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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Nightwish

Once

Review by Scott Prinzing

Every once in awhile, I discover a great new band, but recently, I’ve discovered several bands that have been around for a decade or more that leave me mystified as to how I missed them all this time.  Nightwish is one such band.  Perhaps Finland’s greatest musical export since Hanoi Rocks (or ever?), they are prog with symphonic and metal ingredients at the finest levels.  I’ve always maintained that heavy metal owes as much to Western classical traditions as it does to the blues and the prog recipe cooked up by Nightwish drives the point home with this album of heavy riffs and a real live symphony orchestra and chorale.  Every member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra is listed by section, as are the chorus members.  The strength of this album led me to seek out all of Nightwish’s six other releases.  They should keep me busy until the next album, due in 2015.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Dark Chest of Wonders
“Once I had a dream / And this is it,” spoken sweetly and softly by the strikingly beautiful Tarja Turunen, opens this joining of tight thrash riffage and majestic choral accents.  Powerful stuff; I think I was sold on Nightwish before this first track was over.
Wish I Had an Angel
Kicking off with a big chorus of mixed male and female voices, this song is, not surprisingly, the chosen single (accompanying video included on the CD!).  The only hint that English isn’t their native tongue comes when bassist Marco Hietala can’t quite pronounce the “V” in “Your Virgin Mary undone.”  The male/female trade-offs brings to mind Evanesence’s “Bring Me to Life,” but this is far superior.
Nemo
This would have been my choice for a single as it lodges itself in my ears for days after each listen.  Apparently, an edited version was released, but the video isn’t included on this disc.  Based around a lovely piano hook and Turunen’s ethereal vocals, it is one of at least three songs in the set that use the word, “once,” more than…once; no doubt influencing the album’s title: “Once and for all / And all for once /  Nemo is my name forevermore.”
Planet Hell
Chorale and orchestra set the scene for this grand opus.  Hietala sings the opening stanza before turning things over to Turunen a bit. They alternate before being joined by the chorale.  Lyrically, it speaks of the struggles and turmoil on Earth: “Welcome to hell, little Saint / Mother Gaia in slaughter / Welcome to paradise, soldier.”
Creek Mary’s Blood
Perhaps the musical centerpiece on this album is a personal favorite due to my undergraduate degree in American Indian Studies and my Dakota language study.  A perfect blend of metal, orchestra, Native American flute, and Lakota spoken word, this song is a grandiose opus that succeeds on all levels.  Chanting, oration and flutes are all performed by John Two-Hawks.  “Where we have lived since the world began / Since time itself gave us this land.”
The Siren
An ode to the Sirens of Homer’s The Odyssey, this is the one song co-written by guitarist Emppu Vuorinen.  It has a middle-Eastern feel at times; a brilliant piece of symphonic metal.  Guests include Martin Loveday on solo cello, Sonia Slaney on electric violin and Sami Yli-Sirnio on sitar.  “A lady with a violin playing to the seals / Hearken to the sound of calling.”
Dead Garden
Beginning with one of the heaviest riffs on the album, it is surprising that keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen writes all but three songs alone; and all the lyrics.
Romanticide
With a title worthy of a screamo band, it is a prog metal heartbreaker.  Pounding double-bass drum-fueled riffage counters Turunen’s lovely harmonies.  Co-written by bassist Hietala, it has a fiery lead guitar solo to boot.  Hietala’s devilish vocals sear: “I need a near-death experience!”
Ghost Love Score
This song boasts the most symphonic treatment of all the tracks on the disc, hence the term “score” in the title/ It is truly a masterwork.
Kuolema Tekee Taiteitjan
In a very cool nod to their homeland, this sung is sung entirely in Finnish.  I won’t quote the lyrics, just say that the gorgeous melody makes the unfamiliar language sound delicious.
Higher than Hope
Starting with beautiful classical guitar, the evocative melody sung by Turunen oozes sweetness before the regal chorus erupts with bombastic triumph.  There is male spoken word in a place or two.
White Night Fantasy

The first of two bonus tracks, his enchanting song features a winter theme and a classical guitar solo.

Live to Tell the Tale
Here is another fine song that is as strong as anything else on the album.  “None of you understand / And it doesn’t matter / To a broken marionette like me.”
 
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