Once

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Nightwish / 2004-10-05

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You may not know Nightwish yet, but the Finnish goth-orchestral-metal band is a phenomenon throughout the rest of the world. The group's fifth album, the platinum-certified Once, hit #1 over the summer on the Pan-European charts, and stayed there for three weeks. Behind them? The Beastie Boys, Avril Lavigne, Norah Jones and Usher, among others. So who or what is this band? On first listen, Nightwish seems to fall into the same genre as Evanescence, Lacuna Coil and the Gathering--female-fronted metal band with symphonic and gothic overtones. But any similarities end there. First of all, singer Tarja Turunen may be the only trained opera singer in metal, and her vocal prowess and range prove it. Then there's the rest of the group, led by keyboardist and primary songwriter Tuomas Holopainen. Listen closely, and you'll hear a group that's equally influenced by opera, classical music, Euro-metal, early thrash and even Kate Bush.

</p>Nightwish formed as, of all things, an acoustic-based band in Kitee, Finland in 1997, though they quickly switched to a hard rock sound. Within a year the group had released its debut album, Angels Fall Fast, which featured the first hit single, "The Carpenter." Their second release, Oceanborn, landed in the Top Five in Finland, and featured three hit singles. By the time Wishmaster came out in 2000, Nightwish was a top concert draw and one of the most critically acclaimed metal bands in all of Europe. Thanks to the on-going buzz, the group was also able to land U.S. distribution for the first time. Nightwish's 4th studio effort came in the form of Century Child, which was the product of one of the most tumultuous periods in the band's career. It marked the grand entrance of Marco Hietala, a metal icon in his own right in his homeland. With Hietala's dual contribution to the band (bass and backing vocals), they were able to put forth some of their darkest, most aggressive material ever.

</p>But Once is Nightwish's breakthrough, both in its epic scope and brilliant songwriting. Disgruntled Metallica fans may find a new axe-god in Emppu Vuorinen, who has quickly become one of the most brutal (and tech-savvy) guitarists in metal. Behind him is a seamless blend of top-notch musicianship and orchestral bombardment (much of which is provided by The Academy of St. Martins in the Field, who scored the Lord of the Rings trilogy). The chart-topping single "Nemo" is a monster, building slowly from a simple piano line and molten guitar riff into an over-the-top, orchestral breakdown. Thanks to Turunen's vocals, the song also possesses a haunted quality that modern-day metal often fails to achieve.

</p>Forget formula--the band doesn't have one. Subtle electronic beats color "Wish I Had an Angel," while tribal drums shape the eight-plus minute "Creek Mary's Blood." There's the aptly titled "Ghost Love Score," which sounds like a great, lost Danny Elfman soundtrack. Then, on the other side, is the rough-and-tumble "Romanticide," a violent kiss-off that ends with bassist / back-up singer Hietala scowling "Spit on me, let go, get rid of me / And try to survive your stupidity" over one of the most headbanging riffs of the last five years.

</p>So, are you ready for Nightwish?

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