And now for Endless Forms Most Beautiful.

And my thoughts and emotions are more complex than I expected, so apologies for the lengthiness of this post.

I mean

Confeos said:

Floor's debut album was the first time I didn't feel excited about a new Nightwish release. I believe I wrote earlier that I consider Anette's firing the point where I began losing interest in the band in general, so that's definitely the main reason for my low expectations.

the immediate reaction was like this, especially after sacking their singer unceremoniously once again. Hard to blame me. With Imaginaerum already showing some signs of Tuomas getting too locked in within himself - I mean, the orchestral version and the film, Song of Myself and general setting in motion and revving up for the inevitable shark jumping, losing yet another member was a very bad sign.

But then, Floor was announced as the replacement and I was actually thrilled - I'm not the world's biggest After Forever fan, but with After Forever and ReVamp - let alone all the Ayreon guest-starring - I found Floor to be fascinating and an itriguing pick. NOT at all compatible with Nightwish - in fact I remember thinking "the fact that the singer is female comes first, how she would fit with the NW sound comes second, right?", but then again, the (IMHO) more fitting choices, either the bigger stars like Simons or Sharon den Adel or the lesser stars like Charlotte Wessels were already set within their respective bands (at least for the moment; the less is said about Delain's personal shenanigans, the better) and at least from the purely technical point of view, Floor was able to recreate the older songs on stage AND she had an outstanding stage presence and her own fandom, so I guess the choice was obvious.

That said

Mosh said:

I think Floor is the best possible choice in vocalist for Nightwish. Her style is more in the vein of Anette, but she isn't lacking the technical prowess or power that Tarja brought to the band. I think she is a better performer than Tarja and her versatility carries the songs in a way I don't feel Anette was particularly capable of.

Hard disagree here. Even putting aside my Floor-allergy glasses for a moment, I don't see her as a good fit at all... or if, then Tuomas hasn't been able to play to her strengths in what amounts to nearly ten years by now. I remember even when EFMB came out, people were complaining a bit that Floor (and Marco, though that was less controversial, in that "spotlight should be on the new vocalist here") was severely underutilised. The only thing that truly stands out was her breathy rasp on Weak Fantasy - true, that's something neither of the previous vocalists would be able to thus pull off and it sounds great - but the rest was a bit of a non-show. She did more on H:N, but that had other problems and besides - the best she sounded there was on Shoemaker and that one is so much a non-Nightwish song, I don't think it really counts.

To quote a review that has since appeared on Metal Archives that I have recently come across

Around the time of this album's release, everyone was flocking around the newfound voice in Floor Jansen. "She can do everything," they said, "She is the best vocalist of Nightwish so far!" Though she is competent, the level she was being over-hyped was completely ridiculous and ludicrous. While Jansen is rather capable of doing many types of vocals, there is a problem with this. Due to being a jack of all trades, she excels in neither the operatic singing that Tarja could do, or the soft, straightforward poppy style that Annette Olzon possessed. As a result of this, she just simply lacks an identity on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Sure, she can probably put more raw power into her voice as compared to the previous two singers, but that is all that makes her special, and it barely separates her from a band like Battle Beast who have a much superior and powerful female vocalist. She also just seems underutilized here, as she can still do a variety of vocal styles decently well, as seen by their live performances and Jansen’s other bands.

(don't know about Battle Beast in particular, haven't heard them in a long time, so I don't remember precisely, but it's true that I'd much rather listen to ... say... Sara Squadrani, but I digress)

However, still, after the album was announced, at first I was really looking forward towards the album and during those first weeks after the release, I was actually thrilled. Back then, the concept and change in lyrics felt novel (and I wasn't as appreciative of the Faërie as I am now), so I could withstand the cringe quite easily (and also I didn't expect it would be Tuomas' modus operandi from then on) and the experience was rather ... smooth.

However, the falling out of love was really fast and no, it wasn't because I would convert the very next year.

But let's get certain things off our collective chests first. I find it rather ... peculiar, and in fact significant that after Tuomas has decided to go full on "awe before Nature" and "SCIENCE", he decided to pick Richard Dawkins as his personal guru - and make no mistake, although it might not seem as much at first glance, Dawkins' shadow looms rather large over this album (and Vehicle of Spirit, with him being with them at Wembley and the interviews etc.)

