Review:­ Tarja – 'The Brightest Void'

Not content with waiting until August before releasing her latest opus ‘The Shadow Self’, Finnish vocal gymnast Tarja has released a prequel of sorts called ‘The Brightest Void’, an album of new material to make the two month wait pass all the quicker for her legions of fans. Fears of the tracks being merely leftovers from the main course are pretty much unfounded as ‘The Brightest Void’ has enough chops to stand on it’s own two feet, with perhaps one of the greatest cover versions of all time thrown in for good measure. Opener, ‘No Bitter End’, has a more polished sound than you might have expected from Tarja. It’s very American FM radio orientated, with its driving guitar riffs and catchy chorus. Ms Turunen copped some flak when the official video was released, as a few keyboard warriors took umbrage to her poppier sound, but when you consider her role as a coach on the Finnish version of TV show ‘The Voice’, then it’s understandable that she might look to win some new fans. Older fans need not worry though, as there are plenty of moments on the album where she unleashes the trademark Tarja metal soprano vocals to full effect, and her vocal range is as impressive as ever. Fellow ‘The Voice’ judge Michael Monroe pops up on ‘Your Heaven And Your Hell’, and any accusations of a watered down sound are blown right out of the water, as the song is an all-out assault on the senses. A short blast from Tarja gives way to a punkier attitude when Monroe comes in sneering in the way only he knows how, and the two Finns go toe to toe. The song has a mid section jam, where Monroe breaks out his harmonica, before melting into a smooth sax solo…. nice! Six minutes of punky rock ‘n’ roll bliss. ‘Eagle Eye’ has a more traditional symphonic rock feel to it. The uplifting chorus, the sweeping soaring vocals with an ethereal quality, and a guest appearance from Red Hot Chili Pepper, Chad Smith on drums. One of the stand out tracks on the album, that gets better with each listen. ‘An Empty Dream’ sees Tarja at her mysterious best, as she reins in the soprano aspect of her voice in favour of an almost whispering style. It’s very atmospheric, and sounds amazing through a pair of cans. ‘Witch Hunt’ is more of the same. Atmospheric, dark, and brooding, it’s very simplistic in its execution, and the minimalist approach of just Tarja’s vocals along with some orchestral arrangements works very well. Less is more. ‘Shameless’ sees the guitars make a welcome return, with a simple chugging riff throughout. in what could be described as “classic” Tarja symphonic metal. Having rested her voice on the two previous tracks, she unleashes the vocals that made her famous, and makes hairs stand on end.
‘House Of Wax’ is the first of two amazing cover versions, a little known Paul McCartney track from his 2007 album ‘Memory Almost Full’. It’s surreal lyrics and dark sound are ideally suited to Tarja, and without wishing to sound like a ham fisted talent show judge, she does indeed make the song her own. You never would have guessed it was a Macca cover if you didn’t already know. Very dark and mysterious. Now I’ve always regarded Tarja as a metalised version of classic female vocalists like Dame Shirley Bassey or Sarah Brightman. She possesses that same vocal prowess that could stop a charging rhino after reducing it to tears, so I was eager to check out her take on Bassey’s classic James Bond theme song ‘Goldfinger’. One of THE all time great Bond themes, from an era where they had to be big and bombastic, rather than the maudlin pish that Adele and Sam Smith churn out these days, and thankfully Tarja ramps up the schmaltz. It’s everything that you could imagine Tarja covering Bassey doing Bond would be… respectful and over the top, with a great riff forming the backbone. The intro needs to be cranked up big time, trust me. Tarja plays it low key with the vocal gymnastics, and it’s not until the song begins to fade out before she lets fly. Simply stunning and perhaps one of the best cover versions that I’ve heard. Closing out the album is a new mix of ‘Paradise (What About Us)’, the song that Tarja collaborated on with Within Temptation for their last album ‘Hydra’. This new ‘Tarja Mix’ sees her vocals pushed more to the front, the song remaining a classic. A fitting way to end an album that turned out to be a real surprise. It’s risk-taking, imaginative, and thought-provoking, all rolled into one, and sets the bar high for the release of ‘The Shadow Self’ in a few months time. ’The Brightest Void’ is available now through the usual outlets. Review: Dave Stott

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