Retrospective Review: Nightwish - Once

If you go onto the Wikipedia page for "heavy metal music, you'll find that one of the very first sections of the page discusses the links between metal and classical music and how many guitar players in the hard rock/heavy metal scene, such as Ritchie Blackmore, took influence from classical music when learning how to compose. You'll also find a quote from Kurt Bachmann of American thrash-metal band Believer, who once said that "if done correctly, metal and classical fit quite well together."

It was only a matter of time then, that one day a band would fuse the two together to create a blend. Sure, neoclassical metal became a thing, but that was more to do with the highly technical style of guitar playing present in that music. In terms of fusing the instrumentations of each genre together, Celtic Frost first used symphonic elements on their 1987 album Into The Pandemonium, but the true fusion came in the 1990s, first on Believer's song 'Dies Arae', and then later with bands such as Therion and Within Temptation.

But there can be no doubt that one band stands tall above the rest in symphonic metal: Nightwish. The Finnish band, who released their first record in 1997, have gone from strength to strength as the years have gone by, and despite a number of line-up changes (mostly at the front), their popularity has only continued to grow. They're not perfect; we reviewed their latest album and found it to be surprisingly lacklustre. But no band is, and that doesn't stop them from being the kings of this niche subgenre.

There were a number of albums on the table for this review. Imaginaerum was brilliant, as was Endless Forms Most Beautiful (particularly the gargantuan and jaw-dropping epic 'The Greatest Show on Earth'), but truthfully, only one album stood out: 2004's Once. The last with their original singer, the operatic Tarja Turunen, it stands as the last album of their original style, before a change in singer to Annette Olzon took them down a slightly different path.

Make no mistake: Once is special. With songs such as 'The Siren', 'Creek Mary's Blood' and 'Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan', half of it sounds like it comes straight out of a fairy-tale, or out of an old Disney movie like Peter Pan. These are the songs that focus slightly more on the symphonies, the melodies, rather than the metal side of things. Those who do prefer their guitars shouldn't fret, however, as they'll be more than satisfied by the powerhouses of 'Dark Chest of Wonders' and 'Romanticide'.

This album is full of fan favourites. 'Wish I Had an Angel' is one of Nightwish's most enduring songs, and despite their relative success up until that point, it was this album's lead single 'Nemo' which truly put Nightwish on the map. 'Nemo', which writer Tuomas Holopainen really wants you to know isn't about the famous Pixar film, is no doubt the most mainstream song on the record, but it still has all the hallmarks of a great Nightwish song: beautiful and powerful symphonies, heavy guitars, and heavenly vocal work. It's a quintessential song in their catalogue, and has barely left their setlists since, having been played over 500 times.

Still, it's not the record's highlight. That is reserved for one song that is utterly, utterly spectacular in a way that almost no other song is. It is this writer's favourite or second-favourite song (constantly fluctuating with Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain'), and it's called 'Ghost Love Score'. A massive ten-minute opus full of lavish operas, huge symphonies, wonderful melodies and magnificent instrumentation, it literally cannot be put into words how truly unbelievable this song is. It is stunning, mesmerising, absolutely everything about it is an 11/10. A powerful and emotional journey, at 10 minutes it still somehow seems almost too short, but any longer would have risked it becoming a slog, so even its length is measured to perfection.

The best bit of it can be found just after 5:30, when a quiet bit of nothing but the London Philharmonic Orchestra makes way for a crashing reintroduction of speed and intensity in the best way possible. The whole thing is simply magical, a gigantic, Avengers: Endgame-sized song that leaves you breathless in every way at the end. 'Ghost Love Score' is simply incredible deserves fame beyond Nightwish and metal fans - it deserves plaudits from everyone across the musical world and the fact that it hasn't gotten more recognition since its release in 2004 should be a federal crime. Majestic. Once is a fantastic record all the way through and songs like 'Ghost Love Score' are truly rare, which makes this album a must for lovers of Nightwish, of metal and of music. Classical music and metal music were always bound to go together and so far, this is the pinnacle of that marriage. Very few bands have even come close, with only Nightwish's own 'The Greatest Show on Earth' having a chance of eclipsing 'Ghost Love Score' as the greatest symphonic metal song ever composed. In releasing this album, Nightwish gave no-one else a chance - not even themselves. Listen to it, right now.



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