Review of Tarja’s “The Brightest Void”

Reviewed by Brian Kelman
© Ethereal Metal Webzine
6/19/2016

The Brightest Void is a real tasty appetizer to assuage our
ravenous hunger for The Shadow Self feast to be served up in August. The
Brightest Void is not a collection of leftover scraps from The Shadow Self main
course scraped into the dog dish by the door. This prequel has enough punch and
quality to stand on its own merits.

No Bitter End seems to have a more polished mix to it than
one is used to with a Tarja/MIC production and a Tim Palmer mix. In fact some
have accused it of being too poppy of a sound. 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. The fact that I’m enthralled with
Tarja’s voice is no secret. What I haven’t mentioned (for no reason in
particular) is how much over the years I really like the guitar riffs that
accompany her. Thanks 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! Given that this is the ‘Video Clip Version’, I am
anticipating The Shadow Self version. Maybe give the boys a chance for a jam
and rock out session at the end? One can always hope to extend the riffing
pleasure.

Your Heaven and Your Hell features a duet with glam rocker
and fellow celeb Judge/Coach on the Voice of Finland, Michael Monroe. I
remember Michael’s band Hanoi Rocks back in the early 1980s. I also remember
the tragedy that led to their breakup in 1985. Michael Monroe and Hanoi Rocks
have often been mentioned as the starters of the Hollywood’s glam-rock scene,
which was then adopted and developed by many 1980’s glam-, punk-, and hard rock
bands like Mötley Crüe, Jetboy, LA Guns and Poison. End of the history lesson.
No over polish on this one; Michael provides an in your face punk attitude
sneer throughout. Tarja wisely let Michael take the lead while providing a more
backup ‘attitude’ since this style didn’t really suit her strengths. Michael
had the opportunity to break out the harmonica and saxophone, plus a soulful
guitar accompaniment during a mid-song interlude, gave the song a bluesy feel.
In the end Your Heaven and Your Hell is a blissful five and a half minutes of
rock ‘n’ roll attitude.

Eagle Eye is the only song that outshines the previous.
Featuring Chad Smith (The Red Hot Chili Peppers) on drums and brother Toni on
vocals, this song seems to get better and better with each listen. Tarja gives
herself plenty of room for her trademark sweeping soaring vocals that can reach
the stars. There is an epic ‘bigness’ to the song that’s hard to describe
beyond ‘ethereal’ and ‘moving’. Eagle Eye is also included on The Shadow Self
but with a different line up playing it. It should be interesting to hear how
the different lineups interpret the song. This version will be hard to top.

An Empty Dream was originally a movie song from the
Argentinian film ‘Corozón Muerto’ but Tarja changed, with permission, some of
the lyrics and melodies to fit The Brightest Void. Her vocals are more
restrained than usual, almost whispering at times, to fit in with musical sound
effects and instrumentals that make this track have a dark brooding ambiance.
This track I would not be out of place on My Winter Storm given the use of
sound effects that are heard on it, too. This song is the atmospheric twin to
the next one.

Witch-Hunt, which also would not be out of place on My
Winter Storm, is a song that many fans for years have been clamoring for a
studio version. I have to admit not being one of them. That was probably
because I only really saw and heard the song on YouTube recorded from the
audience. The recorded sound was usually so awful I couldn’t tell if I was
really missing anything special. Apparently I was missing something for years
by not hearing it performed live from the audience. I was quite happy with the
version that did make it to disc eventually on Beauty & The Beat. But the
studio can ramp up the mystery and suspense with the introduction of special
sound effects. With minimal accompaniment (besides the sound effects it is just
some orchestral arrangement) Tarja carries the track along with her vocals.
This minimalist approach works quite well; less is definitely more in this
case. I’m now counted among the legion of fans glad that she has now a studio
version of a very good dark atmospheric song.

Shameless is a song I think all of us can identify with: how
corrupt politicians will say anything (aka lie) to get elected and then forget
all their promises. At first I didn’t think I really connected with this song
until I realized this week at work that I had been whistling the melody of the
chorus all morning. I simply smiled and kept whistling the chorus throughout
the rest of the day. Good thing I work in a noisy environment because I was no
doubt off-key. Thanks to Julian Barrett for another great heavy riff driven
track to add to the list. Julian, too, supplies some backup vocals for the
first time on a Tarja album.

House of Wax is a Paul McCartney cover. I’ve never been a
fan of The Beatles (The Rolling Stones for me) or Paul’s solo career. The
original is dark in nature. Tarja takes it to a darker place musically by using
lots of cello in place of guitars. Max Lillia made like an orchestra of cellos
and increased the very sad, brooding and dark ambiance. Max and Tarja make this
song their own. I usually don’t like the songs Tarja covers but in this case it
is an exception.

Goldfinger is of course the title track of the 1964 Bond
movie of the same name originally sung by Shirley Bassey. Carried along with
some heavy riffing and a fine orchestral arrangement, Tarja once again makes
this song her own without disrespecting the original over the top grand
performance. My fascination with all things Bond disappeared decades ago so I’m
more ambivalent toward this cover even though I recognize that it was well done
musically.

Paradise (What About Us?) is a familiar song and a fitting
end to the album. Tarja’s mix of the song shows a few changes but none are
really radical in my estimation. Working with Tim Palmer, they bring her and
Sharon den Adel’s vocals more to the forefront without losing the power of the
riffing guitars and thundering rhythm section. The other difference is that the
last vocal solo is Tarja’s and not Sharon’s. I’m usually not a fan of remixes
and such but not enough has really changed here to make a huge difference.
Which version do I prefer? I’d have to give this one a lot more listens to give
a fare answer.

The Brightest Void contains some risks, surprises and
imagination. All in all Tarja and the band has pulled everything together quite
well. How does The Brightest Void appetizer prepare us for The Shadow Self main
course in August? Probably a few risks, a few surprises, lots of imagination
and much that is familiar. Stating the obvious is not really much of an answer.
What The Brightest Void does so well is to whet our appetites for the feast in August.
By then some if not most of us will be salivating like Pavlov’s dog with
anticipation for The Shadow Self.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Addendum to the Above:

Something occurred to me today. It has to do with the
artists who’s songs Tarja has covered on this release compared to the past. In
the past she has covered Alice Cooper (Poison on My Winter Storm), Whitesnake
(Still of The Night on What Lies Beneath), and Peter Gabriel (Darkness on
Colours In The Dark). All of whom are legends within their particular niches.
On The Brightest Void Tarja has the confidence to cover the songs of Paul…..,
sorry, Sir (as in Member of the Order of The British Empire) James Paul
McCartney, MBE (House of Wax) and Dame (as in Dame Commander of the Most
Excellent Order of The British Empire) Shirley Bassey, DBE (Goldfinger), two
artists who have transcended their particular niches, have had the honours
above conferred upon them by Queen Elizabeth II for services rendered to the
performing arts and are legends in a global cultural sense. What does this tell
us? We are witnessing the continued growth of an artist in terms of her
maturity and belief in not only her musical vision but also that she has the
self confidence to accept the challenge of not just covering the songs of
legends but excelling while doing so. I expect this growth to be readily
apparent on The Shadow Self. Now this begs the question: Is Tarja out of her
‘box’ now?

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