The music, that is. I actually haven't seen the movie yet, and I don't want to until I've finished all the images from the album. In my mind, the movie is its own thing (with its own music, even, that grew out of the album music), and so I feel like this section of the project needs to be its own thing, uninfluenced by the movie.
I'm about a third of the way finished with my Scaretale drawing...the last one on the list (not counting Song of Myself, which I'm planning to redesign to suit this project). This album, unlike any other, is starting to feel like an old friend. I know it pretty much front to back, have listened to every song multiple times, looking for inspiration to draw.
How do you even describe it?
It never gets old. I read in an interview of Petri Alanko, the guy that did the soundtrack, that as he dug deeper into the album, he kept waiting to reach the point where the cohesion disintegrates and it breaks down. Imaginaerum doesn't do that. I'm not even kidding. This is a very hard album to get tired of.
It's a story. Of all the albums Nightwish has put out so far, Imaginaerum is the most cohesive, where every song feels like a glimpse of something bigger. A crazy, wild, multifaceted story that's actually, for me, a little harder to fold into the overall story of NW's music. It's like the Dead Boy went to sleep one night and relived every step he'd already taken in this spectacular dream called Imaginaerum. Every path he's ever walked imagined anew. Every place he's already taken me, seen all over again, through the warped lens of the dreamworld.
It starts in winter, of course. All Nightwish albums contain winter in their depths, but Taikatalvi IS winter. The very essence of it, like all things in a dream. It's blue and silver and white and dark like the night sky. It's like standing outside on a winter's night, cold biting at your cheeks, feeling like the whole world is holding its breath, waiting for something magical to happen. (Keep in mind I live in Florida. This cold white substance you call snow? Doesn't happen here. Sand is a poor substitute. White winters are automatically magical happenings to me.)
Also, Finnish. Maybe Nightwish has biased me, but I don't think English quite catches winter the way Finnish can. I think there's a reason Tolkien based his Elvish languages off of Finnish.
Taikatalvi was the hardest image to capture, and I'm still not sure my rendition does it justice. The snow leopards came about purely from trying to visually express how winter could creep in "on kitten paws". Winter spirits. It fit. The signs are like the segue between Taikatalvi and Storytime...they invite you in, carry you deeper into the story.
Storytime and Ghost River are a kind of pair, in my mind. The heart-lifting fantasy of a fairy tale, and its dark side. Good, evil, white, black.
"I am the voice of never never land
the innocence, the dreams of every man
I am the empty crib of Peter Pan"
"I am the painted faces, the toxic kiss
sowing of doubt, troll beneath the bridge"
"I am the story that will read you real
every memory that you hold dear"
"I am the desert-scape, the sand inside your hourglass
I am the fear and abuse, the leper children
Every eye sewn shut"
Storytime is that first dreamflight. Ghost River is that flight's inevitable descent into nightmare.
And into that creeps the haunting, melancholy piano of Slow, Love, Slow.
Nightwish really doesn't have any love songs in their repertoire. (I once tried to find a nice romantic NW song to use as my husband's ringtone on my phone. Um...yeah. That was a fun search. "Slow, Love, Slow?...nah, too sad...ditto for Lips Red...hmm, Ever Dream?...we're kind of past that kind of sentiment...Come Cover Me?...maybe, but not quite...hmm...not too relationship songs here that aren't all anger and hurt...Forever Yours, no, too much death...Beauty and the Beast, um, no...She Is My Sin, very funny. Over the Hills is already about adultery, bad karma...Passion and the Oper...ha!...Nymphmaniac Fant...okay now we're just getting ridiculous...)
Ever Dream, Come Cover Me, and While Your Lips Are Still Red are the closest ones I can think of, and even these have an element of longing for something that's not there. Not loved, but wanting to be. Slow, Love, Slow is the essence of that longing. It's like the ultimate not-quite-love song, the melody of a wolf who's stood in the shadows for so long he's not even sure he wants to come out. He knows he's missing things, good things, but he doesn't know if those things are worth the inevitable glare of doubt and difficulty and heartbreak that go along with relationships.
