Originally released in 1997, Angels Fall First was the debut release from Finland’s Nightwish. The album came at a time when European artists were radically changing the heavy metal landscape. Bands like Stratovarius and Conception were redefining the idea of progressive metal, the Gothenburg scene revolutionized the death metal genre, and bands like Blind Guardian and Rhapsody were changing the face of power metal. In this same manner Nightwish came along and essentially offered up an entirely new kind of heavy metal.
Keyboardist/songwriter Tuomas Holopainen merged elements of traditional heavy metal with orchestral arrangements (initially via keyboard and later with an actual orchestra), and operatic female vocals courtesy of classically-trained Tarja Turunin. The result was an album that was classy and melodic yet still retained a measure of the aggression and power that is so characteristic of heavy metal. Tarja’s powerful and emotional vocal performance is what immediately stands out, though the symphonic elements and captivating songwriting reinforce the music’s overall presence.
Today, symphonic metal bands with female vocalists are literally a dime a dozen, but the whole scene started with this album. Overall, Angels Fall First is probably the weakest of the “Tarja Era” Nightwish albums, but it’s better than most of its imitators and will always stand out as a milestone for the genre. The fact that Nightwish would continue to improve significantly with each release that followed shows just how incredible this band was in their prime.
NOTE: The 2008 reissue of Angels Fall First features digitally remastered sound, expanded liner notes, and a handful of bonus tracks. The bonus tracks are Return to the Sea (originally from an import version of Angels Fall First) and demo versions of Nightwish, Forever Moments, and Etiainen. Another key difference between this reissue and the original version of Angels Fall First is that each part of the epic song Lappi (Lapland) is broken down here as a separate track. Between the improved sound, bonus tracks, and the new info and band photos, I didn’t think twice about replacing my old copy of Angels Fall First with this classy reissue.