Suomi ice maiden Tarja is back, and, if some of the material on her new solo outing is unsurprising to say the least, she does appear to be looking to broach new horizons for herself as an artist in 2019 and beyond. Her duet with Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia, for instance, suggest a loosening of the operatic bodice a little, what with it’s dynamic pop chorus and bouncy, Mansonesque glam/goth rifferama…
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; track one, Dead Promises, starts out like Wasted Years by Iron Maiden and then interpolates some guest vocals (the album is littered with the things!) from the always-excellent Bjorn Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra. In truth it’s pretty knockabout, workaday metal, but the fact that it kicks off a Tarja album is enough to take the track out of it’s musical conteXt and imbue it with a whole lotta other meaning. And as such, it’s a great start.
Third track Tears in Rain nicks the vocal intro to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance before getting on with the metallic business in hand. Again, the meat of the song is pretty straightforward; however as the track wends it’s way endwards some interestingly dissonant guitars weave their way into matters, augmented by some nice electronica which piques the interest far more than you’d expect after exposure to the song’s opening half.
So far so good; Longstanding fans will be pleased with the little tweaks, Tarja neophytes will be satisfied that they are getting exactly what they came for. But none of the music on the opening three tracks prepare you for the album’s first real standout, Railroads. Turunen really stretches her lower, less bombastic ranges here, backed by a Madam Butterfly-styled backing which adds real opulence to the bare bones of the song. In reality this of course is the style of music that lies at the heart of what Tarja does best – sort of a metallic Andrew Lloyd-Webber on Ice – but that doesn’t detract any from the superbly chilling effect this track will have on your goosepimples. It’s sublime – simple as that.
The balladic You And I sounds like Tarja’s time spent fronting the Finnish version of The Voice might have leached down deep into her songwriting soul; It’s not bad, far from it, but those of you here only for the metal will be exercising the fast forward button when this track makes it’s appearance, I’m sure. Me? Well, you can’t argue with that voice, whatever it’s singing. ‘Nuff said.
You Am I also paves the way for In The Raw’s standout track, the staggering The Golden Chamber. Epic and cinematic are the first two words that come to mind to describe this earth-shattering instrumental (Tarja vocalises, yes, but uses her voice as another instrument to surmount the spine tingling instrumentation rather than actually ‘singing’). To this reviewer it’s the single most remarkable thing Tarja has put her name to, and that ambition and risk taking reaps the fullest of dividends for anyone listening. By comparison the next track, Spirits of The Sea, comes to earth (or should that be water?) with a bit of a thud; Again, we’re talking about musicians here who are operating at levels most of us can only dream about, so the track doesn’t actually stink – it just has trouble with living with what went immediately before. That said, the ethereal voice/guitar/keys counterpoint that emerges just after the song’s halfway point is pretty special, if too brief to really hit home.
Sweden’s Tommy Karevik lends his talents to The Silent Masquerade, which harbours similar ambition to The Golden Chamber what with it’s spoken word intro and Shakespeareian quotations, but it falls a little flat, especially when held up against penultimate track, Serene, which is quite superb. Here we find our heroine in what can only be fairly described as ‘Nightwish territory’; The song builds up the drama on a superb drum pattern, and the punchy, Vuorinenesque guitar will again get those hairs fistbanging on the back of your neck. It’s the best metal track on the album, and then some…
Another epic, Shadow Play, closes the album, ploughing much the same furrow as Serene with not quite the same impact. It’s another great track, the massed choirs of old making a welcome appearance as Ms Turunen does her best talk-operetta-storytelling-mistress-of-ceremonies turn. It’s a well-worn theme, of course – but nobody does it better so why not just wallow? And again the heavier emphasis on guitars and drums found through much of this superb album adds new urgency and a sense of revitalised intent to proceedings.
Where 2016’S The Brightest Void shone only intermittently, In The Raw is a fully formed, fire-and-ice breathing classic from start to finish. It’s the best thing Tarja has put out as a solo artiste, and I love it. And I think you will too.
In The Raw is out now.