89. Nightwish, “Once” (2004)

The importance of expertise, professional judgement, and knowledge has never been more evident; yet many of us celebrate wrongness, stupidity, and a stubborn refusal to face facts as what…bravery? Heroism? Or my favorite: common sense. I’ve always thought that I was on the side of the former. Not all opinions are equal, and I’ll listen to a knowledgeable epidemiologist, before I give much weight to memes from your uncle Libertario, with his PhD from the school of hard knocks. I’m one of the reasonable ones. Right?

Wrong. I’m a hypocrite and a dumbass. This is the story of my hubris.

Within the first six seconds of the opening track “Dark Chest of Wonders”, I thought to myself, “crap…I have to listen to this whole thing”? This is a symphonic metal album, featuring loads of synth, emotive broadway musical-style vocals, and sweeping melodies. “This is music for a Vegas magic show, this is terrible, this is an hour long” I thought as I cast around for a task to keep my hands and eyes busy. The second track “I Wish I had an Angel”, a lament of lost love, made me cringe so hard that family members sought to intervene. I had to tune out. I began to let the music slip to the back of my mind, focusing on the tasks of the day. Tracks faded into tracks, and I fell out of time and mind. Then, slowly, like waking from a dream, I realized that I was……head banging.

That’s right. Scrubbing dishes, and slamming my chin into my chest. Squinting. The ultimate test of metal had been passed. Without my permission, and despite my craptastic attitude, this album wormed into my nervous system and good things happened. I had what Mr. Trapp would have called a *metanoia*.

This album is epic. Not in the 20-aughts slang way, but in that it is actually concerned with epic things, like crossing the river Styx, the Trail of Tears, elvenpaths, and some sort of enchantress. There is a choir. There is an orchestra. What’s wrong with that? If was good enough for Beethoven, who am I to resist? Me who plays dungeons and dragons, goes to the renaissance festival, every year, and gets paid to look at flowers. A nerd. Once my grotesque pretense had been betrayed by neckular spasms, I let myself get into it. It’s a fun fucking album, synth and all. “Dead Gardens” is a riot of straight 80s thrash riffing…beneath a full choir and orchestra….and—if I’m not mistaken— is the twinned Tolkiensian lament of Arwen and Luthien as their mortal loves age and die, leaving them alone in greyest memory. That might not sound like it could kick ass, but it does. Romanticide is the dumbest name for a song ever…and I’ll admit that it begins really slowly. By the end, its all Bathory, if Bathory wasn’t a single man*, but rather a rock band + an orchestra + a choir, and still alive.

In retrospect, should anyone be surprised? Nightwish is a Finnish band. Like, from Finland. For those of you who don’t know, the Finns have more metal bands per capita than any other nation on earth. They speak a decidedly non-Indoeuropean language, which is Metal AF**. They catch fish in cold seas. They are arbiters of what rocks.In Finland, Nightwish is the third Best Selling Musical Act Of All Time. 3BSMAOAT. They are ahead of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Beatles. The Finns are experts in metal, and I’m just some n008 with an opinion that needs to learn. But I can learn. Thank you, Nightwish, for setting me straight.

*Quorthorn is not a corn-based meat substitute.

**Take a lesson Norway.

Cover By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25853556

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