For the past five years or so, Nightwish have been a hugely popular band in their native Finland with albums and singles commonly reaching the top of the charts. Here's hoping they can translate that success to the international community because Once is not only the band's best album by a country mile, it also happens to be a modern metal classic.
At its core, the Nightwish sound hasn't changed that much, but the band have taken a quantum leap forward in terms of songwriting and production, not to mention some wildly successful experimentation. The fact that The London Symphony Orchestra and a large choir are fully integrated into nearly every song without ever overpowering the band just amazes me.
"Dark Chest of Wonders" comes barreling out of the sound system in typical Nightwish fashion and two things quickly become evident: Lead vocalist Tarja Turunen now complements her operatic tone with more conventional singing and she sounds better than ever, if that's possible. Lead guitarist Emppu Vuorinen plays with more crunching riffs and has all but left the Yngwie Malmsteem-isms far behind.
"Wish I Had an Angel" features bassist Marco Hietala's gruff vocals on the chorus and believe it or not the song manages to marry dance music with heavy metal! But Once is hardly a sellout: typical Nightwish fare comes to the fore on tracks like "Planet Hell", "Dead Gardens" and "Romanticide". The only difference is that they leave everything on albums like Wishmaster and Oceanborn in the dust.
Special mention must be made of the two epics. The eight minute "Creek Mary's Blood" is the boldest Nightwish composition ever. Depicting the plight of Native American Indians, the song features John Two-Hawks, a Lakota musician on flute, chants and vocals. I have no idea how a Finnish metal band happened upon John Two-Hawks, but the results are simply stunning.
As moving as "Creek Mary's Blood" is, the ten minute "Ghost Love Score" is even better. I'll go so far as to call it the band's single greatest achievement. "Ghost Love Score" is suicidal gothic melancholy to the hilt, particularly evident in the choral refrain of: "My fall will be for you/My love will be in you/If you be the one to cut me/I'll bleed forever". As relentlessly depressing as the lyrics are, the musical arrangement is triumphantly uplifting and bears as much resemblance to Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Pirates" as it does to prime Nightwish. In fact, it is the best integration of orchestra and rock band I've heard in many years.
In short, Nightwish have well and truly arrived. If there's any justice in the world, the band will dominate over all pretenders to the throne, including Evanescence, Lacuna Coil and The Gathering. Once is among the most magical, emotional and grandiose works I've heard in a very long time. Absolutely essential.
- Dark Chest of Wonders (4:28)
- Wish I Had an Angel (4:06)
- Nemo (4:36)
- Planet Hell (4:38)
- Creek Mary's Blood (8:29)
- The Siren (4:45)
- Dead Gardens (4:28)
- Romanticide (4:58)
- Ghost Love Score (10:02)
- Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan (3:58)
- Higher Than Hope (5:38)
- White Night Fantasy (4:04) (bonus track)
- Live to Tell the Tale (5:00) (bonus track)