AMG Goes Ranking – Nightwish

The life of the unpaid, overworked metal reviewer is not an easy one. The reviewing collective at AMG lurches from one new release to the next, errors and n00bs strewn in our wake. But what if, once in a while, the collective paused to take stock and consider the discography of one of those bands that shaped many a taste? What if three aspects of the AMG collective personality shared with the slathering masses their personal rankings of that discography and what if the rest of the personality used a Google sheet some kind of dark magic to produce an official and all-round definitive aggregated ranking of that band’s entire discography? Well, if that happened, we imagine it would like something like this …

Nightwish is more than just a band. They are an institution. Not only have they sold millions of records across the world, but they are generally considered to be the most successful Finnish band ever and one of the more influential forbearers of symphonic metal. To become a top band in a genre or a country, let alone both, is a considerable achievement, and it only occurs one way—making music that connects with people. Regardless of the various critiques Nightwish receives as a symphonic metal powerhouse, nobody can rightfully claim their success isn’t well earned. Their albums are masterfully composed more often than not, with “dud” releases often only qualifying as such in relation to the band’s high points. Their live shows are bombastic and enlivening, and their dedication to creating quality music, despite numerous line-up changes—especially those in the vocal department—and distinct stylistic shifts, is admirable to say the least.

Formed in 1996, Nightwish originally sounded like your typical folk metal band, albeit with more lush orchestration and a sensational operatic vocalist. Almost immediately, they shifted towards grandiose, relentless symphonic power metal. To this day, sophomore record Oceanborn remains one of the heaviest and coolest albums of its genre. From there the ‘power’ aspect of their sound evolved into something less cut and dry. Relying less and less on genre tropes, the group redirected towards something more theatrical and musically complex. Today, Nightwish sound nothing like they used to and yet there’s no mistaking them for anyone else. In fact, the most common criticism we level at bands who take a stab at this style is that they sound like Nightwish, which only further demonstrates the difficulty of composing something that stands out in symphonic metal.

Three of us Angry Metal Guys in particular were or are big fans of Nightwish, and we believe they deserve a full ranking of their much debated discography, submitted in triplicate to make it MOAR official!

TheKenWord


TheKenWord

Nightwish was the first actual metal band I ever listened to. As such, they hold a coveted spot in my heart. They represent everything about music I never knew I needed until the moment they entered my life. In some pretty core ways, I wouldn’t be the person I am if it weren’t for this band and their music.1 Over the years, plenty of copycats have tried, and failed, to emulate the sound and success that Nightwish consistently capture. It’s funny—at this point, I’d be perfectly happy without a massive collection of symphonic metal bands I love—like I have with death metal, for example—as long as the one which remained was Nightwish. Now that they have Floor Jansen and are starting to use her skills and talent properly (I’m watching you, Tuomas!), I can’t wait for whatever they bring in the years to come.

The Ranking:

#9: Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015) – I have every right to be thoroughly pissed off about this one. Nightwish recruits a top five vocalist in all of metal, Floor Jansen, and buries her beneath an ocean of pretention and undue restraint? Unacceptable! Granted, songs like “Élan” and “Shudder Before the Beautiful” are still good, but…

#8: Angels Fall First (1997) – This may be my most unfair ranking, but the truth of the matter is that I always, always forget this album exists. There are some bops to be found here, like “Elvenpath” and the title track, but overall this felt more like a proof of concept than anything else.

#7: Wishmaster (2000) – Coming in hot on Oceanborn‘s heels, Wishmaster felt like a lighter, less compelling clone. Still, Wishmaster has its moments. “She Is My Sin,” “The Kinslayer,” “Wishmaster,” and “Crownless” get my blood boiling, just as hot now as they did when I first heard them.

#6: Dark Passion Play (2007) – The first album after Tarja Turunen’s unsightly departure, Dark Passion Play felt like the awkward teenage stage of Nightwish‘s career cycle. Still, it featured some amazing songs like “The Poet and the Pendulum,” “Whoever Brings the Night” and “The Islander,” meaning the album has some serious playlist-ready ammunition. They did their best all things considered.

#5: HUMAN. :II: NATURE. (2020) – Let’s forget about the superfluous second disc for now. With what’s left, Nightwish at last give Floor justice as the spectacular vocalist she is, while still allowing Tuomas to stretch his compositional muscles. Songs like “Shoemaker” and “Tribal” fucking rock, and for the first time in a while I enjoyed a new Nightwish album from beginning to end.

#4: Century Child (2002) – I forgot how much I love the thick production and the immense five song run that opens this record. Some of my favorite songs the band ever penned populate Century Child, and the super cool “The Phantom of the Opera” cover is a masterclass for metal covers of non-metal songs.

#3: Oceanborn (1998) – Goddamn I love this album. It hits me just as hard as it did way back in my youther youth. “Stargazers,” “Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean,” “Sacrament of Wilderness,” “Sleeping Sun,” “The Pharoah Sails to Orion,” “The Riddler,” even fuckin’ “Moondance” are a constant joy to listen to, and even more fun to spectacularly fail at singing along to. Tarja really feels at home here, challenged to reach high but always capable of securing the goal with confidence and grace.

#2: Once (2004) – If Oceanborn is full bore power metal Nightwish, Once is full bore concert hall Nightwish. From the onset notes of “Dark Chest of Wonders,” the album dresses up in full costume for a big red curtain reveal, and it goes places no other Nightwish album before it dared venture. Immense hits “Nemo,” “Dead Gardens,” “Romanticide,” “Planet Hell” and “Ghost Love Score” show how adept Tuomas and company are at composing and executing their vision, and Tarja finds her best balance between soft, powerful and playful deliveries.

#1: Imaginaerum (2011) – Counterintuitively, I knew with absolute certainty that this would be an amazing album the second I learned Nightwish planned a full-length cinematic production to release alongside it. I never got around to watching it though, because I was too busy reeling in the fantastical masquerade this album is. The band infused so many unexpected styles, from cabaret (“Scaretale”) to jazz nightclub (“Slow, Love, Slow”) and more. At its core Imaginaerum still bleeds symphonic metal, as tracks like “Storytime,” “Last Ride of the Day,” and “Ghost River” clearly demonstrate. However, what really separates Imaginaerum from the rest of Nightwish‘s discography is the sheer emotional depth that every performance so perfectly captures. This is Nightwish‘s crowning achievement, one that may never be bested, and is the standard by which I judge symphonic metal albums past, present and future.


Sentynel

Nightwish were one of the bands I found in the first year or so of starting to get into metal, and I love them to this day. I’d describe them as a gateway band, except that symphonic metal as a genre is uniquely burdened by suck. As far as finding more bands like them went, they were mostly a gateway to disappointment. I got into them fractionally too late to see them live with Tarja, but I’ve seen them with both Anette and Floor. It’s fair to say they’ve had their ups and downs over their career, and some pretty dramatic stylistic and thematic shifts. But there’s stuff I’ve loved from every stage of their development, so trying to sort it all out into a single order has been a fun challenge. Places 5 through 2 on the below list are particularly subject to change depending on mood—I love all of these records despite their flaws.

#9: Endless Forms Most Beautiful – Oof. While not entirely unsalvageable (“My Walden,” maybe “Élan”), this album is characterized by forgettable songwriting. Meanwhile, fresh from showing off the strengths of their new lineup on the fantastic live album Showtime, Storytime, we find Floor’s vocals bafflingly restrained. Also, many a newly minted atheist is cursed with a Richard Dawkins phase, but the one showcased here is particularly cringeworthy.

#8: Wishmaster – Nightwish have never sounded so much like a C-list clone of themselves. While there’s little actively wrong with the album and it has its share of good songs, it suffers from the same lack of soul and interesting features that the rest of the genre is plagued by.

