The fourth Nightwish studio album sees two significant changes. Firstly, an actual orchestra is utilised for the first time. Previously, symphonic elements were largely derived from Tuomas’s keyboard stack. Secondly, Sami Vänskä has been replaced on bass by Marco Hietala, who also becomes Nightwish’s first official male vocalist. His rock-god tones are a good contrast against Tarja’s classically-trained style (particularly in ‘Dead To The World’), though it must be said that our leading lady puts in a more ‘measured’ performance throughout this album – there’s less of the explosive bombast of previous recordings. It’s a matter of taste which style any one listener may prefer. All of this makes for an album that sounds more mature, but often darker and more introspective that previous works.
Early tracks such as ‘Bless The Child’ and ‘End Of All Hope’ may echo of the Nightwish of the last two albums (though ‘Bless The Child’ certainly benefits from the orchestral backing), but many of the songs steer clear from the more obviously power/symphonic hooks. They try a little hard on ‘Slaying the Dreamer’ to go for a full-on power-metal sound and end up with something structurally confused and lacking any real impact, but they return to form come the album’s conclusion with a surprisingly effective cover of Andrew Lloyd-Webbers ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ followed by their biggest extended-length ‘suite’ to date in the form of ‘Beauty Of The Beast’. Compositions such as these generally don’t have impact of other songs but nonetheless showcase Nightwish’s ability to move beyond the structural confines of a rock song. All of this makes for one of the more interesting Nightwish records – it might not be to the tastes of all their fans, but nonetheless is indicative of progression.