During her now-fourteen-year solo career, Finnish singer Tarja Turunen has been nothing if not prolific. In the Raw is her seventh solo album, and follows 2017’s Christmas album, From Spirits and Ghosts, and 2016’s symphonic metal album, The Shadow Self. As far as her rock music is concerned, that means she has got as many solo records under her belt as Nightwish albums, so maybe it’s time to let her stand on her own, sans comparisons?
I’m all for that. However, I walked into In the Raw with middling expectations. While Tarja is an amazing singer, an operatic diva, her musical output would best be defined as average. Even her best record, 2010’s What Lies Beneath, failed to elicit more than a satisfying shrug in this house. And the fact that she continues to use her trusted group of songwriters, musicians, and producers left me with low hopes.
This time around, though, Tarja’s goal was to attack these songs with more elemental vigor. She wanted to maintain the soaring operatic style and the climactic classical movements, but at the same time have the proceedings injected with raw, metallic guitars and energy.
Consider it done.
From the first notes of “Dead Promises” we are treated to a heavy, urgent delivery. “Dead Promises” is a duet with Bjorn Strid of Soilwork and Night Flight Orchestra (although the video single does not feature his vocals), and he sings in both clean and harsh styles, elevating the song to gritty heights.
The heaviness of “Dead Promises” is no one-off here, either. “Goodbye Stranger” has a nasty Lacuna Coil-like riff, which makes sense as this number is a duet with Cristina Scabbia, and is another killer, metallic, groovy song. It’s clear two songs in that Tarja is going for heavy, melodic, and earworm-catchy compositions.
Throughout the album, the songs are a near-perfect amalgamation of bombast, churning guitars, soaring vocals, and beautifully-arranged strings. Tarja’s voice has never sounded better, whether it is in the quietest moments of the heartfelt “You and I” or the climactic, operatic sections of the amazing symphonic doom cut “Spirits of the Sea.”
Despite keeping her faith with the same cadre responsible for the average output of the past, Tarja and crew have really captured lightning in a bottle on In the Raw. There’s a bit of a lull in the middle of this nearly-hour-long album, but it’s almost a welcome respite, and it gives her a chance to push her lungs and vocal cords in different ways than the heavier fare on the rest of the album.
As good as the songs already mentioned are, one of the highlights has to be the seven-minute brooding number “Silent Masquerade,” performed with Kamelot’s Tommy Karevik. It exemplifies all the greatness of the album in one cut: a piano and spoken-word intro, a hypnotic guitar-driven riff, great vocals, and a mesmerizing arrangement. Like the entire album, production is immaculate.
When I grabbed In the Raw, the last thing I expected was an album I couldn’t stop listening to. Yet here I am, a dozen or more spins into Tarja’s latest, and I can safely say this is the album her fans have been waiting for since 2005. Tarja and her team have really hit this one out of the park, and while it might not be August 30th’s biggest release, it’s certainly one of the best.
(released August 30, 2019 on earMusic)
Heavy Music Headquarters Rating:
Watch Tarja – “Tears In Rain” Video