To coincide with Nightwish's 2018 'Decades: World Tour', whereby they've promised to perform an all-inclusive, diachronic setlist that'll dip into all eras of the band, here we have the timely release of a double compilation album, 'Decades'. I'm always intrigued by how bands chose to represent their music on compilation albums; in terms of precisely what songs they opt to pluck from their back catalogue, to forge something of a musical journey through their recorded history. On this front, 'Decades' is largely predictable, but with a few surprise omissions and inclusions. More on that shortly.
First, I must address the sweeping press sheet claims that boldy declare Nightwish as "the undisputed pioneers of symphonic metal and the icons of a whole genre." While the latter assertion might very well be true for their own self-styled take on symphonic metal, it is certainly not a subgenre they pioneered. Undoubtedly, they've helped popularise the whole sympho-metal scene over the past two decades and remain a seminal band in terms of the "copycat" bandwagon jumpers who've hijacked their entire aesthetic, both musically and visually. But pioneers? No way. Swedish stalwarts Therion are surely the "undisputed pioneers", a band who not only established its foundations but also continue to perpetuate and reinvent the scene's essence.
Anyway, pioneers or not, it's indubitable that the compositional majesty of keys man Tuomas Holopainen, and the band's musical prowess through all their personnel changes, has been a perennial influence in spawning a plethora of imitators. And 'Decades' is representative of such, whether or not you personally agree with what's been included/excluded. A reverse chronology compilation, it commences with pieces from 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful' and travels right back to 'Angels Fall First' songs, plus the band's very first eponymously titled demo track to finish with.
The tracklist is generally as predictable as a setlist for one of their shows but, as already noted, with some surprise omissions and additions. For example, the exclusion of perennial fan favourite 'Wishmaster' is unusual. Then again, the song's compositional similarity to 'End of All Hope' (which is included) might explain this. 'Last of the Wilds' is another interesting exclusion - the melodic/folk sublimity of this instrumental track would've brought a little more variance to the compilation. But there is enough variance on offer, anyway, despite the predominant predictability. We have the sympho-pop-metal leanings of 'Nemo', 'Wish I Had an Angel', et al. Lengthy, epic, cinematic pieces are included in the form of 'The Poet and the Pendulum' and 'The Greatest Show on Earth'. There are the band's more recent folked-up tunes with 'Élan' and 'My Walden'. And, as the set travels deeper into the band's past, there are those songs that adhere to a "purer", symphonic and power metal synthesis with the utterly wonderful 'Sacrament of Wilderness', as well as a surprise, but very welcome, inclusion of the delightfully progressive, neo-classical swayed 'Gethsemane'. The latter, I have to say, has always been a personal favourite of mine, and the album on which it resides, 'Oceanborn', is the band's strongest... in my opinion. There are, of course, some omissions to be very thankful for, such as their take on 'Walking in the Air' and some dud filler that's occupied their later albums.
Musically, it's interesting how the band's earlier material feels more genuinely progressive than their later material. It felt they had something new and fresh to offer back in the days of 'Oceanborn', 'Wishmaster' and even 'Century Child' and 'Dark Passion Play'. As such, with the compilation's reverse chronology, it's interesting to observe how songs become more "daring" and "edgy", despite predating their more recent work. Had the album been ordered chronologically, from oldest to newest, it would've felt more like a band regressing. Or, rather, settling into a much more comfortable, "safe" compositional aesthetic. Emppu Vuorinen's guitar playing was certainly far more adventurous on the earlier material. It's also interesting to hear Nightwish's three different vocalists - Floor Jansen, Anette Olzon and Tarja Turunen - and the stylistic shifts in material over which they sing.
I gather all the tracks have been remastered for 'Decades', although I'm guessing just to balance out general levels/volume across all the songs, to make the listening experience a fluent and congruous, rather than disjointed one. The original sound of each song hasn't been tampered with too much - after all, they've been tagged as "remastered" rather than "remixed". Songs haven't been "freshened up" in any kind of drastic ways here.
Overall, then, this is an impressive, if predictable, compilation. For newcomers wanting a very general overview of what kind of music the band have offered up over the years, this set of Nightwish songs will do the job just fine. Personally, I still regard 1998's 'Oceanborn', 2002's 'Century Child' and 2000's 'Wishmaster' as the finest Nightwish albums ever recorded, with their later work variable in quality. Just my opinion, though. At least 'Decades' becomes stronger and stronger for me, as it progresses. It's probably just a nostalgia thing.
Review by Mark Holmes
70:41 & 71:00
9th March 2018
DISC ONE: 1) The Greatest Show on Earth; 2) Élan; 3) My Walden; 4) Storytime; 5) I Want My Tears Back; 6) Amaranth; 7) The Poet and the Pendulum; 8) Nemo; 9) Wish I Had an Angel
DISC TWO: 1) Ghost Love Score; 2) Slaying the Dreamer; 3) End of All Hope; 4) 10th Man Down; 5) The Kinslayer; 6) Dead Boy's Poem; 7) Gethsemane; 8) Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean; 9) Sacrament of Wilderness; 10) Sleeping Sun; 11) Elvenpath; 12) Carpenter; 13) Nightwish (Demo)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Musically, it's interesting how the band's earlier material feels more genuinely progressive than their later material. It felt they had something new and fresh to offer back in the days of 'Oceanborn', 'Wishmaster' and even 'Century Child' and 'Dark Passion Play'."