Nightwish can loosely be described as a symphonic rock band, and they’re among the market leaders in the genre. They’ve come a long way since their beginnings as an acoustic band in mid-9’0s Finland and, alongside the Von Hertzen Brothers, are the most successful musical export from the country. Their ability to blend coruscating blasts of metal with Celtic folk, operatic classics and even pop, has won them a worldwide fan base. Couple this with their sense of melody and their ability to take complex themes, weave musical threads around them and make them accessible to the fan
Decades follows on from their last studio album, 2017’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a title taken from a passage by Charles Darwin, which was the album which established the band as a player on the major rock stages around the world. Which makes it all the more surprising there’re only two tracks from this album on the ‘live’ album. On Decades they give us a retrospective overview of their career to date, with 17 of the 21 tracks included drawn from their first five studio albums, when they had a different singer. Nightwish seem to have an almost revolving door policy concerning female singers and, after the demise of both original member Tarja Turunen (2005) and Anette Olsen (2012), (both either pushed out or asked to leave, depending on your point of view), vocal duties are now handled by Floor Jansen, and she’s been integral to the band widening its appeal.
Musically, this is an extraordinary album. After a short intro on the Uilleann Pipes, the band enter the stage, Floor begins singing “This is, the End of all Hope,” the band explodes into life and, for the next 90 minutes plus, Nightwish give you many of the classic pieces which have built their rep: Wish I Had An Angel, Sacrament of Wilderness, Gethsemane, I Want My Tears Back,’ and Dead Boys Poem among others are performed. On several of these they combine the power of Dream Theater with classical nous. Occasionally, they sound like Iron Maiden would if Bruce were female. However, the highlight of the album is the 17 minute epic Greatest Show On Earth, taken from Endless Forms which is possibly the most ambitious piece of music Nightwish has ever done, dealing lyrically with the complete natural history of the world. It’s divided into several sections; has all the bombast you could want in a song and is straight out of the Arjen Lucassen school of over the top.
Out front, Floor has stage presence and charisma, she can sing delicately one second and scream it out the next, but what she doesn’t have is the voice needed to hit the operatic high notes in this song. Similarly, with songs like The Kinslayer and 10th Man Down, where Floor struggles to hit the higher octave notes Tarja could reach with ease. Tarja has an almost ethereal operatic voice, with its three octave range, which helped to lift the songs up but, with Floor, Nightwish are now more of a grounded rock band, but the Argentine fans don’t seem to notice and they lap up everything laid before them by the band.
Decades contains both beauty and aggression, as all good rock music should do, as well as solid musicianship, well-orchestrated by Tomas Holopainen, and it reveals a band in the process of stamping their own identity on rock music. In future, I suspect the only way you’ll see Nightwish live is in the megadomes.