Second Review of Tarja’s “The Shadow Self”

Review by Brian Kelman
© Ethereal Metal Webzine

Orchestrated Rock: that’s the label Tim Palmer used when
referring to Colours In The Dark. That label is more applicable in the case of
The Shadow Self. The Shadow Self is the heaviest, most aggressive, the most
layered and has the most complex compositions to date with a consistently solid
production by Tarja herself. Throughout Tarja’s magnificent voice is central
while the melody is fixed on the piano supported by heavy rhythm guitar
grooves, thick bass, crisp percussion that contrast with the big symphonic
background without compromising the melodic motifs, hooks and harmonies.
Despite taking some unpredictable directions in her willingness to experiment
and the blending together of apparent thematic and musical opposites– light
and shadow, rock/metal band and orchestra, rock/metal and classical music—the
album is, with one exception, more coherent, coordinated and cohesive on The
Shadow Self than on her previous albums. The Shadow Self represents Tarja at
the height of her self-confidence and maturity as a solo artist.

The concept of The Shadow Self was ‘discovered’ by Tarja
when she was watching some past interviews of Annie Lennox where she described
the Jungian principle of ‘the shadow self’. According to Jung: in spite of its
function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the
shadow is the seat of creativity; for some the dark side of his/her being,
his/her sinister shadow, represents the true spirit of life. With a shadow
inside all of us The Shadow Self will resonate on some emotional level to all
her avid listeners. Tarja extends an invitation to join her on her personal
exploration of her inner shadow to reveal to the light the creativity inspired
from it in the form of The Shadow Self.

Innocence is represented with a strong piano theme and
brings Tarja’s background in classical music to the fore. The Chopin piano
piece that accompanies the song is so intricate that only a classical pianist
could perform it. Enter Izumi Kawakatsu, a long-time friend of Tarja’s from her
German university days. The piano piece evoked thoughts of discord and
disharmony that fit the worldly setting of the music video of Innocence.
Without the video, however, the lyrics of the song prompted, for me, a
different imagery. That imagery is of a spiritually esoteric nature and I find
the piano piece creates a discordant listening experience. Even though Tarja’s
vocal performance is stellar and I enjoy the other instrumentals, it is my
least favourite on the album because I can’t seem to make the middle piano
interlude fit my personal lyrical interpretation. For years Tarja has passed
the interpretation of her songs on to her listeners and this is the first one
that has for me clashed in some way musically. I guess it was bound to happen
eventually.

Demons In You (featuring Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz) is
a highly energetic song where Funk becomes Progressive Rock becomes Heavy Metal
whip your hair around (if you have any) head banging mayhem in a fast
progression. This is only a fraction of the whole lot that goes on in this
song! It is an old song in terms of its composition but Tarja admits to having
penned the lyrics the day before she recorded them. But something was always
missing which kept it in the unfinished file. Enter Alissa White-Gluz. Not only
does she feature her trademark harsh vocals to great effect (as she did with
The Agonist and on her debut with Arch Enemy’s War Eternal–an album I highly
recommend) but she also features her clean singing voice which sounds terrific
in the duet. Vocally Alissa is able to demonstrate the dual nature, light and
shadow, of the individual. Her harshness provides that missing edginess to a
song about our inner demons and darker side. The harsh vocal presentation makes
her sound like a demon should. The duet’s performance overall was the perfect
finishing touch and allowed this song to see the light.

No Bitter End appeared first on The Brightest Void. There
have been a few changes on this version including a vocal intro and a different
sounding solo in the middle. Otherwise the song sounds pretty much the same.
Some at the time of The Brightest Voidaccused it of being too poppy of a sound
because of the polished mix. I can see that but only up to a certain point in
that the guitar track doesn’t quite have the edginess to it in that it reminds
me of the way they were produced for My Winter Storm. Nevertheless, the song is
carried along by a driving guitar riff, a catchy chorus and Tarja’s incredible
vocals throughout. In the end this is a ‘pop-rock’ sound illusion that veers,
in the end, more toward metal. Thanks to Alex ‘Riff Master’ Scholpp for
creating this rocking riff (which inspired the rest of the song—the last to be
written for both albums—to be built around it). Add it to the growing list of
grooving heavy guitar riffs to rock out to with Tarja!

Love To Hate is a large atmospheric number. It has a
Progressive Rock presentation along with big prominent piano and orchestral
passages. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that it was written in the My Winter
Storm era and has waited until now to be revealed with a beefed up
accompaniment that reminds me of Deliverance off Colours In The Dark. The
song’s subject is about negative people: people who cannot be happy for others
because they cannot be happy for themselves and, in addition, make no effort to
change their own circumstances to find their slice of happiness. They forever
live in their own shadow and peer out at the world waiting to revel in
another’s misery.

Supremacy is a Muse cover. Tarja didn’t make an exact carbon
copy of the original; she put her own stamp on it as she usually does for her
covers but at the same time respected the original. The guitars are heavier,
there is lots of orchestration and they seem to mesh quite nicely. The vocals
required quite a versatility and range: singing the lyric ‘supremacy’ has her
hitting some wickedly high notes. Despite the challenging nature of the vocal
presentation Tarja pulls it off nicely. But did you really expect anything
less?

