Nightwish – Once Review

Roadrunner Records

Though Nightwish’s latest offering, “Once,” has been available for months overseas, it is finally seeing release stateside via Roadrunner Records.

The follow-up to the band’s successful 2002 release “Century Child,” is already a hit in Europe — “Once” has been certified platinum in Germany (sales in excess of 200,000 copies) and double-platinum in the group’s native Finland (sales in excess of 60,000). The group’s latest single off “Once,” “Wish I Had an Angel,” entered the Finnish charts at number one, and the group headlining hometown performance at the Helsinki Icehall sold out in one day (all 6,000 tickets).

Not bad for a little band out of Finland.

But, can the success translate into the American market?

The band was snatched up by Roadrunner Records, no doubt, due in part to the wildly successful Lacuna Coil (on Century Media). Though some may argue, the success of Lacuna Coil was probably due to the success of Evanescence last year (it should be pointed out, Lacuna Coil and Nightwish each have a solid catalogue and had been making music for years prior to Evanescence’s inception). Times are good for rock/metal outfits headed by female singers.

But, while Evanesence is readily accessible to fans of rock and pop, and Lacuna Coil can be enjoyed by fans of metal and rock, Nightwish is a little harder to place. The band fuses a solid offering of European metal (read: heavily orchestrated, elaborate, epic in scope and usually catchy) fused with orchestral vocals courtesy of frontwoman Tarja Turunen (who is trained in classical singing).

The group is rounded out by Tuomas Holopainen (who wrote all the songs on the album) on keys and piano, drummer Jukka Nevalainen, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and bassist Marco Hietala (who also trades vocals on some of the tracks with Turunen a la Lacuna Coil).

The vocals range from straightforward singing to operatic offering. When Turunen’s voice is more muted there is a definite “accent” to the sound (usually it’s rare to notice something like that when musicians sing in English). Hietala’s offerings, while few, do nicely offset Turunen’s sometimes overblown vocals.

The songs have a hint of metal to them, but the band overall sounds more like a soundtrack to a medieval novel.

Most of the tracks on “Once” are tight, metal offerings with a twist. There are a few exceptions: the lengthy “Creek Mary’s Blood” (clocking in just under nine minutes), the epic “Ghost Love Score” (nearly 10 minutes in length) and the haunting “Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan” (translated roughly to “a death creates an artist”) sung in the band’s native language. Listening to “Ghost Love Score” feels like watching something like “Lord of the Rings,” there’s an air of medieval magic to the song. Heavily orchestrated, the song flies by and hardly sounds as long as it is.

“Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan” sounds like something taken out of a Broadway musical or movie soundtrack — very different for a metal band to be offering up.

“White Night Fantasy” and “Live to Tell the Tale” are bonus tracks for the U.S. release of “Once.” The disc also features the video for “Wish I Had an Angel.” Turunen recently spent time in Finland recording two traditional Finnish Christmas songs for her first-ever solo CD single, due in Finland in December, so I’m not sure how much longer the singer plans to stay with Nightwish.

So, who would have thought there was a way to mesh metal and opera? Normally such an undertaking would fall flat, but Nightwish pull it off nicely. It may not be album of the year, but “Once” is worth the purchase.