Saturday, November 11, 2017

Album review: The Dark Element (2017)

Album cover

*Originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page.

Album: The Dark Element
Artist: The Dark Element
Genre: Symphonic/power metal
Label: Frontiers Records
Tracks: 11

Ever since her controversial split with Nightwish over 5 years ago, Anette Olzon has been somewhat of a ‘dark horse’ on the music scene: no one really knew what to expect from her after departing from the band that made her famous, and the loyal fans she had amassed during her brief 5-year stint in the band did not allow her to stay silent, even when it seemed she wanted to do just that during those first few months after the breakup. Musically, Anette has not done much outside of her solo album in 2014, which was a pop/adult contemporary-based project that she had been working on as far back as 2009, and was as far removed from the sound of Nightwish as anyone could expect. It was no secret that Anette stumbled into the metal world upon joining the band, and that she came from more of a pop/AOR background. However, it was through a metal band that most of her fans found her, and many of them still wanted to hear what she would do in a heavier vein.

Enter Jani Liimatainen, former guitarist of Sonata Arctica, and current guitarist of Cain’s Offering, a band featuring another vocalist from a prominent Finnish band (Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius). If you know your Nightwish history, you know that Nightwish and Sonata Arctica have had close ties to one another over the years, so perhaps it was not too much of a stretch of the imagination to guess that former bandmembers of these two bands would find each other and collaborate together. Maybe they wanted to stick it to their old bands? Who knows? After all, success is the best form of revenge!

Yet, if getting even with their old bandmates was not their initial purpose for joining together musically, the project that became The Dark Element quickly became the most anticipated new album among fans in both camps, and among the symphonic and power metal scene. This was the heavy style of music Anette’s fans wanted to hear more of from her, and people were curious to hear how her voice would work with Jani’s signature guitar work.

From the opening title track, The Dark Element starts off running, with catchy, poppy melodies woven into dark gothic and electronic sounds. There is no denying that on songs like the title track, “Dead to Me”, “My Sweet Mystery” and “Last Good Day”, that you can hear the Nightwish influence in the music. But there is just as much there that is instantly reminiscent of Sonata Arctica or Cain’s Offering—in fact, much of the album sounds like an experiment in what Cain’s Offering might sound like with a female singer; some good examples are “The Ghost and the Reaper”, “Halo” and “I Cannot Raise the Dead” (hmm, seems to be a pattern among those titles there!). That being said, Anette’s stamp is on this album too—the album closer “Only One Who Knows Me” easily sounds like something from her Alyson Avenue days, “Here’s to You” is rooted in AOR influences and the songs “Someone You Used to Know” and “Heaven of Your Heart” are gentle ballads that would have fit perfectly on her solo album.

The Dark Element is a solid album, from start to finish. Even if you are not familiar with the music from either Anette Olzon or Jani Liimatainen, if you are a fan of power metal, female vocals or hooky pop or electronic elements within metal music, you might want to give it a listen. Fans of Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius and Cain’s Offering are sure to enjoy this already. This is the type of album that Anette’s fans have been waiting for since she left Nightwish, so they will not be disappointed! There may be some aspects to it that are lacking in regards to their former bands, but if you don’t go into it expecting an exact sound-alike of those bands, you will be pleasantly surprised. The influences are there, but clearly The Dark Element is trying to carve out its own identity, which they have done brilliantly. Whether this is just a one-off project or if this is going to evolve into a full-time band with future albums to come, this merger between two components of Finnish metal’s biggest titans is a surefire winner and a worthy addition to your music collection.

Thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.

Special thanks to Dustin Hardman and Jon Freeman at Frontiers Records.

Extra-special thanks to Oceansouls of America.

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