Look, the songs are good. Really good even. She's great. When they let her. Tarja just needs a more coherent vision and a better producer.
Let's say, Silent Masquerade, it's probably one of her best song no doubt, but what the hell is that narration and early 90's school video piano?, no, just no. And what's with the constant changes between melody and heavy riffs that come from nowhere and go nowhere in songs like Serene (way to ruin the ending) or Dead Promises.
And the thing is the whole album is like that, things almost never settle into something.
The album doesn't keep a consistent quality, some exceptions notwithstanding (Railroads, You and I, Spirits of the Sea?). The songs themselves arent consistent with their own music. What starts with a devilish riff ends up changing to angelic melodic chorus in a minute and, so forth. It never settles, and it's too dissonant to itself, it's almost painful and uncomfortable to listen to.
And that's a symptom of Tarja the artist. What is Tarja? What is her deal? Is it dark, scary rock? Then why the silly faces and dances and the overly sentimental lyrics? is it symphonic fantasy rock? Then why the american nu metal riffs slicing any semblance of melody? Is it just Tarja being Tarja both parts silly and majestic, then why isn't she more of both instead of going one way to the other in few seconds? Tears in Rain literally apes David Bowie's Let's Dance in the less appropriate use of a musical reference i've ever heard. It's about a super serious song that talks about a very painful separation. Were the red shoes necessary?
There are some bright spots of course. Railroads is probably the most solid song on the album. Really coherent and musically pleasing. Amazing vocal delivery. You and I is a fantastic ballad that wouldn't be out of place in any movie or Tv series out there. Given Tarja's voice and timbre, that's a composition achievement. Spirits of the Sea is a great foray into the "epic serious dramatic" song type rock loves so much. It's not really there yet, but it's almost there, and when it works, it really works. Keep on doing that.
But let's say, Serene and Shadow Play, they're both amazing songs whose weird instrumentation gets in the way too much. The first has some of te most tender lyrics of the album, but the music is scary and dark and dangerously aggressive for some reason. Shadow Play is also all symphonic, dark, sweet, sentimental and super noisy in a 30 second space. It's impossible to get in the mood for anything. The music can't decide what it is, and it comes across detrimental to even the management of expectations about what Tarja even is as an artist.
I've came to the realization that this comes from the lack of a good producer. First, one that doesn't use 90's synths. Secondly, one that is able to ditch any incoherency from the songs, going against the "band" if necessary to keep musical coherence (totally normal thing, remember Nemo used to feature a rap section until Tero took it off). Thirdly, Tarja needs to better communicate whatever message she's trying to get across, define it and let us participate instead of confusingly wonder what the deal is.
There's a really great, personal album in there, and the personal circumstances that inspired the lyrics are of such significance that it works as a great cathartic experience and artistic statement. But once you're getting into it, something takes you out. Something in the music, the instruments, the cadence of songs, the mix, the lack of dynamics, of textures.. I don't know. I'm not a producer. But modern rock is going through such an interesting sonic transformation that it's just a shame to see a great effort not being able to fully connect the way it is clearly designed to.
my 2 cents.
P.S: The obligatory NW diss was still stronger than I'd thought. "The enemy", really. They're never getting over that right. sigh.