If you wanted SCIENCE, you could have (and should have) picked... dunno, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for example. But Tuomas didn't. I find this very important.

So, as a pars pro toto, as a synecdoche of sorts, first let's talk about Dawkins.

Because Dawkins' isn't a scientist, oh no, not anymore, at least. He stopped being a scientist in 2006 at the very latest, when he released The God Delusion, still possibly the dumbest book I've ever held in my hands and one that felt like almost physical pain and cringe to read.

And yes, if I wanted to be flippant, I could merely quote the legendary Clash song from their legendary album

"But I believe in this and it's been tested by research // He who f*cks nuns will later join the church"

Of course his recent switching gears from his low-brow anti-theist iconoclasm to a sudden "cultural friendship" and "more Christian" position isn't a result of any growth, intellectual, spiritual or otherwise, it is merely the result of
- the realisation that he doesn't really want to live in a post-Christian or non-Christian world, at least morally - no-one does,
- the realisation that people need metaphysics and if you tear down the structured, ordered one, you can end up facing something much more primordial (in Dawkins' case not just Islam, but actual hardcore Islamism, which is still inevitable as an answer to secular hollowness, but I suppose he realised that way too late).

Or, to quote that article,

What these more earnest New Atheists didn’t understand is that New Atheism means sex, not atheism. The well-trod arguments against God’s existence were not the animating force of the movement; they couldn’t be, because the leaders of the movement barely understood and didn’t bother to articulate those arguments. The movement was about liberating oneself from the burden of moral responsibility. It was about giving permission to college students to sleep around as much as they wanted, without a guilty conscience, because God was an invented trick by parents, like Santa Claus, to keep us from being naughty.
As historian Tom Holland put it on X, Dawkins is sawing on the branch of Christianity he’s sitting on, gazing nervously at the ground far below. Dawkins wants the fruit of the tree without the tree; he wants liberation from superstition and fundamentalist religion while keeping the yield of religion.
Tom Holland himself, like many of us, struggles with certain aspects of Christian theology. But unlike Dawkins, Holland sees clearly that Christianity inaugurated those aspects of civilization we hold dear—the inviolable dignity of every human person, human rights, women’s equality, and so forth. He is not quick to throw out Christianity because he knows, and fears, the consequences.

I find it funny that the article quotes Tom Holland - I am actually currently reading his Dominion

which is a slow and thorough realisation of a secular historian how much stuff that we taken from granted actually came as a result of those 12 unwashed, illiterate blokes and a few women standing under the example of a most humiliating torture and execution the Romans felt they could come with. Why although he was an unbeliever and always more fascinated by the pre-Christian antique societies, why did those feel so alien to him, as if a different breed of people.
From the date of the calendar, to democracy (the actual one as we understand it today), to the concept of universal, inalienable human rights (fun fact - the Muslims always had problems with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, finding it too Jewish-Christian-influenced), universal dignity of human beings, even stuff like social movement, even feminism, Marxism and many other things. (And it's a much easier read for any given American than Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue).

And, yes, science. Because sure, there were observations and applications of the law of nature before and elsewhere, but science as we know and understand it, the scientific method and the scientific progress is unthinkable without the "Jewish-Christian background", without the likes of Augustine and Bacon and Aquinas, without Pasteur and Mendel and Copernicus and Purkyně and Lemaitre. And I have this on a good authority of even hardcore secular-pragmatist historians.

Dawkins is honestly too dumb to possibly ever realise this in full and the people who found him brilliant in 2006 are definitely too dumb to ever see how he recreates this in the flesh, how ... Messianic (or at least Pauline) he is in that regard, but I still find it weirdly fitting.

As is probably obvious, his current zig-zagging doesn't make me like him any more, nor does it make him any cleverer than he was back then. He was always profoundly dumb, it makes sense he will probably never anything else but dumbly profound (more on that - in a specific Nightwish context - later).

He was shallow then and he is shallow now, he is not enlightened or cleverer, merely afraid. If wiser, then merely in the broadest definition of "wisdom", the one that can be acquired merely by experience and the barest of human sensitivity.

What does all this have to do with the Nightwish album? Everything.

