Nightwish - Once

Source: Metal Express Radio

by: FRODE JOHNSRUD

Finland has their Nokia and they have their Finlandia, but apart from those products, Nightwish must be their biggest export article these days ... and a listen to their new and fifth studio effort, Once, leaves no wonder why... although you might be inclined to ask yourself a few questions once you start out with it. Probably the most anticipated release of 2004, the boys (and the girl) refuse to go commercial and kiss everyone's asses. In refusing to do so, they sure don't make it easy - neither for themselves nor for the fans.

Once sees Nightwish expand their sound to the fullest and richest so far. This CD is somehow a logical step for the band (because there is indeed no intention to "sell out" although Once will sell massively), and can easily be described as "more of everything." But, that's just half the truth, because "more of everything" will make you believe that the "White Russian (vodka, coffee liqueur and milk) promoters" have stranded themselves in their own formula. Yes, you can recognize Nightwish once you pop in Once, but this sounds like no other Nightwish record. There's more bombast, there's more orchestration, and there are more guitars as composer Toumas Holopainen obviously wrote more with six strings this time around. There are bigger choirs, and while Rhapsody is in the studio creating their new genre, "Film Score Metal" (and I don't doubt that they have a masterpiece coming...), I am very tempted to say that Nightwish has won by a horseneck, and has already turned to "Film Score Metal" when I hear "Ghost Love Score."

The opener, "Dark Chest Of Wonders," is for sure one of the best songs you'll hear this year; guitars in your face, a huge cosmic sound topped by orchestration and backed by a moving rhythm, and Tarja Turunen enters with a crystal-clear, but somehow fragile, voice that fits and works well for Nightwish. The middle part is thrashy and heavy, and the chorus is pure brilliance. I repeat: pure fucking brilliance!

Next is "Wish I Had An Angel," with a slight techno beat to start, along with more crunchy guitars. Tarja sings the verse, while Marco Hietala breaks rather brutally into choirs - at least brutally compared to the angelic Turunen. This song is indeed a hit, and is believed to be the next single off Once.

The first single however, is "Nemo," the cartoonish chart-climber most of you have heard by now. "Nemo" IS already a hit, with its beautiful piano part, heavy and crunchy guitars (again), bottomed by a bass sound fatter than the Nutty Professor. Tarja's "Oh how I wish..." combined with Toumas' keyboards set you in a dream mode, likely a needed mode in today's world, and the song has a beautiful orchestration part, and a nice and melodic guitar solo by Emppu Vuorinen. Sometimes less is more, and a simple guitar solo sticking to the melody can be just as good - if not better - than the one with lots of showing off. And Emppu flavors the song with just the kind of solo "Nemo" needs.

"Planet Hell," a very bombastic number, shows more of the beauty vs. beast concept, as Marco and Tarja duet the verse, while they both sing the chorus together. Again, hearing Toumas' synth work, there's a cosmic feel to it all.

Now those were the first four tracks on Once, possibly the most "in-ear" songs, though the melody structures demand that you work a little with the CD. You see, from here on, Nightwish becomes even more challenging, and if you dare to say that the band repeats itself, you must be deaf, dumb, or blind - or all of the above. "Creek Mary's Blood" has Native American influences, as none other than the multitalented John Two-Hawks -- a singer, flutist, drummer, guitarist, you name it ... he does it -- was flown in from the Arkansas mountains to Helsinki to perform. He talks Indian (I bet he plays the flute and acoustic drums) and gives a tribe-like feel to one of Nightwish's most ambitious songs to date. The rest of the song, vocally performed by Tarja, is simply a stunning ballad in true Nightwish tradition. Melody-wise, something that could have been featured on the last album, Century Child (how about putting the medicine man on your tour bus in the US?).

"Siren," a true description of Tarja (if you know the legend), is a piece with lots of orchestration. Once has 11 tracks, and if these tracks were balloons in the air, this is one I'm unable to catch and bring down. It's still a little "up there" and drifting, though it has an aura of beauty because of Tarja's singing. Maybe it demands a lot from the listener, or maybe I am demanding too much from the band, but this is one of the songs I have a hard time remembering after playing the CD.

"Dead Gardens" is a rockier composition, and its guitars and attitude kind of set you in the mode for a Marco vocal attack, but it is Tarja who breaks in with a very mellow voice, perhaps more fragile than ever. A little weird, I think, and though there are a few very good vocal lines, this song is another reason why Once doesn't get a full score (and isn't, in my always very humble opinion, Nightwish's best CD this far). The song ends with Emppu going a little nuts, and then fades out ...

A little strange, but "Romanticide" simply follows right from the point were "Dead Gardens" fades out. It has the same guitar sound and vibe, and since Emppu just overdosed on riffing, the opening of "Romanticide" gets a little dull and annoying. The rest of the song, though, is an up. Tarja sings a little stronger (always strong performing-wise, but I don't think it is right to call her singing "powerful" as that term in a way means "with aggression"), and the song has a very operatic approach. Halfway through, the whole track changes radically, much like "Slaying The Dreamer," and Marco and the boys thrash out the last part (thrash, as in "Thrash Metal").

So far, I have raved about the five first songs, but I took a step back for the next three. "Ghost Love Score," a very soundtrack sounding number (like I mentioned), the ten minute epic track of the CD, is again very, very impressive. It shows every beauty aspect of Nightwish; the angelic and operatic singing, the guitar work, the massive choruses, the dramatic and bombastic parts, and the huge orchestration. This is a composition like no other, something only Nightwish (Mister Holopainen) is capable of delivering. I'll have a White Russian to this one!

"Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan" (no, my keyboard is not infected by a virus), sees Tarja sing in her native language - a mellow piece with a huge string arrangement. Not as diverse and rich as the other epic tracks on Once, and this one needs to be received with an open mind. If not, it will cause your mind to be opened anyway ...

Last is "Higher Than Hope," a song that begins nicely with an acoustic guitar before Tarja and the orchestra enter the picture. The choruses are perhaps the biggest on Once; well at least Tarja does her best effort to make them sound huge. Again, you will hear those beautiful vocal lines, and there is, by the way, a speech by a friend of the band, who recently lost the battle against cancer.

Though a little hard to get into at first, you will see this CD run up the charts like Sonic the Hedgehog. Hats off for screwing commercialism, hats off for challenging the youngsters to listen to richer and more orchestrated Metal music ... and hats off for teaching people how milk can best can be enjoyed (sorry for the sidetracking).

2004 belongs to Nightwish - like it or not. To quote a Finnish interview-shy blonde bass player (no, not Marco) -- when asked about his new record, intuitively replied: "I like it!"


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