#7: Angels Fall First – The awkward sound of Nightwish finding their feet on a slightly glorified demo tape is not a common fixture on my listening rotation. Despite that, it has a certain charm and moments that hint at what was to come.

#6: HUMAN. :II: NATURE. – I like this album a whole lot more than I expected to after Endless Forms. Tuomas’ ridiculous compulsion to write ever-longer, ever-wankier pieces is confined to an easily separated, easily skipped soundtrack B-side. What’s left is not without its missteps (hello, “Tribal”), but also features a bunch of really good songs and adds up to a sub-hour runtime for the first time since Century Child.

#5: Century Child – The A-side of this record is a non-stop parade of absolute classics, which then utterly falls off a cliff with a forgettable B-side salvaged only by “The Phantom of the Opera.” On pure play count, this would rank higher given how addictive the opening run is but I just can’t help but tune out on the second half.

#4: Dark Passion Play – There’s a brilliant 50 minute album stuck inside DPP‘s colossal 1¼ hour runtime. This features some of my favorite Nightwish songs and the welcome start of a stylistic spreading of wings (“The Islander,” “Eva” etc.). But it’s clear that they’d got too big for anybody to tell them to edit at this point, and by the end it’s creaking under its own weight.

#3: Oceanborn – Everything that Angels Fall First hinted at, Oceanborn delivers. The young band charm remains, coupled with great songs and a creativity and adventurousness in the writing that wouldn’t show back up until the Anette era. There’s still the occasional hint of awkwardness, and the later albums’ introduction of real orchestras rather than terrible synth patches was a welcome change, but this is a tour de force.

#2: Once – The pinnacle of pure symphonic metal as a style. Heavy, orchestrally lush, and with a stable of great songs and almost no misses. Neither Nightwish nor anybody else has ever written a better symphonic metal album. Their editing problem starts to show on this, and “Creek Mary’s Blood” is unfortunate, but that’s about all I have to criticize.

#1: Imaginaerum – Their best album by a country mile. Unconstrained by the narrow boundaries of symphonic metal as a genre, leaning heavily into Tuomas’ love of soundtrack music, and showing off Anette’s strengths as lead vocalist, it features the band’s best writing. No two songs sound alike, or even much like any of their back catalog. Yet it hangs together as a single album incredibly well. It hardly wastes any of its long runtime either. Cut the unnecessary spoken word back half of “Song of Myself” and this would be perfect.

 


Twelve

In a long-winded sort of way, Nightwish is the reason you all deal with my reviews and opinions week after week. The End of an Era version of “Planet Hell” was, essentially, my first exposure to metal, and the rest of that particular show had me hooked. The idea that you could bring together the “jarring loudness” of heavy metal and a voice like Turunen’s or an orchestral sound was something the much younger me had never put together, and I spent the next couple of years listening to little else; I quickly obtained their full discography and entered an obsession that lasted for some time. Many of you had your Iron Maidens, Black Sabbaths and Metallicas; this was what I had. Whatever I may think of whatever they’ve become, Nightwish will always have a place in my heart for being the ideal introduction to what metal can be.

The Ranking:

#9. HUMAN. :||: NATURE. – I don’t honestly have much to say about this most strangely-titled album. Stylistically, lyrically, and from a songwriting perspective, nothing about this album resonates with me. I haven’t been able to sit through any of its songs to the end; I consider it the most boring album Nightwish has written to date.

#8. Endless Forms Most Beautiful Endless Forms Most Beautiful has its moments, but the whole is just so… muted. Stylistically, this feels like eighty minutes of trying and failing to recreate Imaginaerum, right down to filling a twenty minute “song” with enough ambient noises to call it the longest Nightwish song ever. It’s derivative, unmemorable, and I think the nicest thing I can say about it is that it isn’t so much bad as it is extremely disappointing.

