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“Highest Hopes” is one of the last releases to feature Tarja Turunen on the vocals. In 2005, when it was released, much had changed to Nightwish since "Angels Fall First", making it at least surprising that the band decided to bring back, at least for a while, the old Nightwish.
In this compilation we get to see everything that made Nightwish so great, from the pure power metal exemplified by "Stargazers" and "Over the Hills and Far Away" to the operatic, orchestra-based "Walking in The Air". Back when Oceanborn and Wishmaster were released, the vocals were probably Nightwish's main selling point, and in this compilation we get to see Tarja doing her best. By the way, the less power metal there is in a Nightwish song, the less we get to appreciate Tarja's potential, so "Stargazers" and "Over the Hills and Far Away" are the songs that explore her vocal skills the most, along with "Deep Silent Complete" and "Sacrament of Wilderness".
In "Highest Hopes" there are two songs that feel completely out of place, and they are "Nemo" and "I Wish I Had An Angel". They aren't terrible, but they are way too influenced by mallcore and pop music. Their (terrible) album "Once" brings a Nightwish that is way too different from the old one, with a full orchestra backing the band up and no exceptional vocal performance, so I think it is a waste of space to include two songs from it, even if they are far away from being the worst songs in the LP. If I was making this compilation, I would probably substitute them for "Passion and The Opera" (the staccato that Tarja does is priceless) and "Phantom of The Opera" (because the Marco/Tarja duet is great in this song).
We don't get to see much of Marco Hietala in this compilation, which is perfectly okay. He is far from being a bad singer, but for me he is just a part of the new Nightwish. The only songs that sound like the old Nightwish with Marco on the vocals are "Dead to The World" (which is already included in this "best of") and "Phantom of The Opera". In this recording we also get to see Marco performing all the vocals in a cover of "High Hopes", by Pink Floyd, played live. This cover is especially interesting because instead of his usual aggressive shouting, in this song he sings calmly (except for the chorus).
This is a pretty nice compilation, which is able to introduce newcomers to the now-defunct old Nightwish. If you are a power metal fan who is clueless about what Nightwish stands for, go get “Highest Hopes”.
I'd never thought I'd review a compilation album, but here we are. Reason for the writing, I believe the best Nightwish-purchase for people who are just getting into the band is this one. I did and I still listen to it more than their full-lengths.
Let's establish some things. The symphonic gothic genre is a tricky one. You have a couple of great bands (Epica, Autumn, Within Temptation, After Forever, ...), but soon come the countless other bands, trying to cash in. In which category you'd like to place Nightwish, I'll leave up to you. To me they were never all that great. In fact, all the songs I like by them are on this compilation, except for "Dark Chest of Wonders", "Planet Hell" and "Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan". But that's easily made up for by "Over the Hills and Far Away", the Gary Moore cover through which I've gotten to know them. But I should get to my point, the reason why you should buy this compilation.
If you already own most of their albums, it may be pointless; but if you don't, this album can be your own reminder of what Nightwish used to be. Whether you like/dislike the new singer doesn't even matter, this compilation will just be there to take you back to the best bits of Nightwish's past. The only bad part about this album, in fact, is the bonus DVD with a couple of live songs, which are brought rather poorly.
The better reason to buy this however, is for those among you who have yet to get into Nightwish. If you're looking for an album to get to know this artist, against my principles, I'd advise this one. Where usually I try to suggest full-lengths, for a band like Nightwish, I resort to compilations. You can get to know the band's best songs and choose afterwards which ones you liked most, to purchase the albums. All in all, this is actually one of their best releases, simply because every full-length has too many downsides to really enjoy them.
Final plus point of this release? Not a single note of the current singer, who totally doesn't fit with Nightwish.