The Living End is the only ballad on the album. It is
another song that was composed some years ago and only now has seen the light
of The Shadow Self. It is a simple song in terms of its elements but very
atmospheric with Tarja’s vocal harmonies, the acoustic guitar, piano, choir
and, interestingly enough, bagpipes. Yes! Bagpipes! Tarja never thought she
would ever include bagpipes in her music because she didn’t like the sound of
them. However, after hearing Paul McCartney’s skillful use of them on Mull of
Kintyre she decided to include a piper on this song. The piper is heard in the
background and adds a splendid finishing touch of ambiance. I am, however,
biased in this regard since my ancestors came from the Scottish Highlands.
Nothing speaks to a Highlander’s heart than the drone of a bagpipe or a whole
Regiment of bagpipes. Aye, lads and lasses, aye! As a result this is a spine
tingler and is my favourite song on the album. I suppose it would be too much
to ask for a video shot for the song on sight in the Highlands with Tarja on
one hill and a piper in the background on another?

Diva was written in Antigua and is a big bombastic song with
the inclusion of a big orchestra and choir arrangements. This song morphed into
a movie score direction during its writing drawing its inspiration, claims
Tarja, from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Interesting it is
that the first thing I thought of on my initial listen was the accusation of
being a Diva in the letter that fired her. Then at the end of the song is the
sound effects of a circus or carnival (and although I can’t make out exactly
what they are saying but I think vodka is mentioned) my first thought was that
it was a parody on the theme that is central to Imaginaerum. Since Pirates of
The Caribbean is itself a parody and it inspired the song….and Tuomas had a
Jack Sparrow doll lashed to the front of his keyboards at the End of An Era
concert……But I’m probably off the deep end on this one…..Nudge nudge wink
wink….

The first version of Eagle Eye was released on The Brightest
Void. The two versions are different in that they were recorded with different
players. Three in the first lineup, Chad Smith (drums), Kevin Chown (bass) and
Alex Scholpp (guitar) are replaced by Mike Terrana (drums), Doug Wimbish (bass)
and Julian Barrett (guitar). The differences between the two versions has to do
with the differing interpretations and personal playing styles by the
performers but they do not take anything away from the epic bigness of the song
that’s hard to describe beyond ‘ethereal’ and ‘moving’. Toni Turunen has the
same vocal part and so does Tarja with her sweeping vocals that reach the
stars. I said in my The Brightest Void review that its version would be hard to
top and it wasn’t. It wasn’t diminished either. I enjoy each equally for what
they are.

Undertaker is a song of contrasts. It was done in
collaboration with Icelandic movie composer Atli Örvarsson whom Tarja met at a
My Winter Storm sessions in Los Angeles. With his permission, she took a one
minute piece originally composed for an Italian car commercial (that fell
through) and turned it into the basis of the song—much to the surprise of Atli.
The story, about an Undertaker, is lyrically morbid, spooky, and of course
dark. The song’s harmonies and presentation by contrast are airy, light and
very melodic. It’s a great number to sing or hum along to as long as you don’t
think too hard on the subject being explored. It also features a great guitar
solo by Alex.

Calling From The Wild is about nature under siege in the modern
world. It is the first time that Tarja had lyrics before the music. The
presentation has little or no orchestration and is a slow progression from
atmospheric rock intro to heavy riff laden metal guitar with Tarja’s trademark
‘operatic’ vocals being front and centre. All the while it is the melody that
carries it along, vocally and instrumentally, that turns this song into a
juggernaut.

Too Many is a big Progressive Rock song. It finishes off the
official part of the album on a positive note. It hints at the promise that
something good is coming. It is both fragile and powerful. Repetitive vocal
passages, sometimes powerfully ‘operatic’ in the fore ground while others are
softly fragile and melodic in the background create a hypnotic ambiance. Bet you
can’t resist singing along. These passages are once again reinforced with the
big orchestra passages and the heavy guitars and drums. It is a great official
finale to The Shadow Self.

When the song ends (at 7:48) don’t hit stop on your player.
At the 10:54 mark a bonus hidden ‘track’ explodes into the senses where Heavy
Metal morphs into Euro Dance in a spoof entitled “This Is A Hit Song”. The
parody is funny and not to be taken serious….It is a fun way to wrap up the
album in an unofficial way and perhaps make a couple of statements: 1) quality
is not measured by pop hits so make fun of them; and 2) that even though many
issues dealt with in the songs are serious music is still meant to be fun and
enjoyable.

Accept the invitation to explore Tarja’s shadow self and by
extension learn to explore your own. The Shadow Self is proof of Tarja’s
evolving maturity as a person and as an artist. The Shadow Self sounds like the
most polished of her albums but is it her heaviest? The heaviest and the most
aggressive, but I don’t think it really matters since quality isn’t dependent
on heaviness or aggression. Thematically all her albums share a creative dark
place and The Shadow Self seems to share common ground with What Lies Beneath
although it’s expressed in different terms. The Shadow Self differs in that it
comes across as more personal–from a place of ego and pride. All of Tarja’s
albums are different production wise in that My Winter Storm is very
progressive, What Lies Beneath is rawer and edgier and Colours In The Dark is a
step in the process of orchestrated rock/metal that is more realized on The
Shadow Self. Comparisons aside, on its own merits, The Shadow Self will be
considered another excellent addition to Tarja’s expanding catalogue.

Overall Rating: 4.80/5

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