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NIGHTWISH ‘Once’ Nuclear Blast (2004)

I remember back in 2001 when Nightwish keyboardist/songwriter Tuomas Holopanien was a guest at my house, we were talking about music and what influenced him most. To my surprise, it was film soundtrack score's, specially from the like of Hans Zimmer (Crimson Tide, the Rock and many others) and not too much in the way of heavy music.

So it comes as no surprise that, 'Once', Nightwish's 5th full studio album, that Nightwish have released their very own 'soundtrack'. Taking up where the previous album, 'Century Child' left off, 'Once' is a an album of epic proportions featuring a full blown orchestra and choir throughout. While 'Century Child' featured a mere 5 songs that boasted the orchestra/choir, this time Tuomas and crew pull out all the stops with the most magnificent symphonic metal album I have ever heard.

Opener, 'Dark Chest Of Wonders' kicks off things, with a heavy riff that explodes into a raging battle guitar/orchestra battle that ends in a dead heat. Tarj's voice sounds majestic, never out of control and a sweet as it ever sounded. Danceable techno heavy metal song is not what you'd normally expect from Nightwish. But 'Wish I Had An Angel' is just that ! Already slated to appear in the new Christian Slater movie, 'Alone In The Dark'. Heavy dark and brooding. An ideal choice for the album's 2nd single.

1st single 'Nemo' is Nightwish at their best. A short compact song, with massive chorus backed by some huge orchestration. Bassist Marco Hietala steps up to the microphone to add venom to the ultra heavy, 'Planet hell'.

If 'Once' has a piece-de-resistance then it surely is 'Creek Mary's Blood', which is perhaps Nightwish's most stunning composition to date. Featuring native american, Mr John Two-Hawks. the opening chanting is captivating the listener to epic journey that is almost over before its began. Its not just this song, but mid way through when the huge symphonic sounds kick in, I am compelled to wave my arms around, like I am conducting the orchestra myself.

'Dead Gardens' leads the charge of the second half of the album, almost more metal and simplistic in style, yet heavy, featuring some weird violins in a pompous middle section, along with some sublime ethnic chanting.

As much as 'Once' is Nightwish's most symphonic album, standing equally alongside the massive orchestra, the album is also the bands heaviest to date. the mix of guitars against the orchestra is perfect. Something other bands like Stratovarius, Therion and even Metallica have tried, but never quite managed to achieve the perfect balance, that is evidenced here.

The latter half of the album stands as strong as the first, 'Romanticide' is a blast from the Nightwish past, sounding like something that might have been on 'Oceanborn'.

'Ghost Love Score' is the album's second epic song. Featuring a massive coral chorus sung by thousands with Tarja taking lead.

Following the Finnish language song on their debut album, 'Angels Fall First', 'Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan', is a nother fine song, the language dosen't matter. A beautiful song in any language.

Simply this album is stunning, the hairs in my very hairy back have been standing on end while reviewing this album. The album is not immediate at all. There are many layers to un peel here, before you get to the soul of the album. Tuomas Holopanien is a genius, he has taken his art to the next level. Not only his songwriting, but the orchestral parts of a standard that would make Hans Zimmer green with envy. In fact they alone could be a soundtrack, if you take away the bass, guitars and drums, it is a soundtrack and a damned fine one at that. I would hazard a guess that when Tuomas is done with Nightwish, he would have no problems diving head first into writing soundtracks and being very successful at that.

Can Nightwish follow this album ?

I guess they can, but in the meantime, how about and orchestral version of 'Once' ? Album of the year ? No, decade ? No. Simply an album that is an experience and something that may never be bettered.

By the end of the final song, 'Higher Than Hope' I have tears slowly trickling down my face, tears of joy no less.

Related>> DVD review

Related>> Interview


Review by Graham Boyle

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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