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Tarja - What lies beneath 4.5/5

Reviewed: 11-1-10


1. Anteroom of death
2. Until my last breath
3. Dark star
4. Underneath
5. Little lies
6. Rivers of lust
7. In for a kill
8. Montañas de silencio
9. Falling awake
10. The archive of lost dreams
11. Crimson deep

Tarja is the solo symphonic gothic metal band of Tarja Turunen from Finland and this is her 3rd solo studio CD. Tarja is, of course, well-known as the former vocalist for the symphonic power metal band Nightwish, but she has taken a different musical direction on her solo efforts. Her first CD, ‘Henkäys ikuisuudesta’, was acoustic holiday/folk music sung in Finnish, but then she switched back to metal for her 2nd CD, ‘My winter storm’, which she continues on ‘What lies beneath’. Although there are occasional power metal touches, both CDs primarily feature a mix of heavy, crunchy upbeat pop metal songs and lush, gorgeous ballads. The songwriting on ‘My winter storm’ was, frankly, surprisingly weak considering how long Tarja has been involved with terrific music, and her superb vocals were the only thing that made it listenable. ‘What lies beneath’ could not be more different: a glance at the liner notes indicates that though the band has changed a little, the songwriters have changed a lot, and it really shows. The poppy songs are not only incredibly catchy with pervasive symphonic keys and strings, but each one seems to have a unique influence to set it apart from the rest; sometimes it’s a quirky recurring vocal line, sometimes a Finnish ethnic melody, sometimes a symphonic movie-score feel, sometimes a bluesy guitar solo, sometimes rocking epic power metal lead-guitar work, and sometimes even heavy, almost doomy, power metal riffs. The diversity is refreshing and incredibly engaging. The several ballads are all superb; they are heavy acoustic with prominent cello, and several have a rather melancholy feel that contrasts very nicely with the enthusiasm of the pop metal songs.

Tarja’s vocals are, as always, exquisitely smooth, beautiful and emotive. She normally sings with a soaring soprano style, switching to her dramatic operatic style on the choruses. She is far and away the best female singer in metal today and ‘What lies beneath’ is one of her best efforts; she is filled with sincerity, confidence and enthusiasm, and it’s clear she’s at last found her new niche after her departure from Nightwish. There are also several fine guest male vocalists, and many of the songs are backed by the excellent Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and Choir.

No doubt many of us greatly miss her singing with Nightwish; their heavy symphonic power metal was the perfect backdrop to her strong beautiful vocals, and her early solo efforts were not very encouraging. But ‘What lies beneath’ finally establishes a new and exciting though quite different chapter in Tarja’s career, a chapter I eagerly look forward to following; even though I wish she still sang for Nightwish.




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