It was bound to happen – Nightwish’s recording budget increased, and the Finnish quintet added an entire orchestra to their new album, thus forging the most epic and powerful doom album to ever be released. Like giving a child everything he has ever wanted, the band have let loose their boundless creativity. The album is very similar to their previous release, Century Child, but with strings, horns and woodwinds in absolutely every nook. Oh, yes, it is absolutely over-the-top, but in a band such as this, it is fitting and magnificent.
The opening song, “Dark Chest of Wonders” begins with a pounding metal riff unlike anything else on the album – very reminiscent of “Slaying the Dreamer” or more recent In Flames. However, it doesn’t last. Soon afterwards, trademark Nightwish power-riffs kick in, infectious and energizing, bringing along with them a parading symphony that does not go unheard. The last chorus is absolutely beyond belief, with the band almost *dueling* with the symphony in a musical power struggle. “Wish I Had an Angel” is very similar to “Dead to the World”, with bassist Marko Hietala taking over the vocals in the chorus of this heavy piece. “Nemo” (released as two singles) and “Planet Hell” are Nightwish staples, accessible and tremendously melodic; the latter of which showcases the symphonic textures in a very isolated, gothic atmosphere (“Carmina Burana” is not a stretched comparison).
The album has two longer pieces, both of which are exceptional tracks. “Creek Mary’s Blood”, an 8-minute eulogy to the destruction of native Americans during the colonial period is woeful, slow and touching, building up to becoming a horn-driven hard rocker.
But it is nothing in comparison to “Ghost Love Score”, a near 10-minute concoction of tremendous melodic fireworks. The song left me speechless, and would surely have impressed Carl Orff. Everything from the chorus to the symphonic bombast to the choirs is absolutely hypnotic and energetic. The song makes any other song seem pale, ordinary and thoughtless, including the last two tracks on the album. It is that good. Sometime after the 4-minute mark, the band stops playing, and leaves the song in the hands of a passionate symphony, culminating with the band’s re-entry into the song. The choirs that aid in the choral delivery are mostly female, and absolutely majestic. The song is theatrical and truly unrivaled.
To be perfectly honest (and a bit cynical), the symphony in the album takes a little too much credit. The guitar-work on the album is far from impressive and, if the orchestra were removed, many songs would sound very similar. If it weren’t for Turunen’s voice and the orchestral onslaught, Once would be quite ordinary. Regardless, it is the symphonic album of the year, and the best of Nightwish’s career thus far. My congratulations go to keyboardist/songwriter Tuomas Holopainen and his magnum opus.
See also: Nightwish – Wishmaster, Nightwish – Century Child