Round Table Review
Nightwish - Once
Tracklist: Dark Chest Of Wonders (4:32), Wish I Had An Angel (4:10), Nemo (3:40), Planet Hell (4:43), Creek Mary’s Blood (8:34), The Siren (4:50), Dead Gardens (4:33), Romanticide (5:02), Ghost Love Score (10:04), Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan (4:02), Higher Than Hope (5:35)
Two years after their previous studio album Century Child Nightwish return with a even grander and more ambitious disk in the form of Once. With an expanded budget the band's creative juices have been given free reign and this new album sees them employing a full choir and orchestra - and no less than the same orchestra used to record the soundtrack the "The Lord of the Rings". Recorded at home in Kittee, in Helsinki and with the choir and orchestra recorded in London, this is certainly the band's most polished release yet.
Nightwish have a good record at opening their disks very strongly and Once is no exception. Dark Chest of Wonders features a strong guitar sound, orchestra, choir and the voices of Tarja Turunen and bassist Marco Hietala. It is a perfect blend of the band's soft and heavy sides with enough melody and catchiness to make it a sure fire stage favourite. Then Wish I Had An Angel lays bare Tuomas Holopainen's love of Rammstein, by melding a superb throbbing/stompy beat to the usual Nightwish mix for a song that has 'single' stamped all over it.
The first single Nemo follows. A slightly slower paced tune, it builds in intensity as Tarja's voice is joined by the orchestra and powerful chugging bass lines. The choir and orchestra fill out the calmer passages and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen rips out a short guitar solo before Tarja and the orchestra bring the song to a close. Planet Hell does not allow the pace or intensity to drop either, opening with a very grand passage from the choir and orchestra - in particular the horn section while Tarja and Marco exchange vocal.
After the very heavy opening, we have the first real change of pace in the form of Creek Mary's Blood, which at eight and half minutes long, is one of two epic songs on the album. Here the band, or at least the more 'Heavy Metal' part of the band's sound, takes a backseat leaving Tarja's wonderful voice and the orchestra to come to the fore. As the song is based upon a book of the same name, (a novel about Native Americans), Tuomas invited Native American poet and musician John Two-Hawks to add flutes and the chanting of a poem translated into his native tongue. These are nice touches which add an authentic feel to the song, which is one of the more adventurous tunes on the album.
The other epic Ghost Love Score is even longer and features the orchestra just as heavily. Though the drums of Jukka Nevalainen, as well as the bass and drums periodically appear to add extra heaviness, it is the orchestra and choir which carry the tune and as the title itself suggests, this is music that one could imagine as a 'Film Score'. Epic, powerful and grandiose it is for me, the highlight of the album and is perhaps the most perfect joining of powerful, heavy music with symphony orchestra that I've yet heard. It certainly leaves Italian band Rhapsody and their 'Hollywood Metal' trailing in the dust.
The best of the remaining tracks is The Siren which features haunting orchestral and choral parts and a simply wonderful violin solo. Then there is the pleasant ballad Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan, the first song that the band have sung in their native language since their debut album Angels Fall First and a couple of weaker tracks which disrupt the flow between The Siren and Ghost Love Score and rather drag the album's score down overall. Dead Gardens and Romanticide seem to blur into the same forgettable tune while the closing tune Higher Than Hope doesn't work for me either. It's position as the final track means that the album ends with a bit of whimper, rather than a bang.
With Once the band have clearly taken a strong step forward in search of the symphonic metal sound that they have been striving for. Few bands have managed to use the orchestra so well alongside what is already a very strong sound of their own and when it works, it works very well indeed. Aside from the more symphonic/progressive tunes in the form of the two epics, the band have included a good number of tunes which are very representative of their core sound, (so important as to not alienate their existing fan-base), while at the same time embellishing them with some nice orchestral touches.
