Three years on from her last album, 2016’s ‘The Shadow Self’, Finnish vocalist extraordinaire Tarja returns with her seventh solo album; ‘In The Raw’. Having the word “raw” in the title might suggest more of a stripped back album, unplugged even, but ‘In The Raw’ is anything but stripped back or unplugged. Instead, the use of the word reflects more on the lyrical content, as well as the golden imagery surrounding the album, in particular the striking cover artwork. As Tarja puts it herself; “Gold, we think, is something polished and perfect, sophisticated, a luxury – but in its natural state it’s a raw element”.
The album begins in fine style with ‘Dead Promises’, one of the heaviest tracks on the album. The trademark symphonic elements are still there, but with an underlying sense of aggression, thanks mainly to the heavier guitar work throughout, as well as the introduction of Björn “Speed” Strid from Soilwork on guest vocals. The two contrasting vocal styles compliment each other very well, and it’s always a thrill hearing Strid mixing it up by unleashing his guttural growls along with some Night Flight Orchestra-esque ultra clean vocals.
Another guest vocalist pops up on ‘Goodbye Stranger’, this time it’s none other than Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil. You could class this one as “raw” because it features Tarja stripped of all the layered keyboards and orchestrations. Instead it’s a light and airy few minutes where the drums and guitars are pushed to the forefront, and the dual vocals enthrall. Towards the end of the album, Kamelot frontman Tommy Karevik lends his potent clean vocals to ‘Silent Masquerade’, just one of the many highlights on ‘In The Raw’. One of the longest of the ten featured tracks, it begins with a spoken word segment from mixing engineer Tim Palmer, and grows over seven minutes into a spellbinding epic. Karevik surely must be one of the unsung heroes of the genre? Time after time, no matter if it’s with Kamelot or as a guest vocalist (especially with Ayreon), Karevik delivers a faultless performance.
Some of the diversity on display during ‘In The Raw’ can be found amongst a handful of tracks released upfront. ‘Tears In The Rain’ has so many twists that it will make your head spin; from the sharp guitar sound during the metalized intro (which leads into a Bowie ‘Let’s Dance’ vibe), to the gloriously rampant drum work which comes out of nowhere around the two minute mark. It’s one of those moments where the listener genuinely doesn’t know what to expect next. Then there is the lush melodies of ‘Railroads’. Wonderfully emotive, at times it features Tarja at her most stripped back and vulnerable, as does the stop-you-in-your-tracks ballad ‘You And I’.
Standout moment on ‘In Your Raw’ has to be ‘The Golden Chamber: Awaken/Loputon Yö/Alchemy’, which in all honesty, must be one of Tarja’s finest moments to date. Seven minutes in length, it’s split into three suites. The first part has Tarja vocalizing over what is almost a film score, it swells to an almighty conclusion and leads into the second part, only a few lines, but the fact that they are sung in Finnish gives the piece an ethereal quality. Just as the listener is feeling all relaxed and blissful, Tarja then comes back in with more vocalizing and whisks you away on a bed of fluffy clouds. It seems strange suggesting that a track with very little vocals is one of Tarja’s finest moments, but listen to it through a decent pair of cans and you will soon realise why.
‘In The Raw’ is an expansive album, ten tracks in total with a combined running time of 55 minutes. At no point does the album drag, instead, it is an aural delight which at times plays like a classical concerto, with the main instrument being Tarja’s incredible voice. With this in mind, ‘In The Raw’ is best digested in one sitting, an album in the truest meaning of the word. A thrilling, emotional listening experience.
Available August 30th through earMUSIC.
Review – Dave