When Nightwish released "Angels Fall First" back in 1997, not many outside of Finland paid much attention, but things slowly started to pick up with their second album "Oceanborn", which opened a lot of doors for Nightwish, especially in Germany, where they slowly gained a huge fan-base. Since then they have released 2 regular albums "Wishmaster" in 2000 and "Century Child" in 2003, both being very successful, and Nightwish is now considered by many to be one of the biggest metal acts around.
Nightwish have never been afraid of incorporating new ideas, and just take a listen to the opening riff of "Dark Chest Of Wonders", it's not only harder, but also a few notches lower than we are used to from them. But don't worry the song transforms into a normal Nightwish metal song with Tarja's excellent voice all over the place. Next up is perhabs the most unusual song Nightwish has ever written: "Wish I Had An Angel", that sounds like a 80's pop-song in structure, a hard beat drives the track, and we hear Marco for the first time in a prominent role as singer in the chorus - excellent stuff. Next in line is the first single off the album: "Nemo", which is straight forward rocker with a short piano intro before the hard and heavy riff starts, most of the songs is carried by Tarja's wonderful voice and has a nice guitar-solo by Emppu.
After 3 very different songs we continue the journey with "Planet Hell", a fast and furious song, that incorporate some very nice classical orchestration. "Creek Mary's Blood" starts with an Indian chant, before the song starts with an acoustical part with guitars, violins and Tarja - leading up to a harder middlepart with a nice flute solo by John Two-Hawks (a Native American from the Lokota tribe), who ends the song reciting a poem written by Toumas in his Native language. With "The Siren" we go a totally different direction, now we move onto more Oriental grounds, they are even using a sitar. The Oriental feeling comtinues throughout the entire song and makes a nice difference.
"Dead Gardens" is without a doubt the hardest and heaviest song on the album, that after a short keyboard intro just rocks your socks off, a nice and heavy song, that ends in an all-out thrash attack. "Romanticide" could easily have been on any of their previously albums, a straight forward Nightwish song (if such a thing exists?), with a hard chorus, a strong guitar riff that carries the song, a very good guitar solo in the middle, before the song changes pace and turns into a fast rocker. "Ghost Love Story" is this albums 10-minutes epic track, that has all of Nightwish's trademarks and can only be described as another one of Tuomas' masterpieces - with huge choruses and excellent singing from Tarja. This song is a perfect blend between a classical instrumentation and a metal song.
"Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan" is a very nice ballad sung entirely in Finnish, and once more they manage to pull off a thing that no one would have thought possible - a song in Finnish on a metal album! We continue in the mellow mood with the last song on the album: "Higher Than Hope" a typical semi-ballad, like we know and love from this awesome band. Once more Tarja is the focal point of this song and she manage to pull off one more brilliant performance to finish off this excellent album!
So is this album as brillant as "Oceanborn" (my favorite Nightwish album) - yes, is there room for improvement - not much. Can they ever top this album - maybe, I am not sure, because they haven't made things easy on them selves, by setting the bar so high ...
Everything is just about perfect on this album, all the songs are excellent produced and played, Tarja has pulled off her best performance ever, Marco's vocal contribution fits the songs perfectly and I am pretty confident that this album will take them to even higher levels.
Is this the album of the Year? In my book it is - I will be very surprised if any album surpasses this excellent album!
Recommended tracks: ALL OF THEM!