As expected with the member shifts, the band dynamic on this album moves away from the Olzon-era template and actually has more in common with Once or Century Child than anything else. The orchestra is still prominent but it does yield to the guitars and keyboards more often and even lets them take the melody on songs like "Edema Ruh." The lyrics also offer a different direction and are largely based around the ideas of Charles Darwin instead of the awkward childhood longing of keyboardist Tuomas Holopanien.
But at its core, the actual performances are still playing it safe. While Jansen is an amazing talent that represents the best of both worlds in a live environment, a very strict songwriting template prevents her from showing off and results in a performance that probably could've been executed by Tarja, Anette, or any woman with the ability to stay in key. Marco Heitala seems to have gotten similarly snubbed as his bass is less prominent than usual and his vocals aren't as common despite contributing to the songwriting more than before. The songwriting also generally sticks with familiar tropes; lead single "Elan" sounds like a composite of "Amaranth" and "Last of the Wilds," "Alpenglow" gives me brief "Ever Dream" flashbacks, and I keep expecting to hear "Dark Chest of Wonders" every time I hear "Shudder Before the Beautiful" and "Yours Is An Empty Hope."
But on the bright side, this album is a definite grower and takes more listens to get a feel for than any Nightwish album since the 90s. It is the band's most atmospheric effort to date, especially during "The Eyes of Sharbat Gula," and covers a broader spectrum of both heavier and mellower styles. The genre blending has become par for the course in recent years but it is starting to feel less gimmicky.
Overall, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is in a spot not unlike 2007's Dark Passion Play. The new lineup is experiencing some growing pains but provides a new or refreshing idea for every time it plays too safe. The songs are entertaining and I can't see the fanbase being too alienated by it after a couple attentive listens. I just hope we won't see another meltdown before this lineup gets the chance to improve...
"Shudder Before the Beautiful"
"Yours Is An Empty Hope"