The individual members of Nightwish always come up with the goods when they branch out from their day job. Floor Jansen with Northward, Tuomas Holopainen with his solo work as well as Auri (also featuring Troy Donockley), and Emppu Vuorinen with Brother Firetribe. None of these projects sound anything remotely like Nightwish, and now it’s the turn of bassist/vocalist Marko Hietala to delight with his debut solo album ‘Pyre Of The Black Heart’.
Originally released in 2019 as ‘Mustan Sydämen Rovio’, and sung entirely in his native Finnish, Hietala has changed the lyrics to English and renamed the album as ‘Pyre Of The Black Heart’. A dark sounding album? For sure, yes, and in places it is a dark album, but also an eclectic album that excels from the off.
Opening with the atmospheric acoustic strains of ‘Stones’, ‘Pyre Of The Black Heart’ wastes no time in grabbing the listeners attention. The gentle acoustic intro gives way to a powerful chorus that you can imagine getting more boisterous with each pint sunk. The change in pace mid-song is thrilling, and there is a slight hint of Dio in Hietala’s vocals, ever so slight, but to these ears at least, it is there. ‘The Voice Of My Father’ is obviously deeply personal, and the shimmering guitar tones mix well with the soaring arrangements to create an epic five minutes.
Hietala mixes it up on ‘Star, Sand and Shadow’ with the synth heavy intro giving way to a pulsating bass groove, tribal percussion, and a scintillating electronic background. There’s loads going on during the track, the sounds created by drummer Anssi Nykänen, guitarist Tuomas Wäinölä and Vili Ollila on the keyboards are immense. ‘Dead God’s Son’ continues with the eclectic vibes. Bass heavy but with lighter pacing in places, gentle acoustic guitars, a simple, elegant piano sound, and lush string arrangements, all combining to create a track that lives on long after the five minutes come to an end. ‘For You’ is a sombre piece with a sense of impending doom. Throw a Hammond organ into any track and it adds a certain touch of class, here, alongside some Gilmour-esque guitar solos from Wäinölä, it is simply magnificent. And yet again, Hietala shows how versatile a vocalist he actually is.
The latter part of the album kicks off with the simple piano intro of ‘I Am The Way’, this soon develops into a synth-heavy, doom-laden track that works especially well if devoured late at night in a darkened room. ‘Runner of the Railways’ is a glorious fast-paced romp, complete with Middle Eastern vibes, and more of that heavy organ sound. The Hammond hangs around for ‘Death March for Freedom’ and a Deep Purple-sized jam grows around it during the mid-section. The sound of guitars, drums and organ all joining together to make such a beautiful noise is exhilarating.
‘I Dream’ provides a gentle change in pace…for a moment or two. Then it swiftly changes into a snarling beast of a track that will give your neck muscles a seeing to, before changing back to the dream-like outro. ‘Truth Shall Set You Free’ ends the album on a folky-prog note, the gentle rise in volume begins with a swirling string arrangement which, before you know it, has you swaying side to side. There is a real cinematic quality to the track, and the perfect way to end an album which at times leaves the listener breathless.
Available now on Nuclear Blast, more information here.
Review – Dave
Live image on header – Rob Wilkins