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This album is the shit. It's Nightwish at their absolute best. It features nonstop, beautiful Symphonic Power Metal and incredible vocals all mixed in with a healthy dose of headbanging to create a fucking classic.
Nightwish has matured since Angels Fall First, and it really shows in this masterpiece. Gone is the ambiguous melo-doom of the first album, and in its place is incredible symphonic metal with a excellent use of vocal harmony to absolutely take your breath away. The guitar playing has improved tremendously, and there are now more solos and faster playing instead of nothing but backup riffage, while the keyboard/piano playing is simply georgeous and powerful at the same time. The drums get to play some actual beats, too, proving that Jukka Nevalainen can actually drum with the best of them when he needs to. The bass is solid and is an actual presence here, rounding out what is a really awesome band.
Highlights. Well, let's start out with Stargazers, which is a fucking awesome masterpiece and holds a spot on OSheaman's Top Ten Power Metal Songs list (I'm not sure how many songs are actually on the list, but rest assured that if they're on there, they're the best of the best). It's awesome--a combination of really incredible guitar playing and riffage, a really cool melody and awesome vocal work on a fast-paced ass-kicker. The vocals are operatic and beautiful while still maintaining the sense of urgency that the song conveys. The drum work is also supremely well-done. You'll be headbanging in no time, and you won't stop--it's that supremely cool. Gethsemane is an excellent follow-up to Stargazers and continues the solid headbanging sound that was present in the first song. Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean has a really cool, can-do-no-wrong opening riffset, followed by some blasting riffs trading off with a really light xylophone-keyboard sound and then progressing into the main theme with a deep, dark vocal performance by Tuomas contrasting with Tarja's high-and-mighty operatic vocals. Passion and the Opera is a really catchy headbanger that will have you pounding away in no time flat. Swanheart is one of the most beautiful and haunting ballads--indeed, one of the most beautiful and haunting *songs*, period--that I have ever heard. The piano playing is incredibly beautiful, and the vocal harmonies are nothing short of stunningly gorgeous. There is even a flute solo and a haunting (fake) violin solo. Then the guitars and drums come in as the song rises to a climax, and then a beautiful guitar duet emerges, and . . . well, this song is really damn beautiful. Slow and powerful, made for slow-dancing and absolutely breathtaking. A true masterpiece. Moondance follows the song up with another slow piano solo that suddenly explodes into heavy guitar riffage, followed by some more slow & fast inerchanging. The Pharoah Sails to Orion is an amazing epic with heavy guitar work, great drumming and keyboarding, and that oh-so-cool combination of low and harsh vocals with the high operatic vocals. A Return to the Sea has some great keyboard and vocal work, but is most noteworthy for the excellent main beat provided by the drums. Finally, Nightquest is shameless Iron Maiden worship that comes off really well given the differences in style between the two bands.
That's a lot of highlights, but this album is a fucking classic. There are absolutely zero throwaway tracks on here--everything is really excellent and well-done. This is Nightwish at it's pinnacle, and is a must-buy.