy and she's created a strong album here. Sure, two of her eight studio albums are Christmas records and I'll be avoiding the most recent of those on principle, but I should clearly take a look at the others. The one previous to this is The Shadow Self, from 2016, and it features a Muse cover of all things. I'm still intrigued.

1 comment:

  1. For me, this is up there with her best solo work. Listening to this album as often as I have these past couple of weeks I get the sense Tarja is really coming into her own...yes there is perhaps a subtle change of direction musically, however, her vocals are as distinctive as ever. She sounds very confident in her delivery....the last cut is epic and perhaps the only thing it is missing is the kitchen sink....but I like what she (and her band) have attempted on this album... it sure works for me.