Because it is precisely Dawkins whom Tuomas has picked as his guru. The "scientist" who actually spouts ignorance in the name of "science".
The bloke who thinks that excellence in one area makes him an expert in other areas (his "refutation" of Aquinas' five proofs of God is still my go-to example to illustrate my saying "very rarely do you meet someone capable of such stupidity as a genuinely very clever person", although I guess the latter part is somewhat arguable in the case of Dawkins).
Because it was taking on this shallow and downright hollow man (thanks, T. S. Eliot!) as his new inspiration and go on preaching... what exactly?

I have said in the past that Tuomas managed to pick one of the few Dawkins moments that are actually nice

"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones
Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born
The potential people who could have been here in my place
But who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara
Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton
We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA
So massively exceeds the set of actual people
In the teeth of those stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here
We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds
How dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state
From which the vast majority have never stirred?"

But is it? Is this the pinnacle of Tuomas' imagination, of his philosophy? This moment which if I randomly misquoted somewhere as being written by Richard Bach, people would actually believe the misattribution?

But besides that, is he actually praising existence without a hint of existentialism? Being as good without any frame of reference to any actual Good?

If this is all there is, why do you present this as a triumph? A life of suffering? This mortal coil that imprisons our spirits in the decaying flesh, as the Gnostics would say? (before they would go on and continue with their buggery). Tell a man with Lou Gehrig's disease, who has two years to live before all his muscles stop working, that he should be grateful - why? Why if

(actually, in Tuomas' world, Roy Batty is the hero. In fact, one of the general morals of Blade Runner - same as in every cyberpunk story - being "You can't fix social problems with technological solutions; trying will just make the problems worse." I find that movie particularly poignant.)

Tuomas, what is the blade of grass you're grasping, like a drowning man?

That's it: you tell me the Universe is vast... but your universe is small, so small I refuse to type it with the capital U. Your philosophy is secondary-school flippancy at best, your science is mostly regurgitating tidbits you scrolled up on Facebook and addressing small reference pools, your awe is merely a Kodak photoshoot, your hope is ...empty. You praise a waterfall because it's big, without any thought as to why big should be better than small.

There is grandeur in this view of life

No, Tuomas, there isn't. You tell me to "see the Tiktaalik" and to "greet a blade of grass", but what for? They aren't really beautiful, remember - beauty can't be empirically proven. If there were five ways/proofs of knowing Beauty, Dawkins would doubtlessly try to "disprove" those.
I see your Endless Forms Most Beautiful and I raise you one Rime of the Ancient Mariner. And you fold, because you know you've lost.

To quote an actual clever person, let me pepper this post with excerpts from Chesterton, which I find rather fitting in each case

"The phrases of the street are not only forcible but subtle: for a figure of speech can often get into a crack too small for a definition. Phrases like "put out" or "off colour" might have been coined by Mr. Henry James in an agony of verbal precision. And there is no more subtle truth than that of the everyday phrase about a man having "his heart in the right place." It involves the idea of normal proportion; not only does a certain function exist, but it is rightly related to other functions. Indeed, the negation of this phrase would describe with peculiar accuracy the somewhat morbid mercy and perverse tenderness of the most representative moderns. If, for instance, I had to describe with fairness the character of Mr. Bernard Shaw, I could not express myself more exactly than by saying that he has a heroically large and generous heart; but not a heart in the right place. And this is so of the typical society of our time.

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race— because he is so human. As the other extreme, we may take the acrid realist, who has deliberately killed in himself all human pleasure in happy tales or in the healing of the heart. Torquemada tortured people physically for the sake of moral truth. Zola tortured people morally for the sake of physical truth. But in Torquemada's time there was at least a system that could to some extent make righteousness and peace kiss each other. Now they do not even bow. But a much stronger case than these two of truth and pity can be found in the remarkable case of the dislocation of humility.

It is only with one aspect of humility that we are here concerned. Humility was largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetite of man. He was always outstripping his mercies with his own newly invented needs. His very power of enjoyment destroyed half his joys. By asking for pleasure, he lost the chief pleasure; for the chief pleasure is surprise. Hence it became evident that if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small. Even the haughty visions, the tall cities, and the toppling pinnacles are the creations of humility. Giants that tread down forests like grass are the creations of humility. Towers that vanish upwards above the loneliest star are the creations of humility. For towers are not tall unless we look up at them; and giants are not giants unless they are larger than we. All this gigantesque imagination, which is, perhaps, the mightiest of the pleasures of man, is at bottom entirely humble. It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything— even pride.

