Album Review: Tarja - Colours In The Dark

I've opined before about a certain type of metal vocalist whose appeal I can't quite understand; the classical female singer. I sort of understand the philosophy of combining the straight-laced approach of opera with the anything-but ethos of metal, but to my ear, the two have never fit together as anything more than a thought experiment. Even the biggest, brightest example of this is something I never came to terms with. Tarja set the standard for all female vocalists who weren't trying to be the next Joan Jett. It was she, in her role fronting Nightwish, that put an entire style on the map.

Her solo career, I will admit, is something I had not to this point given a second of thought. I wasn't much of a fan of Nightwish, so following their singer's new endeavor wasn't high on my list of priorities. In fact, the only exposure I can remember having to it was a cover of “I Walk Alone” done by the incomparable Jorn Lande. So approaching this album, I can honestly say I didn't know what to expect.

“Victim Of Ritual” fades in on a military drumbeat, and promptly becomes exactly what I would have expected to hear. Tarja's voice is up front in the mix, lording over the cranked but not heavy guitars. There are some off-kilter moments that could be taken as a vocal seizure, depending on your outlook, but they do a fine job of breaking up the song into bite-sized chunks. Little hints of Nightwish pop up, but never overpower the basic guitar/vocal approach of the song. It's a bit of a mess, but it is certainly interesting.

The following “500 Letters” is more conventional, and a very solid melodic metal offering. While it reminds me a bit of a song from the musical “Rent”, there's plenty to latch onto here that the song is an excellent vehicle for a vocalist. The peripatetic nature of the record continues to show itself, as “Lucid Dreamer” strips away the rock elements of “500 Letters” for an approach not unlike Nightwish playing through 15 watt practice amps. The pieces of something bombastic are there, but they're held back from seeing just how far they could run, which ruins whatever potential fun they could create.

A trend becomes apparent the deeper you get into the album. Half the tracks are straight-ahead melodic metal, and these efforts are all solid songs with big, enjoyable hooks. The other half of the album is experimental, and while I'm all for artists stretching their wings, daring does not equal success. Those extended tracks are certainly more interesting to listen to, to see just what wild ideas are going to be stitched together, but the songs themselves aren't always good enough to justify the experiments.

And then there's the major sticking point; Tarja herself. She has one of those voices that you're either going to love or hate, she will either make or break the record. Myself, I've never been inclined to love the classical vocal approach, so Tarja is far from my favorite female vocalist working in rock and metal today. She clearly has the all the necessary talent and technique, but it's just not something I want to listen to very often, if at all.

“Colours In The Dark” is aptly named, because it does contain all the colors and textures an album like this can have. What it doesn't have, however, is enough great songs to make me recommend the album. It's certainly unlike anything else I've heard in a while, so on that basis alone it's worth investing a bit of time in, but once the novelty wears off, you're going to be wondering where the meat of the songs is. I know I am.

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