Review: Tarja – 'The Shadow Self'

It’s been a busy time for the queen of symphonic metal, having released the prequel album ‘The Brightest Void’ only two months ago, Tarja now offers up the main attraction, ‘The Shadow Self’. Her sound envelops everything from classical through to metal as she unleashes the hair-raising vocals that made her famous and attracted legions of fans. Much heavier than the prequel, ’The Shadow Self’ is the sound of someone maturing and developing as an artist whilst still being true to the core audience that have been with her for decades.

The album opens with a quiet classical piano intro on ‘Innocence’, which gives way to a drum sound that echoes the beginning of Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer’. The song then builds on a traditional symphonic metal sound, interspersed with more classical piano. The interlude mid song works very well. The arrangements on the song are simply superb and very emotive. Dare I say it… even John Barry-esque? ’Demons In You’ begins with some bizarre jazz funk, before the guitars come slamming in with some heavy riffs. Alissa White­Gluz from Arch Enemy shares the vocals with Tarja. She is a revelation, bringing the heavier, guttural growls, as well as the softer angelic sound when she sings alongside Tarja. The two very different vocalists combine to make a memorable moment on the album. ’No Bitter End’ opened ‘The Brightest Void’ and gets an encore here. It sounded great two months ago, and it still does now. The classical piano returns on the intro to ‘Love To Hate’, with a darker sound than the preceding tracks, the song has a wonderful melancholic feel about it, which would sound amazing in a Tim Burton soundtrack.

A surprise cover of Muse’s ‘Supremacy’ works really well, perhaps helped by the fact that Tarja can hit the high notes like Matt Bellamy, and the ‘Kashmir’-like intro still blows me away. The bombastic gives way to the mellow on ‘The Living End’, which has a celtic tinge added to it thanks to some subtle bagpipes in the background. The acoustic intro works well, and Tarja reins in the vocal gymnastics to give an beautifully understated performance. ’Diva’ is another highlight of the album. The very theatrical, almost carnival-y/circus-y, intro gradually gives way to a towering Tarja vocal, with gloriously hidden meanings in the lyrics which get the curiosity factor buzzing. It features another stunning orchestral arrangement and a sinister devilish laugh from Tarja, right at the climax. Who could the song be aimed at?

‘Eagle Eye’ is another track that originally appeared on ‘The Brightest Void’, and if anything, this version is heavier. Tarja’s brother, Toni Turunen, pops up with some stunning guest vocals that lend an almost choral feel to the song. ’Undertaker’ is a delicious slice of symphonic metal with added gothic undertones. The drum sound really stands out here. It’s nothing flash… just getting the job done. ’Calling From The Wild’ features a much heavier drum sound, and the song has a great crunchy groove to it. The balance of operatic and traditional vocals is perfect, and in places, quite eerie. ‘The Shadow Self’ closes with the 13 minute epic ‘Too Many’, a fragile and haunting masterpiece, that requires multiple listens to catch every nuance. When the song fades out around the eight minute mark, do not switch off… stick with it until the 11th minute, and you will be rewarded.

‘The Shadow Self’ is an album that combines everything that we have come to expect from Tarja, and much more. It’s a well-balanced and expertly paced album that works so much better when listened to straight through.

‘The Shadow Self’ is available from today through Ear Music.

Review: Dave Stott

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