Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nightwish - Oceanborn (1998)

This has to be one of the most beautiful albums in my (rather large) collection - both visually and musically. The cover is gorgeous - with gentlre indigos and purples, a dragon's eye enfolds the earth - a snowy owl carries a scroll and a woman lies, face up in the water. It is somehow both soothing and slightly sinister. The band photo is intersting too - Tarja crouches at the front, her hair up and in almost Victorian attire, looking slightly gothic-Lolita'ly. Behind her Tuomas gives a sly smug grin and the other three members, all so young and fresh faced, look suitably bored. Inside the lyrics overlay images, all in the varying shades of blue, which make them a little difficult to read.

The music is as refreshing and powerful as the cover. It opens with the epic keyboard and guitar rifts of "Stargazers", the synths soaring wildly and intensely before the guitars surge in to wash them away. Tarja's voice is that of an angel - strong and powerful, rich and a fine soprano. She can scale three octaves and is classically trained.

"Gethsemane" follows. Haunting, beautiful, intense. Words cannot easily describe the delicious wall of epic sound, the soaring vocals and magical interplay of keyboards, guitars, bass and vocals. The mood is flawless and enchanting, taking the listener away across the waves and into a frozen wonderland of fiords and infinite beauty.

Pounding and intense rhythms lead us into "Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean" and the low and menacing, almost demonic vocals, quickly overlaid with Tarja's angelic ones. This is an immense and powerful piece. In the background, the keyboard florishes and soars.

"Sacarament of Wilderness" has the same intensity. The power and might of the instruments, the solid wall of evocative, emotive sound combines strikingly well with the silver-spear of Tarja's voice, which is like a radiant, powerful force. It is easy to imagine oneself in an immense and ancient forest, where moss and frost drip from the tree branches and the trees whisper their secrets to one another with the wind.

Solid guitar leads us into "Passion and the Opera", a magnificant and powerful piece in which Tarja's true vocal range is explored and the music more supports her rather than taking on a personality of its own. That's not to say it is not soaring and diverse and very dramatic. Haunting, melancholic. Breath-taking.

Gentle flute and enchanted melodies heralds "Swanheart", a soft and delicate number; fleeting and gentle as a cascade of feathers. Her voice is one of the most soaring and evocative that I have ever heard, so sweet and powerful it cannot help but touch your heart and bring a tear to the eye of all who behold it. This song is absolutely enchanting.

The instrumental "Moondance" proves how delicate and sophisticated the instruments can be, with a folkish edge, this is probably the most epic reel I have ever heard. It is easy to imagine faeries dancing by moonlight, flutes in hand, their tiny delicate bodies glowing under the gentle carress of her light.

"The Riddler" is gloriously melodic. The vocals sublime and smooth, the music playing both a delicate and dramatic counterpoint.

The rather ominous "The Pharoah Sails to Orion" starts with lows, menacing tones, with guttural  male vocals snarling over the rising power of the guitars, merging with flurries of keyboard; faster, faster, faster. It breaks, more growled vocals, and Tarja's angelic trilling an ethereal counterpoint. The keyboards trill. A flute whoops and soars in sweeps and shimmies.

The superlative and beautiful rendition of "Walking in the Air" has me entranced. The sublime vocals, soaring effortlessly over the melancholic, the bittersweet, the absolutely stunning and beautiful melodies. Words cannot describe how this song makes me feel.

And as if the emotion, the evocation, the splendour of that is not enough, it is then followed up by the even more spell-binding "Sleeping Sun". Supported only by gentle chiming and light guitar (I think), Tarja's voice is filled with emotive glory and power. Gentle, and oh so heart-rending. Magnificant.

This album is certainly one of the finest metal albums I have ever heard - powerful and evocative, emotional and heavy in parts, delicate and fleeting in others. It is one of the finest examples of symphonic metal I could ever imagine and is enchanting, haunting and all sorts of other delightful adjectives.

It's gonna have to be another 10/10.

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