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Nightwish (Finland) - 2004 - "Once"
(60 min, Roadrunner)


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TRACK LIST:                             
                
1.  Dark Chest of Wonders 4:28
2.  Wish I Had an Angel 4:06
3.  Nemo 4:36
4.  Planet Hell 4:39
5.  Creek Mary's Blood 8:30
6.  The Siren 4:45
7.  Dead Gardens 4:28
8.  Romanticide 4:58
9.  Ghost Love Score 10:02
10. Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan 3:59
11. Higher Than Hope 5:37

All music & lyrics: Holopainen. 
Produced & engineered by Holopainen.

LINE-UP:

Tuomas Holopainen - keyboards
Marco Hietala - bass; vocals
Tarja Turunen - lead vocals
Emppu Vuorinen - guitars
Jukka Nevalainen - drums
          

Prolusion. I haven't heard NIGHTWISH before. According to the CD press kit, the band was formed in Finland's provincial city of Kitee in 1997 as a small acoustic-based ensemble, which, however, quickly switched to a heavy sound. The main mastermind behind Nightwish is keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen. "Once" is the band's fifth studio album and is their first for the major transatlantic label Roadrunner Records, the headquarters of which is currently in New York, right on Broadway. Formerly the Dutch label with a division in America called Roadracer, the company has always been notable for producing the high-quality Metal of all sorts, progressive included.

Synopsis. Surely, linked exclusively with the energy of the soul, true art will never die. Despite the regrettable fact that our beloved genre is today in the condition of an outcast, whose ways very rarely intersect busy musical roads, it continues developing, and the number of its representatives is currently larger than ever. Here is another progressive outfit that, following Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, did manage to join a major label and, hopefully, not just for Once. But while the latter band had to vastly >simplify their music to >signify their success on the matter, Nightwish entered the mainstream with their most diverse and aggressive album to date, at least as it's stated in the CD press kit. Well, I can't be quite certain about their previous albums, but "Once" fully corresponds with my conception of an honest Prog-Metal, just like the incomprehensible and, thus, largely unnoticed and underrated >King Diamond, for instance, whose first five classic albums were also released by Roadrunner. So, not the new-fangled Nu-metal with endlessly repeating couplets and refrains, straightforward riffs and no guitar solos, and not even NWBHM awaits the listener on this CD. Overall, this is the classically influenced Prog-Metal, and as for particularities, I won't forget to point them out. Still, here I stand: the principal virtue of any production is its originality, which certainly can't exist out of the context of an authentic inspiration, and these are distinctive features of the music on "Once". However, it would've been not quite enough for me to like the album if it would have lacked the other essential matters that make a musical work a true piece of art. Nearly all of the songs feature a wide variety of essential progressive ingredients and contain too few repetitions to be quickly comprehended, even if it may seem quite easy upon the first spin. Besides, the genre components that form Nightwish's music are also, and strikingly, different from each other: Classical music, Opera, and either a harsh, rapid, hard-edged Techno Thrash as on Dark Chest of Wonders, Wish I Had an Angel, Planet Hell, Dead Gardens, and Romanticide, or Cathedral Metal as on the other songs, save the track titled in Finnish. On some compositions bassist Marco Heitala joins Tarja Turunen in vocals, and then his rather hoarse singing contrasts with hers. Nevertheless, it's Tarja who imparts a specific charm to the band's music, as her operatic, beautiful, kind of laidback singing creates a really effectual contrast with the surrounding musical events, especially when guitar riffs are both high-speed and raw, like on the songs with Techno Metal in their basis and in the episodes with the most intensive arrangements on the others. There is a hit, by the way. It's almost unbelievable if not marvelous, but Nemo is made up of several different themes and develops in a way that no one would expect from the song that reached the top position in Billboard. You have to listen to this miracle to make certain of what I myself have just made certain of and told you about. The kindred song is Higher Than Hope, which closes the album, and although these two are a bit less intricate than the others, they're still highly diverse, and the style is a triple union of Cathedral Metal, Classical music and opera. Here, the band's passion for Classical music is evident not only in the lush and large-scaled orchestral arrangements (much of which on the album are provided by The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, who scored the Lord of the Rings trilogy), but also in the piano passages and those of acoustic guitar. Well, from a classic progressive standpoint the absolute winners are the songs located between the fourth and the tenth positions in the album's track list, and they are brilliant all. Both of the longest compositions: Creek Mary's Blood and Ghost Love Score feature the distinctive sounds of Sitar and plenty of the other acoustic and chamber instruments. These have some flavors of Oriental music, while The Siren is just filled with them and is a stunning Prog-Metal number. The only song with lyrics in Finnish: Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan is also the only track here, which was performed without the rhythm section and sounds soft and beautiful in its entirety. However, it has nothing in common with a typical Rock ballad. Consisting of slow, but very convincingly crafted orchestral arrangements with diverse interplay between violoncello and harp at the helm and developing in combination with Tarja Turunen's dramatic singing, this is a piece of chamber Classical music with operatic vocals rather than anything else.

Conclusion. The young music lovers are like Odysseus's crew when drifting between the Scylla and Charybdis, as a result of which Prog loses most of its potential adherents, becoming the victims of pop or rap, while the latter has the liberty to pretend to be recognized as the counter-culture. Absurd! Finally, here is a rather encouraging event. "Once", which first was released in the Old World, is Europe's top-selling CD, in any genre! If such serious performers as Nightwish have become more than widely popular, we can hope that the general audience will show more and more interest in complicated musical forms in the future, and then... I'm even fearful to expand my thoughts on the matter. All in all, the music by this Finnish outfit is so tasty and honest that it's clear: their major success is not accidental. Highly recommended.

VM: October 20, 2004


Related Links:

Roadrunner Records
Nightwish


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