TARJA – In The Raw (2019)
To be released next Friday, “In The Raw” finds TARJA and her beautiful voice sounding, as ever, truly stunning. Working with many of the same musicians and production team as before, the intention was to bring out the idea of rawness to match the feelings Tarja was having from the very beginning of the process.
Tarja’s daring new 2019 album charts a new course, with new textures, themes and elements to continue to differentiate her from the rest of the scene.
With “In The Raw”, Tarja will have five solo rock albums to equal the body of her work with Nightwish from 1996 to 2005. However, after hearing this newest album, it is clear Tarja is only now realizing her full potential as a vocalist.
More importantly, she is also truly coming into her own creatively, which is the most important ingredient in any significantly memorable album.
The CD kicks off with a “raw” introduction, a lead guitar riff consisting of alternating open notes on the high E (think of Iron Maiden‘s “Wasted Years”) with no accompaniment at all. However, drums and rhythm guitars are added, and eventually a layer of “ahhhs” by Tarja, before the song starts really riffing and crunching along. Although structurally, this song, “Dead Promises,” is fairly standard Tarja, the feeling and texture are a very rough. Paired with the supporting vocals of Soilwork’s Björn Strid, the song does a respectable job of demanding the listener’s attention. While there are no wild pyrotechnics of guitars or keyboards, the track has enough novel elements to keep it listening, and a good opener.
The second track, “Goodbye Stranger,” is the one that grabs you by the lapels and says, “check this out.” Featuring Italian Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, the two-part vocal verses are really cool. It’s the kind of thing you have to hear. The soaring choruses are great, and the guitars paint such a disjointed gothic landscape for the song. According to Tarja, she prefers loud drums and guitars to surround and support her vocals, rather than softer instruments leaving her feeling isolated.
This concept, of course, was the genesis of Nightwish with Tuomas and Emppu. However, it is clear that this album is movement away from the grandiose symphonic production feel of Nightwish. Instead, for this track, the power comes from drums, bass, guitars and voice only. The song has a special airy, light, spatial, floating feeling on it despite being very heavy at the same time.
“Tears in Rain,” acknowledges its inspiration by the late great replicant Rutger Hauer, and presumably a hint of inspiration by the similar lyrics by John Sykes and David Coverdale. In some ways, it is a “usual” Tarja song, although it does have some fun kinks. There’s a rising “ahh ahh” vocal chorus along with a rapid-fire snare-blasting section in the middle, a little like how Cheap Trick’s “I Must Be Dreamin” opens up on the Heavy Metal movie soundtrack. Lyrically, the song does capture the sentiment of the Blade Runner finale, although Kansas also waxed philosophically along similar lines in “Dust in the Wind.”
Next up is “Railroads”, which could very easily be a favorite of this record for many. The verse structure is absolutely catchy as hell, and the choruses give Tarja plenty of room to spread her wings and soar, will all her range and technique.
Aside from her love for singing as a part of a wall of sound, Tarja is not immune to the allure of a vocal solo showpiece, and “You and I” serves as one such example. Much of this ballad consists of grand piano and strings supporting her delicate vocals as they float through musically ear-pleasing melodies.
“The Golden Chamber” is a film score transition to the second half of the album, although it does allow Tarja an opportunity to vocalize without lyrics, and glide over top of the symphonic arrangement and create some mood.
This transitions into “Loputon Yö,” a small lyrical Finnish piece meaning “Endless Night.” However, any happy peaceful feeling the listener internalizes is quickly chewed up mercilessly by the next track, “Spirits of the Sea,” a murky cold dead thing conjuring the atmosphere of submariners lost at sea. The arrangement is dark, the guitars are vaguely wrong, and the percussion is like pieces of abandoned junkyard scrap flapping in the wind.
“Silent Masquerade” is a captivating dramatic piece, very noteworthy for featuring Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder. The song begins and ends with some reflective narration, and the musical middle is a well-arranged balancing act of distortion guitars, piano, strings and percussion. Tarja and Tommy do a great job playing off each other’s parts, and the song ends up being a powerful piece equally at home on, or any of Tarja’s best previous work.
“Serene” is a big bold rocker, most notable for its bombastic percussion. The song is a reflection of Tarja’s experiences and feelings of parenthood.
The final track, “Shadow Play” is anything but understated. Which is fine; big productions are always welcome. Whereas much of the album is stripped-down to muscle-car basics, this track pulls all the stops, and has everything from a full metal band, to symphonic arrangement, to piano, to choir vocals, and of course, she letting it rip for all it’s worth. The last two minutes of the eight-minute track just keep building in elements and intensity until a massive crescendo and a crashing finish.
We were not certain what to expect of Tarja’s fifth solo outing, but it was not this. This was Tarja taking the time to collect her thoughts and creative instincts, get back to basics, and do something not only new, but absolutely her own.
The arrangements are compelling, the musicianship is very strong, and her voice and ability remain better than ever. This is shaping up to be one of the stronger entries into the world of symphonic metal in 2019, and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you do not at least check it out.
01 – Dead Promises (Feat. Björn Strid)
02 – Goodbye Stranger (Feat. Cristina Scabbia)
03 – Tears In Rain
04 – Railroads
05 – You And I
06 – The Golden Chamber (Awaken – Loputon Yö – Alchemy)
07 – Spirits Of The Sea
08 – Silent Masquerade (Feat. Tommy Karevik)
09 – Serene
10 – Shadow Play
Tarja Turunen – vocals
Stefan Helleblad – guitars
Ruud Jolie – guitars
Alex Scholpp – guitars
Martijn Spierenburg – keyboards
Mervi Myllyoja – violin
Jeroen van Veen – bass
Mike Coolen – drums