Any Nightwish fan who looks at the track list for this album will instantly notice that a lot of Nightwish’s well-known and classic songs are on this album. For example Dark Chest of Wonders, Wish I Had an Angel, Nemo, Planet Hell and of course Ghost Love Score are all on Once. Looking at that list I just typed I can divide those songs into two categories; Wish I Had an Angel and Nemo are both well-known because they were successful singles whereas Dark Chest of Wonders, Planet Hell and Ghost Love Score are fan favourites and often considered classics.
Based on the singles I can see why a lot of people thought this album was Nightwish selling out or going commercial. However if you listen to the whole album it becomes apparent that Nightwish have by no means sacrificed quality for radio play. The sound of this album can be described by one word; full. The London Philharmonic Orchestra provides the bombast on this album and since they were the orchestra who did the Lord of the Rings soundtrack it’s safe to say that the orchestral arrangements on this album are breath taking. A prime example of how to use orchestra in metal is Ghost Love Score which opens with a choir over strings and a horn. The beginning of that song blows me away every time and then when Jukka’s drums come in to punctuate the choir, soon followed by some nice guitar work from Emppu the song gets even better.
The intro is so good that when Tarja comes in over the band and orchestra the first time I heard the song I actually thought that it was impossible for a song this good to exist; the vocal melody is just so beautiful. Obviously in retrospect that was taking the praise slightly too far but this song still impresses me each time I hear it. There’s then a very lovely sounding instrumental break which never gets boring thanks to the lack of any repetition. However there’s still more awesome to come! After the instrumental section Tarja comes back in with the line “Leave me be or bring me home” which sends shivers down my spine and conjures up an image of a lonely ghost trying to find its way home.
I wish I knew how Tarja manages to sound so sweet and innocent but also incredibly creepy in the next bit of the song. It helps that the lyrics are suitably sinister; “Take me, cure me, kill me, bring me home”. The song closes with more brilliant use of the orchestra and that gorgeous vocal melody courtesy of Tarja again.
I may have ended up getting a bit overexcited about that song but it’s a fantastic example of why Nightwish and this album are brilliant. Ghost Love Score could have all the vocals stripped away and it would still be an amazing piece of music. The reason for this is that Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboardist and songwriter, is a wonderful composer and this shows in their music. He knows just how to arrange a song so that it never gets boring or too repetitive.
Dark Chest of Wonders is the perfect introduction to the album, opening with a whisper of “Once I had a dream, and this is it” before breaking into a catchy, heavy guitar riff with more tasteful use of the orchestra and choir. Then Tarja comes in with the verse and we get another memorable guitar riff before it breaks into the epic chorus which features some nice fantasy lyrics; “Fly to a dream, far across the sea/All the burdens gone, open the chest once more/Dark chest of wonders seen through the eyes of the one with pure heart/Once so long ago”.
I imagine most people reading a Nightwish review have heard Wish I Had an Angel and Nemo so I won’t spend long on them. Wish I Had an Angel is a catchy song which sounds like a mix of Nightwish and dance music. To me this is not a bad thing and although I can see why some people might dislike this song I actually really like it, especially the combination of Marco and Tarja’s vocals on the chorus. Nemo is a top notch power ballad with one of the simplest but most moving piano melodies I’ve ever heard. Tarja’s singing is spot on in this track and to me it’s a toss up between this and Ever Dream for best Nightwish power ballad.
There are two other songs I want to talk about and these are Planet Hell and Creek Mary’s Blood. Planet Hell is one of Nightwish’s heavier songs. It starts with a pounding drum beat with a choir chanting over it before all hell breaks loose with a sweet guitar riff. Marco handles the first verse aggressively and powerfully, Tarja takes the second verse in a suitably sinister manner, Marco and Tarja each deliver another verse and then we get to the best part. The chorus. This is one of the catchiest, angriest choruses Nightwish have ever written in my opinion. The way Tarja and Marco both handle the first two lines followed by a solo line from Tarja makes for an excellent contrast. This song also has some very good lyrics such as “Save yourself a penny for the ferryman/Save yourself and let them suffer”.
Creek Mary’s Blood is the other lengthy song on the album, clocking in at just over eight and a half minutes, but it’s worth every second. They got a Native American musician, John Two-Hawks, in to contribute Native American instrumentation to this song and boy does it work. He was a fitting choice of guest musician since the song is about the Native Americans being kicked off their land. It’s a very emotional song with a memorable chorus and a beautiful guitar solo. It also has a John Two-Hawks reading a poem in the Native American language at the end which acts as a nice end to the song.
Other tracks which get honourable mentions would be Siren, Dead Gardens Romanticide, Kuolema Tekee Taiteillijan and Higher Than Hope. Siren sounds different in a good way with some interesting vocalisation from Tarja and a nice chorus sung entirely by Marco. Dead Gardens is a heavier song with some nice keyboards at the start and good guitar work, a hidden gem. The lyrics are about writer’s block I believe. Romanticide is a live favourite. It’s probably the heaviest song on the album with the instrumentation bordering on thrash metal at times, however the ever melodic vocals of Tarja make for a good song with a catchy pre-chorus and of course an epic actual chorus too. Kuolema Tekee Taiteillijan is a beautiful ballad sung completely in Finnish which sounds different but very good. Higher Than Hope is the album closer and it does well to round off an amazing album in a relaxing way with yet another catchy chorus provided by Marco.
In conclusion this is an incredible album and any fan of metal or classical music should give this album a try because it’s a masterpiece. My only criticism is the track order, I think that Ghost Love Score should be placed last because anything else seems weak and unmemorable after it so the two songs after it seen worse then they are if the album is listened too in the original order. However this is a small gripe given it’s easy to play the tracks in any order. Why am I still typing? I should be listening to Ghost Love Score. Just go buy the album!