Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hearken to the Sound of Calling

Nightwish – Once

Here's one for the 'things that should be terrible but actually turn out to be awesome' file: Rammstein meets Evanescence. My previous expeditions into the realm of power metal had soured me on the concept, but Nightwish have convinced me that I've done it a disservice.

So this is the idea, take one metal band (with keyboards), add orchestral backing and get a hot chick to sing opera style over the top. (Don't fret if you have an aversion to high pitched warbling, we're talking opera as in Andrew Lloyd Webber here, not Wagner.) It sounds like a recipe for disaster but Nightwish are a testament to the fact that if you're a competent, original songwriter you can make even the most unlikely concept work.

The songs on Once span a fairly diverse range within this setup, beginning with straight up stompy metal anthems that could be written by Rammstein (save for the inclusion of female vocals) and ending with ballads that focus more on the voice and classical elements. Along the way they investigate a variety of musical styles and variations to the side of that path, giving them room to showcase each of the diverse elements that make up their music, from bombastic metal guitar solos and quirky, original pop metal keyboard instrumentals to sad, haunting passages for voice and strings and escapades into different ethnic styles.

I can't help but compare these guys to Dragonforce, up until now my touchstone for all things power metal. While Nightwish's lyrics are rarely explicitly fantastical they do have that kind of a feeling about them, but where Dragonforce come across as embarrassingly juvenile these guys are at least sophisticated enough writers to keep things ambiguous and yes it's still cheesy but at least it's heartfelt, a quality which extends to the music. And that makes a big difference.

The most overtly fantastical Nightwish get on this album is in 'The Siren', which is inspired by The Odyssey, (if it's classical then it's classy!) and it's probably my favourite track on Once. Vocalist Tarja Turunen's (since kicked out of the band for being a primadonna) wordless aria is as beautifully haunting as befits the titular mythological beast. Meanwhile the bass player, Marco Hietala, complements her nicely as he sings Odysseus' part, heartbroken as he realises that he will never see the source of the song calling him. The band complement them with hard, driving metal during the verses and understated ambience during the interludes. It's good stuff, I defy anyone to write it off as being cheesy.

If you get this album make sure it's the bonus track version. I normally dislike it when record companies disrupt the flow of an album with bonus tracks but 'White Night Fantasy' and 'Live to Tell the Tale' are pretty good songs and fit well at the end of the album.

Nightwish are so awesome that they get two embedded videos. Here's their video for 'Nemo':

And here's 'The Siren' from their live DVD:

Fuck it. Lets make it three. Here's them covering Pink Floyd's 'High Hopes'.

No comments: