I do love an album that gets you reminiscing about some of your favourite times in life. An album that musically takes you back 15 or 20 years and BOOM…you’re right there again, remembering where you were when you first heard a particular song, or which store you bought the CD from, or who you were with when you drunkenly danced to a particular tune on a night out. It cannot fail to bring a smile to your face.
For the most part, that is what ‘Decades’, Nightwish’s 7th (yes, SEVENTH) compilation album, does for me. Released to coincide with the start of their ‘Decades: World Tour’, this compilation is 2 hours and 20 minutes of some of their best tracks, taken from their 8 Studio albums, including performances from 3 vocalists (Tarja Turunen, Anette Olzon and Floor Jansen), 2 drummers (Jukka Nevalainen and Kai Hahto), 2 Bassists (Sami Vanska and Marco Hietala) and 1 multi-instrumentalist (Troy Donockley) and the ever present Keys player and guitarist.
Unfortunately, for me, the album begins with some of Nightwish’s weakest songs (I can’t say weakest material, because even when Nightwish write an average track the musicianship is still very much on point) from their current line-up, which consists of:
Floor Jansen - Vocals
Tuomas Holopainen - Keys, Piano, Synths, General Genius
Emppu Vuorinen - Guitars
Marco Hietala - Bass & Vocals
Kai Hahto - Drums (stepping in for the absent Jukka Nevalainen)
Tory Donockley - pretty much every other instrument you ever hear on a Nightwish record.
The album opens with the 23 minute long ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. For an opening track, I find this very strange to be brutally honest. It is a mammoth song to get through and was never released as a single. For those people who might be new to Nightwish (I imagine there are still some of them) this may well put them off if all they’ve heard of the band is their punchy, radio friendly singles. The album then moves into much simpler territory, with tracks from their most recent studio album ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL including ‘Elan’ and ‘My Walden’.
Moving backwards through their discography, next up come tracks from what is my second favourite Nightwish album IMAGINAREUM. We are now back in to the territory of the bands second singer, Anette Olzon, who bought a poppier element to Nightwish’s music. Upon the album’s release in 2011, I immediately loved it, as it was a return to the darker sounding Nightwish I loved.
On ‘Decades’ the songs from the album are ‘Storytime’ (the first single) and live favourite ‘I Want My Tears Back’. I imagine picking the songs for this release from this album was difficult, given that the whole album is superb. I will however confess to being disappointed that the morbidly heavy and eerily creepy ‘Scaretale’ didn’t make the cut.
Tracks taken from Olzon’s Nightwish debut DARK PASSION PLAY include chart topping single ‘Amaranth’ and 14 minute album opener ‘The Poet and The Pendulum’. Again, I find this a strange choice of song to represent this album, largely due to the songs length, but again, there were better songs on the album (‘Master Passion Greed’ and ‘7 Days to the Wolves’ to name but two) that could have been chosen.
Right. Now we’ve got the recent stuff out the way. We can start talking about what I call “Proper Nightwish”.
Whilst their most recent 3 albums have been released with the band in the eyes of a demanding, worldwide metal fan base, the band had limited effect outside mainland Europe for the first 15 years or so of their existence. That was until they released an album that remains to this day in my top 5 albums of my lifetime, ONCE.
ONCE represented several things for Nightwish. Firstly, the true start of major mainstream success outside of mainland Europe and Scandinavia. Secondly a significant budget increase was granted to the band to make the album happen. Figures vary, but it’s believed to have cost in excess of €250,000 to make ONCE (including use of the London Session Orchestra). Thirdly, the scope and popularity of the band meant an extended World Tour to support the record. They had hit the big time, and the music showed it.
‘Decades’ contains three songs from ONCE, two of their most loved songs ‘Nemo’ and ‘Wish I Had an Angel’ and a piece of music which I maintain to be their best song to date… ‘Ghost Love Score’. Truth be told, Nightwish could have lifted pretty much any of the tracks from ONCE for this compilation and they would not have received a single complaint about their choice, so I won’t complain here.
Prior to the success of ONCE Nightwish had started to make hay with their popularity with CENTURY CHILD which revealed a heavier and more bombastic sound than its predecessors as well as a multi vocal attack now Marco Hietala had joined the band. CENTURY CHILD is his first record and they take advantage of his powerful lungs throughout it. The two tracks chosen to represent the album on ‘Decades’ are ‘End of All Hope’ and ‘Slaying the Dreamer’, two staggering slabs of powerful operatic metal.
Following these two tracks is ‘10th Man Down’ taken from the OVER THE HLLS AND SAR AWAY EP before we get on to the tracks from WISHMASTER. I always found WISHMASTER to be a really odd album. The good tracks were excellent, but it was also littered with bang average songs, and unfortunately for ‘Decades’ I can’t help but think they have chosen the wrong songs again. They have gone for ‘The Kinslayer’ and ‘Dead Boy’s Poem’. One is an aggressive head bang fest and the other a slow ballad. Two tracks I would have gone for instead include ‘She is My Sin’ and ‘Wanderlust’ which better show the bands musical proficiency. In my opinion the two tracks selected paint WISHMASTER in a worse light than it should be held in.
We are now right back at the start of Nightwish’s career, with only two albums left to cover.
First up are ‘Gethsemane’, ‘Devil & the Deep Dark Ocean’ and ‘Sacrament of Wilderness’ from OCEANBORN which was a HEAVY album. Full of thrash inspired tunes, three of them being picked for ‘Decades’ doesn’t surprise me at all. Also included is ‘Sleeping Sun’ a track released on later versions of OCEANBORN and still a firm favourite for live sets.
And so we reach the beginning. The year is 1997 and a young Tuomas Halopainen has found himself 3 other musicians to record an album. The project he initially saw as a folk acoustic project has now grown with the help of accomplices Tarja Turunen, Emppu Vuorinen and Jukka Nevalainen in to a rock project with operatic elements. Whilst recording the songs ‘Elvenpath’ and ‘The Carpenter’ for first album ANGELS FALL FIRST, Halopainen has no idea what he has created and no idea that those two songs will appear on a compilation album 20 years after they have originally been recorded. These songs represent Nightwish’s weakest work by some distance, but they also offer a glimpse of the stark beginnings of a band now surrounded by an air of fantastic pomposity.
Throughout listening to ‘Decades’ in the car on the way to and from work, I relived everything I associate with Nightwish. My days in Sixth form. Seeing them for the first time touring ONCE. Being in my room in Uni halls as I wrote a review of that same album for an assignment. The glee of finding ANGELS FALL FIRST in a record shop in Walsall.
Despite me disagreeing with some of the song choices here, this album still does exactly what it was supposed to do. It put a smile on a long-time fans face.
I’m willing to bet it will do that to fans all over the world.
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‘Decades’ Track List:
The Greatest Show on Earth
I Want My Tears Back
The Poet and the Pendulum
Wish I Had an Angel
Ghost Love Score
Slaying the Dreamer
End of All Hope
10th Man Down
Dead Boy’s Poem
Devil & the Deep Dark Ocean
Sacrament of Wilderness