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A greener yet powerful Nightwish experience. - 96%

hells_unicorn, March 20th, 2007

It is a risky business, getting a group of musicians together and trying out an experimental approach to an established style. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself in a place you would never think possible, as was most likely the case in the mind of founder, keyboardist and principle songwriter Tuomas Holopainen. He often noted when asked that his intent was to do a mostly acoustic/folk style of music, tapping the talent of newly graduated Sibelius Conservatory soprano Tarja Turunen and 2 other technically capable instrumentalists. Most of the elements of that approach are evident on “Angels Fall First”, Nightwish’s first LP, which followed a year after the band first started making music. But also evident are some hints at the direction that would ultimately define this band’s sound on the album after this.

An aspect of this album that shows the greenness of this outfit at this particular time is the obviously skewed vocal balance found in the duets. Both “Astral Romance” and “Beauty and the Beast” feature Tarja blasting out fortissimo inflected high notes while Tuomas tries desperately to be heard. Although he does not sing poorly, the lack of depth and range in his voice makes it almost seem like he is a tiny pixie courting an Olympian Goddess. “The Carpenter” also features Tuomas on vocals, but the song is mostly dominated by him and Tarja’s occasional sections are toned down quite a bit, striking a balance that makes it pleasing in the ears.

However, despite the occasional vocal imbalance and the somewhat weak production job, the songs on here are quite exceptional, if just a little bit too varied at times. “Beauty and the Beast” and “Astral Romance” function well as hybrid opera metal songs with plenty of changes and atmospheric keyboard devices. “Nymphomaniac Fantasia” and “Know why the Nightingale Sings” take a slower route, but have plenty of solid guitar moments that continue to make Nightwish’s more recent works powerful. “Tutankhamen” is an eastern influenced metal track that sounds quite a bit similar to Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon”, though more keyboard driven. It’s not quite as riveting as “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion”, but it is a solid listen none the less. “Elvenpath” is the only power/speed metal track on here, sounding almost like it should have been on Oceanborn rather than this album. Nice dramatic intro featuring Tarja doing a spoken narrative, and overall a decent musical homage to J.R.R. Tolkein.

The remaining tracks on here are inspired folk metal tracks, featuring a lot of acoustic guitar work that would be abandoned on Oceanborn and then slowly reintroduced in smaller doses on later releases. “The Carpenter” has some electric guitar work in it, but mostly relies on acoustic instruments and keyboards to establish the atmosphere. “Angels Fall First” and “Lappi” are mostly acoustic, the former having a good set of hooks and some interesting time signature devices, while the latter is a 4 part epic sung in Finnish. Although I don’t speak the language fluently, I have a special love for Nightwish songs done in the language of their homeland; something in the way Tarja pronounces the words just ignites a magical fire that no doubt keeps the listener warm while contemplating the cold, snow covered land the song depicts.

To fans of Folk Metal, this is not quite a pure version of your preferred music, but it is quite charming nonetheless. Power and Gothic Metal fans may also find some things on here to like, although I would recommend that the former look into the 2 studio releases after this one for most of what they want. Although this album has the weakest production of anything I’ve ever heard by them, it still endures as my second favorite release by the band. It enjoyed a good deal of play in the aftermath of Tarja’s exodus from the band, if for no other reason that I felt the need to remember where this band came from before seeing what the new era of this band would bring.