But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance. It is exactly this intellectual helplessness which is our second problem."

What else do you want to preach to me about? Weak Fantasy? Another thing you obviously don't understand at all dismissed off condescendingly? From a position of a small-town consumer? Is that your science, your philosophy?

At least when Mark Jansen does his prima facie anti-religious rants, he manages to be more poetic and possibly less didactic ("The Embrace that Smothers") and... well, the lyrics are at least more buried in that wall of sound.

Or, to quote Chesterton once again

"The last chapter has been concerned only with a fact of observation: that what peril of morbidity there is for man comes rather from his reason than his imagination. It was not meant to attack the authority of reason; rather it is the ultimate purpose to defend it. For it needs defence. The whole modern world is at war with reason; and the tower already reels.

The sages, it is often said, can see no answer to the riddle of religion. But the trouble with our sages is not that they cannot see the answer; it is that they cannot even see the riddle. They are like children so stupid as to notice nothing paradoxical in the playful assertion that a door is not a door. The modern latitudinarians speak, for instance, about authority in religion not only as if there were no reason in it, but as if there had never been any reason for it. Apart from seeing its philosophical basis, they cannot even see its historical cause. Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed. It only appears at the end of decadent ages like our own: and already Mr. H.G.Wells has raised its ruinous banner; he has written a delicate piece of scepticism called "Doubts of the Instrument." In this he questions the brain itself, and endeavours to remove all reality from all his own assertions, past, present, and to come. But it was against this remote ruin that all the military systems in religion were originally ranked and ruled. The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first. The authority of priests to absolve, the authority of popes to define the authority, even of inquisitors to terrify: these were all only dark defences erected round one central authority, more undemonstrable, more supernatural than all—the authority of a man to think. We know now that this is so; we have no excuse for not knowing it. For we can hear scepticism crashing through the old ring of authorities, and at the same moment we can see reason swaying upon her throne. In so far as religion is gone, reason is going. For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof which cannot themselves be proved. And in the act of destroying the idea of Divine authority we have largely destroyed the idea of that human authority by which we do a long-division sum. With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the mitre off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it.

Lest this should be called loose assertion, it is perhaps desirable, though dull, to run rapidly through the chief modern fashions of thought which have this effect of stopping thought itself. Materialism and the view of everything as a personal illusion have some such effect; for if the mind is mechanical, thought cannot be very exciting, and if the cosmos is unreal, there is nothing to think about. But in these cases the effect is indirect and doubtful. In some cases it is direct and clear; notably in the case of what is generally called evolution.

Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything. This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. Descartes said, "I think; therefore I am." The philosophic evolutionist reverses and negatives the epigram. He says, "I am not; therefore I cannot think."

Then there is the opposite attack on thought: that urged by Mr. H.G.Wells when he insists that every separate thing is "unique," and there are no categories at all. This also is merely destructive. Thinking means connecting things, and stops if they cannot be connected. It need hardly be said that this scepticism forbidding thought necessarily forbids speech; a man cannot open his mouth without contradicting it. Thus when Mr. Wells says (as he did somewhere), "All chairs are quite different," he utters not merely a misstatement, but a contradiction in terms. If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them "all chairs."

Akin to these is the false theory of progress, which maintains that we alter the test instead of trying to pass the test. We often hear it said, for instance, "What is right in one age is wrong in another." This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another time by growing thinner. But you cannot say that they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard? Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil; if it were so, we could not talk of surpassing or even falling short of them. How can you overtake Jones if you walk in the other direction? You cannot discuss whether one people has succeeded more in being miserable than another succeeded in being happy. It would be like discussing whether Milton was more puritanical than a pig is fat.

It is true that a man (a silly man) might make change itself his object or ideal. But as an ideal, change itself becomes unchangeable. If the change-worshipper wishes to estimate his own progress, he must be sternly loyal to the ideal of change; he must not begin to flirt gaily with the ideal of monotony. Progress itself cannot progress. It is worth remark, in passing, that when Tennyson, in a wild and rather weak manner, welcomed the idea of infinite alteration in society, he instinctively took a metaphor which suggests an imprisoned tedium. He wrote—

"Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change."