"Do I love you, or the thought of you?"
Which is why I drew him in an empty lounge, surrounded by ghosts.
Then you get to the song that's all about longing for what was. Looking back towards Storytime and wanting those feelings back. I always picture Chihiro on that train, surrounded by spirits, looking out toward the water...what was she thinking about? Did it feel like she was passing out of time and life itself, leaving it all behind? I Want My Tears Back is like that one last cry towards life, that says I'm still alive, I am still here, I still FEEL.
Well, everyone knows that's when all the fears and doubts hit the hardest. That's when the demons come back out to taunt you.
Scaretale to me is like one big childhood taunt-fest. If you can feel, you can FEAR. Every nightmare gets brought out and paraded past your imagination, saying "Look at me! Look at me!" The circus of life with all its madness uncoupled from the logic and reason of reality. You watch because you can't look away. You ride the ups and downs.
And in the end something shifts inside, and you realize you aren't afraid anymore. The ghouls are still capering, but suddenly you realize they aren't ghouls at all...just clowns, just doing what they do. The fire is no longer burning everything to cinders...it's being tossed to and fro, dancing, and it's beautiful and exciting and again, you can't look away. Now you can hear the music again. Same circus, different perspective. The Scaretale melds into Arabesque.
Then there's an interlude of calm, where you've looked death and fear in the face and moved beyond. Where you can feel loss beyond love, beyond life, and still be at peace inside. "At the end of the river, the sun down beams..." There's a gentle sadness there, one that draws out both tears and a smile. The Lady of Shallot is a story that ends like that, for me at least.
Facing death itself, though...one can be at peace, ready to go, ready to leave it all behind, but still...it's not easy. If Turn Loose the Mermaids is about the sadness of living through someone else's death...Rest Calm is about flip-side. Now it's your turn in the boat at the end of the river, and someone you care about's turn to grieve. You've learned to let love go, learned to let yourself go, knowing that everything inside that's really important is coming with you. "Every little memory resting calm in me, resting in a dream, smiling back at me..." Wherever the path goes next.
Maybe you do really die.
The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove is that last moment. The sand slipping through your fingers. When you know everything you are, every feeling, every memory...all inside, waiting. The world has no hold on you. There is literally nothing more you need.
In the overarching story that is Nightwish's music...this song is where I put myself.
It's so easy to live here. In the lyrics, in the music. Easy to get caught up. It's easy...so very, very easy...to fall too far in love with this world they've created. Like it's easy for me to live in the worlds I create when writing fantasy, easy to get caught up in the lives and loves of the characters I create. Flying on the wings of make-believe: crow, owl, dove, swan. I know what it is to be an escapist.
But even the sweetest dream cannot last, because of what it is: a dream. You have to wake up. Even the sweetest dream is, in the end, ephemeral, untouchable. You can't keep it. No matter what you do, it always slips away and you're left remembering...it was never real. It will only ever exist in my head, like so many beautiful things. The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove is both a warning and a plea.
"Don't give me love, I've had my share. Beauty, nor rest, give me truth instead."
Don't make me love what I can't keep. Don't seduce me with this dream. Don't break my heart again, when I wake up and remember that none of it is really mine.
Because gods help me, I have to wake up.
That's why the girl in the picture is letting free a nightingale. And crying.
But so, there's always one last moment. One last look over your shoulder. One last thrill before the park closes and you have to go home. One last encore before the concert ends. One last story before the campfire is put out for the night. One last word. One last breath.
One last ride. A candle left in the window.
And after all that...Song of Myself is interesting. I look at it as that moment when the Dead Boy wakes up from the dream, and now he has to process it. "What in the ever living hell was that? Who am I, what am I now?" Sadness and beauty and a certain mature resignation to things, all rolled into one. He's reached a certain level of peace, with the Child, with the Beast...so now what?
"and there forever remains that change from G to Em"
And we none of us truly know what comes next, do we?