All the same, the mix of stompy rockers, ballads and symphonic epics does present some problems in terms of track selection and the flow of the album is, for me at least, the least satisfying aspect of the disk. I rather find myself switching off for the two tracks on either side of Ghost Love Score and in fact, I wish that the band had included some of the bonus tracks from the Nemo singles in place of some of the tracks selected for the finished album. This largely accounts for what some might consider a harsh overall mark, given the quality of the finest tunes on the disk, but I don't find the album overall to be as satisfying as their previous effort Century Child and feel confident that they can do even better next time.
Finland’s Nightwish have, in the space of a few short years, become one of, if not the, leader of the burgeoning female-fronted goth/symphonic/power metal scene (if you disregard the more commercially-minded Evanascence, that is). Already huge in their native Finland and, indeed, all over mainland Europe, the only areas (in the West) that the band have yet to truly conquer are the UK and (perhaps more importantly) the USA. Therefore I imagine that many fans will be slightly concerned prior to listening to this CD that the band have in some way ‘compromised’ their sound in order to fit in with what radio and MTV want. Well, although certain ‘mainstream’ touches can be found on this album (more on this later), I can emphatically state that Once is not the sound of a band reigning in their sound – this album gives new meaning to the word ‘bombastic’!
My only contact with Nightwish prior to first hearing this album a month or so ago was a headlining appearance at the Bloodstock metal festival (in the UK) which failed to blow me away, as did the few tracks I’d heard previously. However, from the minute that Once opening track Dark Chest Of Wonders blasted through the speakers, this album had me hooked. With its powerful riffs, huge orchestral sweep, choirs, bombastic synths, hook-filled chorus, all topped off with Tarja Turunen’s wonderful vocals, this is both a fine opener and an excellent insight into what’s in store for the remaining 55 minutes or so.
Since first playing Once, I’ve caught up with a couple of albums from the band’s back catalogue, and for comparison purposes I can say that this new opus is both more symphonic and heavier than previous work. The riffs certainly seem sharper than before, with the lead work on the likes of Wish I Had An Angel, Planet Hell, Dead Gardens and Romanticide having a contemporary, ‘cutting edge’ feel about them. These songs are certainly amongst the heaviest in the band’s canon, although that doesn’t mean the symphonic element is missing – even the heaviest riffs seem to be backed by a wall of strings; this combination, far from being jarring, works well, and can only add to the album’s appeal to a sizeable cross-section of metal fans.
Nightwish’s huge success in mainland Europe gave them a sizeable budget to work with, and it’s fair to say that every inch of this budget is on display. The band recorded the choir and orchestra (no less than the London Session Orchestra) in the UK, under the guidance of renowned producer Pip Williams, and this apparently cost them twice as much as the whole of the recording of their previous album! The results, however, speak for themselves – on some metal records you feel that the strings and choirs have been added as an afterthought, because that’s what’s expected in this genre; not here though, as the orchestra and choir are absolutely integral to the whole album, to the extent that you really couldn’t imagine the album without its presence. It’s also much more effective having the real thing than a synthesized approximation – heaven knows how they’re going to pull off some of the tracks live though …
Flicking through the band’s website, its’ noticeable that two of the band’s members (including the main songwriter, keyboard player Tuomas Halopainen) list the "Gladiator" soundtrack as amongst their favourite albums. Very apt too, as much of Once plays like a film soundtrack; the epic, soaring musical landscapes the band paint on the likes of the Celtic-flavoured Creek Mary’s Blood evoke strong mental images of scenes from the likes of "Braveheart" and "Lord Of The Rings" whilst the stirring Ghost Love Score has sections which the likes of Disney and Dreamworks would surely be only too happy to use in their next fantasy saga. There is obviously the danger that this sort of thing will lapse into mere background music (a score without the visuals), and in the middle of Ghost.. this does start to happen. The band are no mugs though, and soon build up the tension again, gradually building layer upon layer of instrumentation before the song climaxes with a rousing chorus.
