I should explain for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, and it's going to require a bit of a history lesson. Back in 1996, there was a keyboardist and insanely talented songwriter in Finland named Tuomas Holopainen, and he recruited guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and classical singer Tarja Turunen to form a band that would fuse classical symphonic music with heavy metal. In 1997, they (along with future symphonic metal titan Within Temptation) released their first albums, birthing a whole new genre of metal that would take them to fame and fortune.
It was also one of the first genres of metal I ever explored, and Nightwish was one of the first bands I discovered that I really liked, which was in large part thanks to Tarja Turunen's soaring, powerful, operatic vocals. To put it another way, Nightwish is one of the few bands to cover 'Phantom of the Opera' and actually manage to match Sarah Brightman's incredible delivery. Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, Nightwish made a ton of fantastic music that I still love to this day...
And then in 2005, Tarja Turunen was fired from the band through an open letter by Tuomas, and the fanbase split violently in two. Now as somebody with the benefit of context and hindsight, I can say that there was no party involved in this split that is completely innocent or deserves all of the blame. Tuomas was always a brilliant, introverted control freak who couldn't stand not getting his own way, and Tarja got used to being the face of the band and thus became a bit of a diva (whether or not it was encouraged by her husband, who has nothing but contempt for Tuomas, is an entirely different can of worms I don't want to touch).
But Tarja swore she was going to keep making music on her own, so the same year Nightwish released their comeback album Dark Passion Play with new vocalist Anette Olzon (which also happened to be one of the best albums of their career), Tarja also released her solo album My Winter Storm. One thing was for sure on both of those albums: neither Tarja or Tuomas were over the whole breakup thing, and were taking more than their fair share of complicated emotions regarding the whole affair.
However, the important questions regarding that album from Tarja tend to get overlooked amid the hysterics, and I'm here to provide an answer to it: is Tarja's solo material any good? Well, to be blunt, it's better than I expected. Considering it was Tarja's first attempt to write songs on her own (with an arsenal of professionals behind her, of course), I was surprised how well many of the songs came together. And Tarja's voice is as strong and gorgeous as ever, and she has always had a lot of personality and energy in her delivery. The problem becomes that this album is automatically compared with Dark Passion Play, one of the best albums Nightwish ever made that still holds up today. Nightwish made a classic album of the symphonic metal genre, and My Winter Storm just can't compete with that, on songwriting or instrumentation (I'm not jumping into the pit of comparing the vocals of Tarja and Anette, and you can't make me).
Fortunately, her follow-up What Lies Beneath was actually a fair bit better, actually showing that Tarja's (and her collaborators') songwriting was only getting better, and Tarja was experimenting with differing symphonic metal sounds and styles, proving that she could indeed be a pretty potent solo act. Yeah, not all of the experimentation worked - the hints of more industrial sounds were especially hit-and-miss, and some of the tempo changes mid-song brought mixed results, but it was enough to give me a bit of hope that her newest album this year (released while Nightwish is in a bit of a complicated state as a band, having replaced Anette Olzon with Floor Jansen) could actually be something special.
So what do I think of Tarja Turunen's newest album Colours In The Dark?