#7. Century Child – Ah, Century Child, the album with the mud-guitar. Owing to Hietala’s (bass & vocals) new membership, Vuorinen (guitars) here tries out D-tuning, a change that eventually leads to the rest of the band forgetting he plays in Nightwish at all. Despite my dislike for the guitar tone, the album largely lands its dark, brooding vibe, with bookends “Bless the Child” and “Beauty of the Beast” standing out as spotlights for the sound.

#6. Once – Once is, to me, the perfect example of a mixed album. On the one hand, I hate everything about its production. No band member sounds like they’re enjoying themselves at all, and the guitars may as well not exist for all the impact they have. And yet, the songwriting is (mostly) great. “Nemo,” “Romanticide,” and “Ghost Love Score” are especial highlights, and the orchestral writing is strong. If only it didn’t all sound so… awful.

#5. Angels Fall First Angels Fall First does not sound like it was written or recorded in the nineties, and so it has my respect. I liked this original sound for the band and wish they’d stuck to the acoustic thing a little bit longer. The title track in particular is an amazing song and the band’s early metal exuberance in “Elvenpath” and “Know Why the Nightingale Sings” is hard to dislike. Simply put, this is a charming album with awesome potential.

#4. Dark Passion Play – I feel like Dark Passion Play is a not-so-well-loved album but I like it; it’s refreshingly focused, Olzon delivers a strong performance, and it helps that I prefer her style to Turunen or Jansen’s2. I mostly wish it wasn’t so long; it takes a while to get going but, once it does, songs like “Sahara,” “7 Days to the Wolves,” and “Meadows of Heaven” are some of my favourites since Turunen’s departure.

#3. Wishmaster Wishmaster. Fishmaster? Is it overrated? Maybe a little. But honestly, it’s hard for me to find much fault with this one. It’s vibrant, and even today doesn’t sound stale in a sea of overdone symphonic metal. “Wanderlust” and “Crownless” are super fun, while “Come Cover Me” and “Dead Boy’s Poem” are knockout power ballads. Beginning to end, this is an album that showcases an exuberant, joyful sound that’s difficult to attribute to today’s Nightwish. Between a little bit of nostalgia and a lot of strong songwriting, I think this is one of their best albums.

#2. Oceanborn – There’s something about Oceanborn that everyone seems to love, and I am no exception. You can feel how young the band behind it is. Their excitement is palpable, even as the album dives into its serious numbers. The strings and piano elements are dialed up to the max but the album still maintains heaviness and most everyone gets some time to shine. This is a loud album but it’s also a beautiful one. “Stargazers,” “Gethsemane,” “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion,” “Walking in the Air…” the list goes on, and the quality never dips.

Nightwish - Imaginaerum#1. Imaginaerum – Imaginaerum feels to me like the metal album that Holopainen has been trying to write since his career began. Here, finally, everything comes together: metal, orchestra, singing, production and concept. Everything works (except the last twelve or so minutes; go figure). It’s a little loud and a little long but also manages to weave in and out of enough different atmospheres, and with enough skill to overcome those hurdles. As modern symphonic metal goes, Imaginaerum is strong, and there’s little doubt in my mind that it is the most well-made, complete album in the Nightwish catalogue.


Official AMG Ranking

The writers’ votes have been cast, counted, several fiddled and a number discounted due to their wrongness or the writer’s overrating habits, and it has produced this, The Official AMG Ranking for Nightwish:

#9: Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)

#8: Human. :||: Nature. (2020)

#7: Angels Fall First (1997)

#6: Wishmaster (2000)

#5: Dark Passion Play (2007)

#4: Century Child (2002)

#3: Once (2004)

#2: Oceanborn (1998)

#1: Imaginaerum (2011)

If you don’t know Nightwish, leave the Hall but, on your way out, make sure to check out this primer, picked by SentynelTheKenWord and Twelve.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Curse you Nightwish! – Carcharodon
  2. How dare you use Floor Jansen’s name that way! She’s a special talent! – Carcharodon
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