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If you went back to the early 80s when the NWOBHM was at its peak and you told the band associated with said scene that their pioneered style of speed metal would eventually pave the way to a band playing the style while being fronted by a classically trained soprano, let alone one trained at the Sibelius Conservatory, they probably would have laughed their asses off. But during the resurgence of power metal in the late 90s this is exactly what happened, though it definitely did not start out that way. Like all changes over time, or the more proper term “evolution”, things progressed from a more folk music inspired band calling itself Nightwish, but with the changing tide across Europe, something much more interesting would be born, from the ocean no less.
“Oceanborn” was in a class by itself when it came into being. Some may point to Lacuna Coil as another example, but the truth is that the two have very little in common, and said album got the jump on the Italian gothic metal band’s debut by several months. But the proper style of the album is an interesting mix of high German power metal as espoused on Helloween’s “Keepers” albums, as well as various 80s influences from Yngwie Malmsteen to Ozzy Osbourne, thrown together with a large dose of classical pomp and heavy keyboard work. It decided to moderate the excessive lead guitar elements of all its influences, and instead put a dominant emphasis on melody, atmosphere, and quality of riffs when they come into prominence.
“Passion And The Opera” is among the more peculiar representations of this hybrid, starting off with what sounds like a vintage speed metal riff that sort of stands in the middle between Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne. What follows is a series of intricate stylistic twists, all of them circling around Tarja’s powerful vocal presence. Most of it is heavily melodic and loaded with homogenous rhythmic grooves to synthesize a low brass and string sound of an orchestra in the guitars, bass and drums. “Sacrament Of Wilderness” draws a bit more of its influence from Iron Maiden, although only insofar as the guitars are concerned, as the prominent harp and synthesizer parts that filter in and out are removed from what most anyone has done, save a few bands that may have been starting to experiment with orchestral elements in the Death/Doom scene.
Although an amazing pair of songs that was definitely pushing the envelope insofar as what power metal was and could become, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. So is the purpose of promotional releases, to give the future fan a taste of what’s out there. The album art is likewise only one of several themes present in the full length’s cover art, almost as a nice little metaphorical testimony of what was being delivered was not the whole story. Treat it for what it is; further incentive to discover the time when this band was making music more in line with power metal tradition, but still definitely in a class all by themselves.