Floor Jansen is a force of nature. Since joining Nightwish in 2013, the Dutch vocalist has helped to transform the symphonic metallers into one of the biggest bands in the world – not bad for a genre still deemed hopelessly uncool. And her vocal acrobatics have sparked reams of reaction videos, dishing out ‘Floorgasms’ – the term coined by fans to describe the emotion of watching her perform live – to millions of viewers, many discovering metal for the first time.
Unsurprisingly, Floor’s versatile voice takes centre stage on her debut solo record, although, much like her side-project Northward – a collection of hard rock tracks she recorded with Pagan’s Mind guitarist Jørn Viggo Lofstad, and released in 2018 – these 10 tracks have little in common with the lavish pomp of her day job. That was always the intention.
Speaking to Hammer in 2020, Floor said, “After 20 years of rock and metal, I think I would like to do something else,” noting, “If you are already in one of the biggest bands in your own genre, and you have someone like [Nightwish visionary and band leader] Tuomas Holopainen as a songwriter, I don’t really see that I’d be adding anything by making another metal album myself.”
Instead, Paragon eschews the heavy stuff for stripped back pop melodies and dramatic balladry, its tone, as on sparkling, euphoric opener My Paragon, bright, hopeful and wide-eyed.
And while there is a sprinkle of Nightwish fairytale-esque magic here and there – the twinkling piano on Daydream captures the innocent reveries of Tuomas’s early work, while The Calm begins with the swell of an orchestra – the music always seeks to complement, not augment.
Many of these songs are about conjuring space. Sometimes it’s space to breathe, such as on the sparse, blissful Hope. But more often, it’s to make room for the nuances of Floor’s voice, so accustomed to battling against glittering, relentless walls of sound, to dominate.
Occasionally, as on the climax of Storm and Me Without You, when Floor’s forceful vocals swamp the otherwise gentle instrumentation, that dynamic proves overwhelming. Elsewhere, her voice carries what are clearly personal, emotional songs.
Take gorgeous closer Fire, a slow-burning epic written as life began to flood back into society following the darkest days of the pandemic. Or Invincible, a stirring track Floor penned about PTSD, but which is difficult not to interpret in the light of her recent cancer diagnosis (she has announced that, following treatment, she is now cancer-free): ‘Starting life once more / Pushed into recovery / The choice no longer yours / Pushed to self-discovery’).
No doubt, this will be a tough sell for the Nightwish fans who prefer the histrionic, more-is-more approach of symphonic metal. Instead, this is an album for those who find themselves spellbound by Floor’s truly fantastic voice and who can appreciate this as a showcase for her undisputed talent.