He thought of change itself as an unchangeable groove; and so it is. Change is about the narrowest and hardest groove that a man can get into.

The main point here, however, is that this idea of a fundamental alteration in the standard is one of the things that make thought about the past or future simply impossible. The theory of a complete change of standards in human history does not merely deprive us of the pleasure of honouring our fathers; it deprives us even of the more modern and aristocratic pleasure of despising them."

Weak fantasy, indeed.

So, you get a preacher who doesn't know what he's preaching (or if, then he's spouting second-grade Coelhesque truisms at best), all packed within this didactic cringe ("Look! See how beautiful this is! FEEL AWE!") and it all just gives off this vibe of a badly-made educational video that your Scoutmaster or school counselor plays before he flashes you.

To quote another Metal Archives review, which might have put it more succintly (but then again, then it's not as personal, is it?):

Worst of all, the man who took us on journeys to Orion with the pharaoh, who made us stare into the soul of the beautiful beast -- is now reduced to giving Floor meandering positivist quasi-religious mush to sing -- about topics like the grandeur of the universe (Shudder Before the Beautiful), adolescent sniping at Christianity (Weak Fantasy), and, in what has got to be the most oblivious self-parody I've ever heard, a lyrically literal rendering of the unfolding of evolution: The Greatest Show On Earth, a song that pretends to be 24 minutes long but contains so much ambient and light orchestral material that the listener is tempted to think it is a comedy piece about a man so desperate to produce a song of such length that he would resort to these tactics. One lyric, robotically recited by Floor, says: "Enter LUCA!" (Last Universal Common Ancestor) Another gushes over "the tapestry of chemistry!"
... Where is the real grandeur that existed well enough just two albums ago? If I want to hear lightly pretentious lyrics about science, I'll listen to Epica -- a by-now-superior symphonic metal band that still has real passion and which has the sense to ask questions about the march of science instead of just fellating it.

If I were just a slightly more cynical than I already am, I'd suspect Tuomas from doing this on purpose - with ecology and "climate anxiety" being on everyone's mind already back then, let alone now, this is a golden-egg-laying goose that you just don't kill. I wouldn't say this otherwise (being myself rather ecologically bent - just see whom I have in my avatar), but this has all the usual signs of a sell-out, Metallica my arse.

(but no, just to clarify, I do believe Tuomas that he's honest and authentic, just very terribly so)

I mean, Cattle Decapitation are just as pretentious and preachy and have their collective head in their collective arse (I mean, what do you expect from a band of ex-vegan Californians), but they can somehow pull it off.

As for the music?

Sth2112 said:

feel like I’ve heard the melodies before

You don't say!

Indeed, I was always aware of Tuomas' tendencies towards regurgitating his own stuff, but it was precisely on EFMB where it actually became a problem and kinda tainted my attitude towards him, even in retrospect.

I mean, it's one thing when Emppu uses more or less the same riffing on Storytime as on Master Passion Greed or that the B-side Escapist (definitely my favourite non-album track of theirs) more or less copies (and improves) the riff to Dead to the World. Or that The Last of the Wilds and I Want My Tears Back are, for most intents and purposes, pretty much the same song.

But here it's just too much. The title track (and, well, Shudder; in fact, 9 years on and I'm still sometimes not sure at first which one is which) is just a worse Bye Bye Beautiful, Yours Is An Empty Hope really sounds like a Dark Chest of Wonders rehash for the most part, Our Decades in the Sun feels like the ending part of Pendulum stretched into a Oscar-baity closing titles ballad, My Walden is yet another attempt at the Celtic jig in the vein of I Want My Tears Back, yet it becomes more and more boring each time around - this time coronated with a truly insipid chorus that also sounds so strained... with such a forced joviality, it started to grate at me already during the early re-listens - that also sounds like they're trying to repeat something, probably Last Ride of the Day.
And I have said this before on this forum, but I'll highlight it for the shameless dramatic effect - for f*ck's sake, go listen to the intro of Alpenglow and to Ever Dream. It's literally the same f*cking notes. And isn't the rest of the song... eh, Bye Bye Beautiful again? (though my boys are rather particular towards Alpenglow, so that one gets a pass).

