By Justin Smulison
Pyre Of The Black Heart
The solo album from Nightwish bassist and vocalist Marko Hietala is a musical journey of highs, lows, darkness and light. Released on Jan. 24, 2020 by Nuclear Blast, Pyre Of The Black Heart is the English-language version of Mustan Sydämen Rovio, which premiered last year in Finnish.
Hietala demonstrates range and capability as both a lead vocalist and songwriter across ten tracks and 52 minutes. Where other musicians from full-time bands might struggle to convince fans of their vocal abilities, Hietala has no such challenge. As the male lead of Nightwish, the musician’s voice has been a constant during the symphonic metal trailblazers’ output over the last 20 years (in addition to his other band, Tarot, for 30-plus) and that comfort and confidence is clearly conveyed throughout the first track, “Stones.” Hietala soothes in the folksy acoustic opening verse and commands a sense of urgency during the crushing hard rock chorus. That the songwriter can compose such a philosophically charged track about an inanimate object is reason to marvel.
There are more energized highlights on Pyre, as well. Told from the viewpoint of a locomotive, or a “loco with a motive,” as Hietala cleverly sings, “Runner of the Railways,” the only song under four minutes, is ironically one that easily could be mistaken for a Nightwish B-side. Hietala conducts the relentless musical theme and fast-paced lyrics, evoking a sense of excitement and wonder; “I know that with this pace I could be running off the track/A broken heart at every station longing for me to come back.”
Hietala has maintained during interviews that despite his own “prog” labeling, there is no running story from song to song. Furthermore, as grim as an album and song titles may seem, there is a sense of hopefulness in even the dourest songs. Hietala assumes the role of a minstrel from the Middle Ages in “Death March for Freedom,” an epic battle song seemingly set during medieval times. A snare procession quickly drives the rhythm and dynamic guitar solos at the two-minute mark, eventually fading back to the snare-and-bass “march.” The excitement reaches a crescendo to the outro with the keyboard and guitars trading solos.
Marko Hietala’s solo record is a good way to welcome new fans while also serving as a tribute to dedicated loyalists. Heavy and melodic rock enthusiasts who like strong doses of philosophy and symbolism will draw warmth from Pyre Of The Black Heart.
It surely is an exciting time to be a Nightwish member and fan. The release of Pyre follows Nightwish’s stunning double-live album, Decades: Live in Buenos Aires (Dec. 6, 2019 via Nuclear Blast). There was undeniable electricity permeating the Estadio Malvinas on Sept. 30, 2018, when the 21-song, two-hour set was recorded before thousands of fans. The track list chronicles newer hits, like “Élan” and the band’s 20-year history, while serving as a wonderful introduction. Decades also gives lead vocalist Floor Jansen, featured on one Nightwish studio album thus far, a chance to shine and put her stamp on fan favorites like “Ghost Love Score.”
Between Decades and Pyre, eager obsessives should have enough to hold them over for just a few months, as the platinum-selling group recently announcing its ninth album, HVMAN. : ||: NATVRE., to be released via Nuclear Blast on Apr. 10, 2020. The collection is a double-album containing nine tracks on disc 1 and one long cut, divided into eight chapters on disc 2.
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Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.