Nightwish's fifth studio album "Once" was released in 2004. This album was one of the biggest steps for the band and a lot of people took notice at this. The band was more popular than ever and many people had mixed reactions towards this release due to the change in sound and direction this album has led them too. Commercially, it would be the most successful album to date for the band, hitting the charts in multiple countries (including the U.S. Heatseekers charts) for the first time and selling 1.2 million copies worldwide. So this would mean that Nightwish was starting to finally make a mark into the mainstream.
On "Once", there were a lot of changes to the sound and feel for Nightwish. One of the biggest changes is their use of Pip William's London Philharmonic Orchestra (Lord of the Rings) into their music. This was utilized on nine of the thirteen tracks on Once, making it a definite symphonic metal experience. Another experimentation the band would use is the use of some industrial metal sounds used in songs like "Wish I Had An Angel" or "Dead Gardens" for example. This kind of an experiment of course would receive mixed reactions from their fans as it would stray away from their original sound, but never lose that distinctive Nightwish sound. Tarja's voice would be less operatic than on "Century Child" as well. Of course, she still sounds very distinct and apart in her voice from anyone else in the scene.
As many new and exciting things as this album has, it has many flaws to go with it. One of the biggest problems with "Once" is the overproduction. For the first time in the band's history, Nightwish sounds too polished and overproduced. Everything sounds good though and I am not really complaining about that, but I think it is missing it's raw edge the previous albums really had. For example, Emppu's guitar sounds too synthetic, Jukka's drumming sounds more in the background and doesn't have the same presence, and the orchestra can get too overpowering at times and it can really drown out Tuomas at the keyboard.
Another thing that is noticeable about this album is the the lack of hearing the actual band perform. There are so many guest musicians on this release that we do not really hear the band performing as much as before. For example, Emppu has much less influence and staying power on this album. He has less solos and more generic guitar work that is mainly used for backing. Tuomas' keyboard work is hardly existent because the orchestra has taken so much of that away from him (although in "Planet Hell", he does have a lot of keyboard work here).
But despite these setbacks, the album has a lot to offer and a lot of good stuff that is both memorable and full of quality. This is a different Nightwish with a new sound. So now here is my song by song review:
1. "Dark Chest of Wonders": The album starts out very strong with this explosive and powerful song. The orchestra works very well here and this is what we should expect if Nightwish was to change their direction for the better. A very catchy and memorable chorus, great lyrics, and an overall fun symphonic juggernaut that will leave you breathless! A great track to start the album. 5/5
2. "Wish I Had An Angel": This is one of Nightwish's most commerically successful songs. While a big hit in the mainstream market, I personally find this song very overrated and mediocre. It isn't a bad song really, but it isn't something I would listen to all the time either. For one thing, the main beat sounds too industrial and fake which is something I am not used to hearing from Nightwish. I will admit, it is a fun song to listen to at a bar or something, but it really is not what I would call a masterpiece though. 3/5
3. "Nemo": This is probably the most commerically successful Nightwish song to date. A very subtle mid-tempo song that has a very catchy melody to it and makes use of the piano very well. I also think this song is overrated too. Better than "Wish I Had An Angel", but knowing what this band is capable of, this isn't even close to their best track. 3.5/5
4. "Planet Hell": Now THIS rocks! My personal favorite song on the album. The intro is extremely epic and powerful with Jukka's drumming along with the orchestra. The song is very bombastic and intense which shows what Nightwish is all about. Marco and Tarja really showcase their skills very well here and there really is never a dull moment on this track! 5/5
5. "Creek Mary's Blood": A ballad about Native Americans and the Trail of Tears. A very sad and emotional song which is something that is captured here in this song. John Two-Hawks is the guest musician here and he really makes his presence felt! A very good song indeed and a great tribute to the Native Americans. 4.5/5
6. "The Siren": A very hypnotic song with Tarja pulling off some unique work with her voice. Marco also does a great job singing in the chorus to give it depth here too. This song has a mysteriousness to it that cannot be matched. 4.5/5
7. "Dead Gardens": This one is a filler track and doesn't do a whole lot for me. Just a boring mid-tempo song with nothing to brag about. 2.5/5
8. "Romanticide": A nice riff that introduces the song and is led to the angriest song on the album. Tarja's performance is nice here and the guitar solo (though rare on this album) is outstanding. Marco really sounds incredible at the end. Though not as strong as "Slaying the Dreamer", it still has that edge and anger to it. 4.5/5
9. "Ghost Love Score": This is a pure symphonic metal epic that is over ten minutes long. This is considered by many to be Nightwish's greatest song. I think it is a great song, but I also think that it is maybe a little overrated. I know that I am going to get jousted for that, but nonetheless, it is a great song with lot's of memorable stuff here and Tarja provides a great performance! 4.5/5
10. "Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan": A symphonic ballad sung entirely by Tarja in Finnish. I just cannot get into this song, even though it sounds nice and pretty, it just doesn't do a lot for me. 3/5
11. "Higher Than Hope": This is a very sad song about Tuomas' friend Marc Brueland who died due to an illness. I like the idea for this song, but the song just doesn't deliver for me. It is just very average to me. Not bad, and it is worth a listen, but it isn't that great of a song. 3.5/5
12. "White Night Fantasy": The first of two bonus tracks. Okay, they should have left this track out! Man, this should not have been made! Tarja sounds unusually awkward and silly here and the piano sounds really cheesy. The only good part of this song is the acoustic guitar solo provided by Emppu. Besides that, it is a very forgetful song. 1.5/5
13. "Live To Tell the Tale": The second bonus track. This is another one they really should not have made. From a very cheesy opening piano melody to the rest of the song, this was a filler that really never got off the ground. This one should be skipped over too. 2/5
So that is my review of "Once". So here are my thoughts:
-Orchestra works very well
-Some very catchy songs
-Lots of diversity and experimentation
-Lack of good instrumentation from the band (lack of guitar solos, etc.)
-Lots of filler and mediocre tracks
-Too much overproduction
-Bad bonus tracks
So despite the flaws and kinks throughout the album, this is still rather good and worthy of a quality Nightwish album. But with some of these songs, the signs of directional change are evident on this album and this will carry them forward to their next release. But yes, despite it's issues, this is still a horns up. \m/ The orchestra was a nice addition and there are some very memorable songs on here too. This is still very good symphonic metal you cannot miss! Rock on!
Overall rating: 3.5/5