Tl;DR - As Maiden fans, you are probably aware of the fact I already mentioned on this forum:

"Corporate wants you to find a difference between Wasting Love, Tears of a Dragon and Out of the Shadows"

Now imagine something similar for Shudder, Empty Hope, Master Passion Greed and Dark Chest of Wonders (and probably many more).

But okay, let's not beat a dead horse, let's look how it works on its own.

For what it's worth, samey or not, Shudder and EFMB are certainly listenable, catchy even, and I would probably like to see them live. Well, if I don't think about the lyrics, I mean, didacticism aside, "The music of this awe // Deep silence between the notes // Deafens me with endless love" must be among the most ridiculously overwritten things that Tuomas ever put out (and we're talking about Ol' Doll-Rapin', My-Deepest-Lickin' Holopainen here) - I especially like the music of this awe. Goes right in the drawer with "Show me how big your brave is" and "No scars to your beautiful".

Same (I mean the reluctant praise) goes for Alpenglow. Might be regurgitated, but a nice song. Used to be my favourite on the album, actually.

I see people praising Weak Fantasy - inane lyrics aside, it's probably the heaviest song here and indeed one of the few moments where the band feels more or less alive and Floor is certainly present... I just wish it was a tad more memorable.

Yours Is an Empty Hope is very listenable and the trick with Floor growling and Marco singing over her is neat, but I still think I'd rather listen to Master Passion Greed. It's precisely when comparing these two songs where I realised that Marco aged, like, twenty years right before my eyes. Master Passion Greed is the bloke she tells you not to worry about, Empty Hope is her dad. Which is still, like, dangerous, but more of a danger you make fun of just behind the corner.

Elan, for its title, lacks precisely that - any kind of vigour, it just kinda... is there, which is probably most noticeable in what is literally its non-chorus, since Kamelot's Black Halo I don't remember such a prominent song (a single in Elan's case, a title track for the latter track) where I after several listens wasn't even sure there was a chorus.
(well, yes, Wildest Dreams, kinda, but that's over twenty years ago)
This one doesn't even feel like a rehash of those pseudo-Celtic jigs, because this is not a jig, really, this sounds much more like a Clannad outtake or something. It isn't bad, it's actually rather nice, but more or less a background listen if anything.

Weirdly, I have actually grown to like Edema Ruh - at first I had a really hard time taking seriously a song with "edema" in its title (same goes for Rothfuss' original novel; as I said to my friends many years ago, "Edema Ruh" came up really high in my personal list of terms and names that unfortunately (and probably unintentionally) sound like onomatopoeic term for unpleasant physical manifestations - the list that is still after all these years ruled by "Procol Harum"), but over time I got somewhat hooked on the wistful poignancy of its melody - a similar vibe that I recognise in Blind Guardian's Thorn, for example.

The Eyes of Sharbat Gula... apart from the pretentious title (and I'm saying that even in the context of this album), it's rather nice, but it feels even more like a bonus than the title track from Imaginaerum did.

Our Decades is mostly awful, might be the worst ballad Tuomas ever wrote, but I guess it's listenable enough not to skip it.

And.. The Greatest Show on Earth. Everything about this that could and should have been said has already been said.
By me in this thread, when I was talking about All the Cogs and Wheels and Joys and Sorrows and Whales and Carcasses and Birds and Trees and Jock Itches and Diaper Rashes that Theodor Adorno Saw in the World
(I have it trademarked, btw)

JudasMyGuide said:

But time heals all wounds and I'm willing to let it pass as an obvious and - yes, like Mosh said - pretentious mistake, as a bonus disc of sorts. Whatever. It's probably better than having to edit their epic of the album to delete tens of minutes of intros/interludes/random elephant noises/pretentious Dawkins' quotes for it to be somewhat listenable, right?

But still, it pisses me off. Despite the... eh, lyrical inadequacies I've mentioned above, if it weren't for this bombastic non-musical sh*te, it might have been actually my favourite song on the album. The part around the seventh minute and onwards (despite the "tapestry of chemistry") might be the most vivacious, joyful, beautiful parts on the entire album. THIS is what the album was supposed to look like. But, well, no.

Enough is enough, isn't it? Why, I don't think anyone will be reading this whole post anyway. I rank it only next to last, because it's still more enjoyable than the Humanure album.
(And that's my second reference to Cattle Decapitation in this post, which makes it two more than I had expected)

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