Century Child is heavier than prior Nightwish albums. And it has more choral and orchestral passages. And … there's a new bassist who doubles as a partner in the vocals (shock, horror). And there's a cover song (more shock, more horror!)
So – does Century Child herald the arrival of a whole new Nightwish?
In case you're unfamiliar with them – Finnish Nightwish is one of Europe's top symphonic / operatic / power-metal bands styled after The Gathering and Lacuna Coil et al. I.e. Euro-goth symphonic metal with a female vocalist. Nightwish's sound has always been defined by the operatic vocals of classically trained soprano Tarja Turunen, mixed with the heavy metal of band-boss Tuomas Holopainen. And Nightwish is an acquired taste – you'll love them or hate them. Finland loves them. Century Child's pre-release sales ran to 21,000 thousand units just in 2 hours.
Marco Hietala, bassist from Finnish "beauty-and-the-beast" goth-metal band Sinergy, joins Nightwish for this album and engages Tarja in some interesting duets. Bringing Marco into the mix threatened to alienate many fans, but strangely, the metal male and operatic female combination works remarkably well and introduces a whole new dimension to the music. Nightwish will be well advised to promote Marco from supporting role to shared lead vocalist in future releases.
The liberal inclusion of orchestra and choirs must have cost a bomb and will make touring difficult – but they lend the album a rich, very professional sound. The double-bass and distorted metal sound at the bottom is heavier than on previous releases. Track 5, "Slaying The Dreamer", borders on the nu- / black- / heavy-metal sounds of the Cradle Of Filth genre, and is surely the heaviest thing Nightwish has ever produced. Yet they do it well and we hope they'll do it more often. The pièce de résistance is the 10+ minute final track, "Beauty Of The Beast". Probably one of Nightwish's best pieces ever, it is complex and progressive yet it remains true to the signature Nightwish sound.
Then there's that cover tune. Andrew Loyd Webber is a fine songwriter, and Nightwish does a wonderful job with "The Phantom Of The Opera". But listen to that closing track and you'll understand that Nightwish is awash in creative juices. Cover songs are a cop out and Phantom doesn't belong here.
So – no, it's not a new Nightwish. It's the old Nightwish showing they are unafraid to experiment and grow. We think the dual vocals work well, and this is probably their best album to date. But that cover-tune has cost them their five-star rating.