Originally written by Erik Thomas
Somehow, Nightwish is one of those bands that, despite a respected discography and large amount of hype, I had never heard. Maybe it’s the fact I’m put off by the Goth image they present; maybe it’s my innate fear of female fronted acts (I only just discovered Lacuna Coil). Either way, that’s about to change, as I will rustle up their entire discography based on this effort (the upcoming box sets on Spinefarm should do nicely).
So for you other Gynophobics out there, let me tell you – this is one class act worthy of your time. What first surprised me about Nightwish is the weighty production, with beefy guitars and a stout, pounding rhythm section – the sound is glossy, yet still heavy. Secondly, the actual songs are well crafted, precise and cruelly catchy. With the genre requisite ballads aside, there’s plenty of hefty galloping and robust pacing. Of course, it’s all laced with the grand operatic voice of Tarja Turunen, bountiful classical backing, and over-the-top theatrics. For newcomers like me, the resultant style comes across like Therion making out with Lacuna Coil at the front row of an Opera house. The album itself – due to its concept, delivery, and style – sounds like a Broadway musical put to metal, and that’s before I’ve even heard the metalized “Phantom of the Opera” tune they throw in. The ebb and flow of the songs tell a tale of childhood innocence and deep yearnings; the album has the happy jaunts to introduce the characters, the sorrowful moments of loss, and of course the stunning build and climax. It’s all very over indulgent and grandiose (like a ten minute album closer “Beauty and the Beast”), but the hefty guitar tone keep it strangely “masculine”.
Thankfully, Nightwish actually minimize one of my Goth metal pet peeves: the romantic male crooner. Former Sinergy bassist Marco Hietla only makes marginal vocal appearances, when the album’s concept calls for a male character. Turunen is the focus here, and that’s a good thing, because she has a powerful, soulful voice that avoids cheesy Germanic Opera overkill, but is dramatic enough to separate herself from the multitude of female shriekers filling the scene.
The albums first two tracks, “Bless the Child” and personal favorite “End of All Hope”, open in melodramatic, upbeat fashion, making my initial introduction to these Fins a pleasant one. “Dead to the World” enforces the ‘Broadway metal’ aura, with an addictive yet cheesy chorus line and Heitla’s first extended vocal performance. The expected, satisfying-but-clichéd ballad “Ever Dream” gives way to the album’s second best cut, the bouncy “Slaying the Dreamer”. After its surprisingly chunky opening salvo, it reverts to a completely over the top theatrical chorus seeing Turunen adopting a Kate Bush like wail that’s simply killer.
The next three songs (“Forever Yours” “Ocean Soul” “Feel For You”) tread more mediocre territory, as they simply cover Goth metal’s expected bases with slightly less flourish than the preceding songs. But they still line up as better than a lot of the (Polish) Goth tripe that’s being over saturated. The only real drawback with Nightwish is the sameness of the music – there’s no real curveballs or moments of technical wizardry that blow you away. The “metal opera” visage is realized for “Phantom of the Opera”, where Turunen fits sveltely into Brightman’s austere role with little drop off – a testament to her talent, even if the song is heavy on the cheese, and Heitla is no Michael Crawford. I can see Andrew Lloyd Weber throwin’ the horns right now . . .