Stepping Stone: Nightwish’s Oceanborn

I did not listen to music as a child. Before I turned thirteen, I had enjoyed perhaps thirty individual songs in my lifetime. I had never had a favorite band or album. When asked what my favorite genre of music was, I would reply “Rock and roll!” with fake enthusiasm because that was the music boys liked. But this musical apathy diametrically changed with my sudden and unexpected discovery of Nightwish. Unlike most metal fanatics, I have the special luxury of knowing exactly when my metal journey started. ‘Twas a dark and stormy night on August 26th, 2009, and thirteen year old Andrew was trawling YouTube for funny videos in a dark basement because I’ve always been pretty cool. I came across a “misheard lyrics” video of Nightwish’s song “Wishmaster”, and I exalted in joy because I had finally found the funniest video on YouTube.

I shared the video with my equally cool and hip friends, and we all made fun of the strange sounding soprano vocals and the dramatic keyboard.  But as I returned to the video countless times over a couple of weeks, I realized that I had begun to watch the video in order to listen to the music instead of laugh at the misheard lyrics. I was forced to admit to myself that the same vocals and keyboards I had derided actually sounded pretty cool. And thus began my journey.

Before:

I scoured the Internet for more Nightwish songs, and in a few months I had scraped together enough iTunes gift card money to buy my very first album: Oceanborn. I distinctly remember sitting in my high school cafeteria, surrounded by friends but lost in my own world listening to this wonderful new music. I was convinced that these twelve songs would last me the rest of my life; no more were necessary. “Gethsemane” revealed a songwriting complexity I’d never heard before, even if I couldn’t put into words what made it so much different than the songs I had heard on the radio. The crescendo in the middle of “The Riddler” was possibly the greatest moment of my life, which I made a point to revisit nearly every day.

The growled guest vocals and dark tone of “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion” was the heaviest and most chaotic music I could imagine – and I loved it. The use of flutes in “Stargazers” I considered groundbreaking and revolutionary. I was equally floored by the piano infesting the album. After all, this was metal, right? Those instruments didn’t belong! Therefore, I presumed, main man Tuomas Holopainen must surely be a musical genius, and his bandmates virtuosic musicians at the pinnacle of their playing abilities. Finally, after spending my entire life as someone who just didn’t like music, I had found my musical calling. I could not properly articulate why I liked Oceanborn so much; all I knew was that I had never heard music that made me feel this way before.

But, of course, Oceanborn’s status as my musical nirvana came to an end. I quickly learned to be ashamed of my newly acquired taste in music. Giddy with anticipation, I tried to share Nightwish’s music with my friends – but they only laughed and mimicked Tarja Turunen’s operatic, heavily accented voice. (This stung particularly harshly because I was a little bit in love with her.) Over the years, as my tastes transformed from powder-puff power metal into the more “serious”, “mature” realms of black and death metal, I began to believe that my friends were right. No, Tarja wasn’t the greatest female singer ever to grace the earth. The music did rely on manufactured bombast. Maybe it was just a phase. And so Oceanborn gathered digital dust as I explored other genres and artists.

Now:

Now, seven years removed from my days of abject Nightwish fanboyism, I’ve found myself reconnecting with this album for a simple reason: it fucking rocks. “Stargazers” opens the album with twin keyboard and guitar melodies that burst with the youthful energy of a young band. The keyboard-dominated detour near the end of the song sounds as fresh and exciting as ever. Every song has something interesting and well-executed to offer, whether it’s the aria of “Passion and the Opera” or the jarring tempo change in “The Riddler” or the irresistibly jaunty instrumental “Moondance”. But the biggest reasons that this album aged so well for me is because of the brilliance of “Gethsemane” and, in particular, “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion”. “Gethsemane” slowly combines and overlays piano, guitar, and vocal melodies into a well composed climax punctuated by the best solo in Nightwish’s discography.

And “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion” is simply the best song Nightwish ever produced. Although the riffs aren’t incredibly fast and the guest vocals aren’t very abrasive and the double bass never strains itself past a canter, the song’s intensity and darkness rival the heaviest death metal songs. The atmosphere created by the tolling bells and the Egypt-ified guitar effect, combined with the driving piano, layered vocals, and excellent drum fills make the song a masterpiece of composition. This isn’t the flowery, faux-epic cheese I’d convinced myself Nightwish was. This is the kind of song I know I’ll be returning to seven more years from now.

I am very pleased with how Oceanborn has held up over the years. While I don’t enjoy the album with the same level of sincerity and euphoria that once compelled me to shun all other non-Nightwish music, I’ve come to smile at the cheesiness for which I once held shame, and appreciate the metal brilliance that piqued my dormant ears so many years ago. It would not be an overstatement to say that if I had never come across that stupid YouTube video, I would not be writing for this blog today.

Comments

Andrew Hatch is from a place that isn't interesting enough to bother mentioning. His hobbies are diverse and unrelentingly avant-garde, ranging from such arcane activities as rock climbing, reading books, and listening to music(!!) Additionally, he is of the firm belief that the great superhero Guitar Solo and his sidekick, Tremolo Riff, have the mettle to cure all that ails the world.






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