I’ve mentioned before that there are a few touches that suggest that Nightwish are trying to broaden their appeal. In addition to the beefed-up guitar work, the band even use a programmed drum beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a dance track on the chorus of Wish I Had An Angel – not the abomination you might think it would be! In Nemo, meanwhile, the band have written their most commercial and straightforward number yet – a radio-friendly effort that sounds a little like a Euro-metal version of something Evanessence might come up with. It’s not the strongest track here (nor is it representative of the album) but it does improve with repeated listens.
Special mention should go to new(ish) band member, bassist Marco Hietala (ex-Sinergy). Not only does he add a bit of ‘oomph’ to the band’s rhythm section, he also has a strong, aggressive singing voice which nicely counterparts Tarja’s vocals – this is particularly effective on glorious power metal romps such as Wish I Had An Angel and Planet Hell. He also manages (for the most part) to avoid lapsing into the ubiquitous ‘grunts and screams’ which most bands of this ilk employ.
My main criticism is not of the music itself, but with the running order – the middle of the album is packed with heavier, more straightforward tracks (The Siren, Dead Gardens, Romanticide), whilst the latter part of the album (Ghost Love Score, Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan, Higher Than Hope) focuses on the more orchestral, film score-esque elements. I think that mixing these songs up a bit in the running order would have enhanced the impact of the album (I know I can easily do this by using the programming function on my CD player, but I prefer to listen to albums in the order that the band intended). It would also be nice for a few more moments like Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan, which see the band taking their foot off the (effects!) pedal and letting Tarja’s voice carry the song – you do need a breather from all this bombast every once in a while!
Overall, this is an excellent effort from Nightwish. Existing fans will love this, whilst it contains sufficient new elements to broaden the band’s appeal. If you enjoy your metal powerful, bombastic and over the top, yet superbly crafted and played by very skilled musicians, then Once will certainly fit the bill.
This is the first time that we review a CD of the Finnish gothic band Nightwish, although Once is their sixth studio album already…. Nightwish actually had their hour of birth back in 1996 when Tuomas Holopainen and some friends were gathered around a campfire and improvised some songs that should become the band’s first material ever. The very first three Nightwish tracks were recorded between October and December 1996 with a line up consisting of Tuomas, Tarja Turunen and Emppu Vuorinen. Nightwish’s trademarks, the mixture of highly melodic metal with Tarja’s soprano opera voice, brought fresh air into the music scene. The band can best be compared to other gothic ones like Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil and Theatre Of Tragedy. Oceanborn, released in 1999 was their first super album and in my humble opinion it is still their best one so far. Wishmaster (2000) established their name all over Europe and suddenly Nightwish was the next big thing in gothic music. Their previous album Century Child earned double platinum in Finland for more than 60,000 sold copies and finally sealed Nightwish’s status as Scandinavia’s metal mega stars.
Once is an album that is nearly as good as Oceanborn; it is a true metal, gothic monument, which leaves nothing to be desired. On this album the band used a complete orchestra – "The London Session Orchestra" – and this gives this album an extra musical dimension. Just listen to the masterpiece on this CD Ghost Love Score and you will catch my drift. This epic song has a pure classical intro and later on it evolves into a wonderful metal song with heavenly guitar melodies and divine singing by Tarja. The orchestral parts are arranged by Pip Williams, who is well known as a producer of bands like Uriah Heep, Status Quo and The Moody Blues. The second long track is called Creek Mary’s Blood, a song with a folkloristic beginning, opera-like choruses and some rather bombastic passages. That Nightwish can really rock is obvious in fast tracks like Dark Chest Of Wonders, Wish I Had An Angel and Dead Gardens.
One of the big surprises on this album is probably Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan, an acoustic ballad sung in Finnish, which is followed by the rather heavy power ballad Higher Than Hope. Nemo, the actual hit single, is a very catchy song with a typical Nightwish melody and an amazing guitar solo. Last but not least I would like to point out Romanticide, a neo-classical song, rather bombastic again with a very fast guitar solo and an intro that reminds me of the famous Swedish guitar picker Yngwie Malmsteen. This album combines symphonic metal with classical influences in an almost perfect way, so let Nightwish touch your heart with this thrilling masterpiece.