Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Back To The Beginning With Nightwish: Angels Fall First (My March Artist Of The Month!)

The Good: Voice is good, One or two lyrics
The Bad: Most of the music is amelodic, Obscured lyrics, Repetitive sound
The Basics: The debut of Nightwish foreshadows well what the group would become with Angels Fall First!

My wife is a real trooper when it comes to my music reviews. For music reviews, I insist on listening to each album at least seven times (usually, I am on the eighth spinning when I write the review) and more often than not, I choose an Artist Of The Month that my wife has no real interest in. Even the artists she likes that I immerse myself in, she gets sick from the repetition of their albums. So, this month, I gave her the choice of who I would study for the month. She narrowed it down to Nightwish and Bat For Lashes. Bat For Lashes only lost out only because they have so few albums (and I have already reviewed one!). So, my March Artist Of The Month is Nightwish and I am starting my study of them at their beginning with Angels Fall First.

If Angels Fall First is any indication, March is going to feel like a long month! As a fan of music with melodies, powerful lyrics that may be easily comprehended (for clarity, if not meaning), Nightwish is off to a bad start. Fortunately, the Finnish rock band has potential and the fundamentals for the group are not bad, even on their debut.

With only nine tracks, clocking out at 51:39, Angels Fall First is the symphonic metal debut of the Finnish band Nightwish. While it is mostly in English, the final track, “Lapland,” has extensive Finnish in the vocals. The lyrics were all written by Tuomas Holopainen (who is one of the bandmembers) and the songs were entirely composed by the band. The vocals and instruments are all performed and played by Nightwish and the album was produced by Holopainen and the band. At least at the time, this is very much the creative vision of the band Nightwish.

Instrumentally, Angels Fall First is a lot of electric guitars, bass and synthesizers. This is a loud album and after at least eight listens to it, I don’t think I could pick out a single tune from it. That is because the songs are largely amelodic. Much of the guitarwork is seemingly random thrashing on the guitars. “Elvenpath” opens the album with quiet keyboards and spoken word before the guitars explode to assault the ears with intensity and passionately-delivered vocals. The album continues with strong percussion and guitars acting more like percussive instruments than harmonizing melodymakers. The result is very much a “love it or hate it” sound . . . and one that is objectively very repetitive over the course of the nine songs on the album.

Vocally, Nightwish is led on Angels Fall First by Tarja Turunen and she has an impressive soprano voice. She sings with power and enthusiasm and pretty decent lung capacity. What she lacks, however, is the ability to articulate in English while emoting and carrying the notes. As a result, much of the poetics of Nightwish’s songs is lost to the overbearing instrumental accompaniment and her lack of enunciation. My wife was convinced one of the lines on the album was “sacrifice me to the Care Bears” and I could not contest her assertion based on Turunen’s vocals.

Lyrically, much of Angels Fall First is simply fantasy music. “Elvenpath” is a musical recitation of the creation of the One Ring. “Beauty And The Beast” is a musical retelling of that classic fairy tale. Fortunately, the Nightwish songs on Angels Fall First are not simply verbatim retellings of the familiar fantasy stories. Holopainen puts a very different twist on each of the stories he makes musical, usually from a more emotionally-realized perspective. So, for example, he recalls “Beauty And The Beast” with the lines “Remember the first dance we shared? / Recall the night you melted my uglyness away? / The night you left with a kiss so kind / Only a scent of beauty left behind / Ah, dear friend I remember the night / The moon and the dreams we shared / Your trembling paw in my hand / Dreaming of that northern land / Touching me with a kiss of a beast.”

Nightwish is not limited to only European fairy tales for their songs. They go into Christian rock territory on “The Carpenter” and they sing about Finland on the four-part “Lapland.” But their poetics are largely obscured by clashing guitars that create a mood more than tell a story/make a statement. The result is a debut that is fairly incoherent and unfortunately unimpressive.

For other previous Artist Of The Month selections, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Educated Guess - Ani DiFranco
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
Liz Phair - Liz Phair


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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