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But it's lacking something. Nightwish forged a sound all their own with Wishmaster and Century Child, and Once stays on track. The problem is that they have absolutely no focus on this album. They're trying to be too many things, trying to break through the US mainstream.
At times they're power metal; at times they're gothic balladeers; at other times they sound like outright cock-rockers. They do each style extremely well; they just need to pick one and expand on it!
With the album's opener, Dark Chest of Wonders, we get a taste of straight European flower metal--soaring choruses, keyboards, great riffing, and some nice double bass. Pretty much what you would expect.
However, "I Wish I Had an Angel" sounds like it is a trifle out of place. There's an electronic mix to the drums, which I don't like one bit. The lyrics are stunning, and the riffing will have you headbanging... but this song just isn't Nightwish. It's Nightwish trying to be mainstream.
Nemo is certainly a standout track on this one. A fantastically catchy tune, with hooks that will absolutely tear your flesh apart. The chorus soars, the subtle piano is atypical Nightwish, and Emppu's solo is flawlessly executed and a perfect fit for the song.
Planet Hell is power metal revisited, while Creek Mary's Blood leads Nightwish into some unfamiliar territory. It is a very sincere, lyrically deep ballad with a great song structure and progression. I won't lie though, hearing a bunch of Finns singing about the Trail of Tears is nothing short of hysterical. Nonetheless, it's a standout track. Again, however, is the lack of focus. It incorporates a lot of interesting tribal percussion and chants; but thematically, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Siren is some sort of goth throwaway, with a catchy chorus, but no real power metal speed to be seen. Dead Gardens definitely relies on a Megadeth-esque riff and atmosphere more than it does any real technical precision. Romanticide is also catchy as fuck, but we all know these guys can play faster than this. What the rest of the album tends to degenerate into is an attempt to venture into symphonic/gothic territory, without any true focus on good riffing. Not to mention it brings their ballad count up to about 4--far too many for any album.
So why does this album get an 80? Because the tracks that do kick ass kick a whole lot of it--Dark Chest of Wonders and Planet Hell are headbangers. Furthermore, Tarja's voice, though a tad under-utilized, shines. Her range is nothing short of astounding, even if she has abandoned her traditional classical shrieks for a more accessible, less emphatic clean approach. The first five tracks, though incongruous, carry the album and rank as some of my favorite songs even a few months after I bought it.
If you're a die-hard Nightwish fan, then buy it. If you are just getting into the group, however, I would recommend getting Wishmaster first to get a true taste.