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Of all the goofy split albums in the world, Nightwish has probably been a willing participant of two Top 10 candidates. This is the latter of the two, the earlier being The Carpenter, with Children of Bodom and Thy Serpent. The utter silliness here is simply stunning, but also almost too easy to explain.
The "split" has "The Sacrament of Wilderness" by Nightwish as the title track, "Burning Flames' Embrace" by Eternal Tears of Sorrow as the first "guest" song, and "The Crow and the Warrior" by Darkwoods My Betrothed finishing the tracklist. Now, that would mean a three-song split between an operatic power metal band, a band playing a sort of melodic death-doom, and a black metal band. How the hell did anyone think this setup would find a real target audience? Finding people who really like both black and power metal is not impossible, but the average Nightwish fan is not one to appreciate the contribution of Darkwoods My Betrothed, and this indeed asks for an explanation.
Nightwish's song is one of the songs that made Nightwish the band that it was until they kicked Tarja Turunen out. Later to be found on Oceanborn, it is among the better-known songs from their early career, and defines the sound on their first three full-lengths very well. The clichés are there, including the harpsicord/cembalo sound of the keyboards, but the only thing they really invented, the operatic female vocals in power metal, was still a new idea at the time. The tempo is slowish by today's power metal standards, but Holopainen's trademark keyboards are there, already indetifiable, but still true to the traditions set by hundreds of bands before them.
Eternal Tears of Sorrow is one of the bands that might have deserved a wider recognition in the 90s, but remain a promising band to this day; that means that they still haven't made it yet, really. Their song is from their melodic death period, but has some features of the sound later utilized by many of the melodic death-doom and doom-gothic bands in Finland. This kind of music is being made by dozens of bands these days, including such bands as Rapture, Before the Dawn and Hanging Garden, just to name a few; yes, they are different from each other, with their own spices in the stew, but they share some characteristics that Eternal Tears of Sorrow was there to invent before their formation. This does not diminish their value in the eyes of those who like the melodic style of metal, but somehow Eternal Tears of Sorrow should be given more credit for this. This is a personal opinion, of course, and of course a debate on this could take forever. In any case, the music is a slowed-down form of melodic death, which is just a few steps away from melodic doom-death. Precursor chemicals, really.
Darkwoods My Betrothed is the odd one among the three bands. While enjoying both Nightwish and Eternal Tears of Sorrow is relatively easy for a fan of less extreme metal, black metal stands out like a sore thumb with syphilis here. The reasoning behind including them on the split is a strange thing, but there is an explanation. The music is rather standard black metal with keyboards, not too melodic, and the production is rather good. Definite Spinefarm material, in other words.
Now, what made the record company assemble these bands on the same split? Well, that's an easy one: this is a sampler, sold with Nightwish's name. The other two got a slice of practically free publicity by appearing on a single that was going to be sold out with 100% probability. Mixing these three musical styles makes no sense in the way split albums are supposed to make sense; no, any publicity is good publicity, and free publicity by appearing as a parasite on a Nightwish single is even better. No matter how you look at this, adding the two tracks on Sacrament of Wilderness was cheap promotion for Eternal Tears of Sorrow and Darkwoods My Betrothed; the logic of a good split be screwed! The single only has the name of Nightwish on the cover, it is named after the Nightwish song, an has artwork that is immediately recognizable as a sidekick of Oceanborn. Yeah, in its essence, Sacrament of Wilderness is not a split, it's a Nightwish single with teasers or samples of other bands. It was never marketed as a split anyway.
If seen as a split, the sheer unbalance and incompatibility of the bands is a crushing blow to the rating. However, forgetting the artificial nature of the release, it's not that impossible to like. Just skip the band you enjoy least, and the rest is OK. Besides, having this on the CD shelf increases the monetary value of a collection by a hundred bucks. The single is a rarity already, and keeping it there until the layer of dust on it is thick enough in, say, 20 years more, will make the sale even sweeter later on.
Napero, you greedy bastard!