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I have been reading all the previous reviews about this album and, although I agree with them in a lot of points, I also think they are getting carried away a little bit. Or maybe it is just me trying to pick on the slightest imperfections. In any case, I hope my review is useful for newcomers into the Nightwish world.
I'll mention the positive aspects first: it is incredibly beautiful, melodic, original, candid and innovative. Oh, and it rocks. Lyrically, every single song is a wonderful poem. Musically, it is complex, heavy and well structured. There is a true group effort here. Everything, the guitars, the bass, the drums are blended in perfectly. Original, in the sense that you can find pretty much everything in here, grunts, ballads, fast-paced songs and hell of a lot heavier stuff and, of course, nice atmospheres created by the superb instrumentation. And candid cause it is quite an innocent album, compared to other metal relaeses and to later Nightwish albums. There are trails of sadness, yes, but it is not a depressing album. It is hard to point out the best songs of the album since all of them are great. But I personally love Gethsemane, Sleeping Sun, Stargazers, Swanheart, Walking in the air, and the long lost jewel of this album, The Pharaoh sails to Orion (kick ass song!).
However, after all this praising, I find two weak elements in this album. I'm pretty sure I'm going to get bashed by the most hardcore Nightwish fans for saying this, but these two elements I am referring to are the vocals and the keyboard. It must be a childhood trauma of mine. My grandmother was a professional opera singer and, in her last years, her hobby was trying to teach me how to sing. I hated those lessons, so when she died, the same happened to my "singing career". Anyway, the only thing I remember from her "lessons" was she telling me not to "eat down my voice". I never understood what she meant by that. And then I listened to Tarja in this album and it hit me.
My theory is that, back then, in 1998, Tarja was relatively young and not as technically proficient as she proved to be in later albums. That's why she sounds rough at times and, like my grandma said, eating her voice down, just as she did in songs such as Sleeping Sun and Swanheart. At times, she overdoes it, just going oh oh OHHH when it is not needed, when something more subtle would fit better. And I find that very annoying cause it almost ruins the whole song for me. I almost feel that it is too hard for her to break the operatic mold and "flow", so to say, with the song, recurring to just, well, go oh oh OHHHH in those key moments. Another aspect that makes me not so happy about Tarja's performance in this album is her pronunciation. It is common in opera to let his aspect slide. However, a small effort on this aspect would have been more than welcomed! I like to understand what the singer is singing. Nevertheless, the other elements are so strong that is rather easy to ignore these flaws. Tarja still has, without a doubt, an amazing powerful voice, a beautiful colour in it that just clicks with metal.
About the second element, the keyboards, my only objection is that they are overdone. Sometimes it is too much and they do sound too Nintendo-ish at times. Aside from that, they are ok.
In summary, a nearly perfect album. My grade: 90