Nightwish - Oceanborn
Spinefarm Records
Symphonic Power Metal
10 songs (49:06)
Release year: 1998
Nightwish, Spinefarm Records
Reviewed by Cory
Archive review

When you consider Nightwish’s near superstar status today, selling out shows with minimal effort and continuously touring the world as they please, it is difficult to imagine them as a young up and coming band. Yet listening to 1998’s sophomore effort Oceanborn, which followed a rather unremarkable debut in 1997’s Angels Fall First, that is exactly what you have; a young band with a fresh and exciting sound that is attempting to break out into the bigger world. Also of note is that we are talking about the late 90’s, a time that was still not exactly fertile ground for fresh metal. Here in the states if your name wasn’t Korn, System of a Down, Metallica, or (shudder) Limp Bizkit, you probably weren’t going to get a second look by the vast majority of people. So to say that Oceanborn, a modestly successful break out album to my understanding, was a key in unlocking the door for countless other female fronted bands to follow would not be much of a stretch. Furthermore, the shear creative freedom displayed on this album is something to behold. Tuomas Holopainen can compose his ass off, even though results have varied throughout the course of his career, but on Oceanborn he just feels unhinged with creativity and the album benefits greatly from it. Tarja Turunen, now forever viewed through the scope of all the drama that occurred later on, sounds wonderfully free and comfortable here. The pressures that would mount on her shoulders as the frontwoman of one of the more successful acts in metal hadn’t surfaced yet, and she plays strictly to her strength: her powerful diva quality soprano. Tarja is not an emotive singer, she is a powerhouse singer, and I find Oceanborn to be one of her finest overall performances.

The more I listen to this album, the more I realize just how much both Tarja and Nightwish as a whole changed by the time of 2004’s Once. It is really almost like listening to two different bands, with Oceanborn featuring a pure and much more technical classical approach and Once displaying the simplified songwriting and bombastic larger than life production that has become their modern norm. There is an argument to be made for both eras’s, but make no mistake: the Nightwish of 1998 is a far cry from the Nightwish of today. I should also mention that while I enjoyed the Annette albums, I better understand in retrospect just how much of a departure from their roots her selection was. There is no way she could be realistically expected to pull off the majority of this album, and I am not in the least bit surprised that her tenure with the band has come to an end. There are only a handful of vocalists that you could even consider to be a suitable replacement for Tarja here, such as Simone Simmons or Floor Jansen, and even then I doubt it could compare. Say what you want about Tarja’s diva nature, her singing on here just proves how difficult she is to replace, a fact that I believe Tuomas is currently coming to terms with.

The songs themselves are remarkably consistent in quality. Starting with the opening salvo of Stargazers, Oceanborn is pretty much a force of musical nature all the way up until The Pharaoh Sails to Orion rings out its last note. There is a cover of Walking in the Air (Theme from “The Snowman”) that is tacked on at the end, but while decent enough I found it to be the least interesting portion of the album. The best tracks for me are the concert staple Sacrament of Wilderness, the breathtakingly beautiful ballad Swanheart which puts Tarja on full vocal display, the instrumental Moondance, and lastly the finest track on the album: the aforementioned The Pharaoh Sails to Orion, which is phenomenal. Remaining songs such as Stargazers, Gethsemane, and The Riddler are also worthy of praise. The only song that doesn’t really work for me is Devil & The Deep Dark Ocean. Musically it is quite good, but the male vocals used on Oceanborn (at this point Marco Hietala had yet to join the band and contribute his vocals, which would prove to be a great addition), and this song in particular, just test my tolerance. It isn’t really singing, but rather a form of chanting that sounds strangely mixed in, and as a result I find it distracting. The Pharaoh Sails to Orion also features this, but comes off much better and doesn’t take away from a brilliant song. Still, with those being my only complaints, Oceanborn remains a hell of an album.

My experience with Nightwish began when I heard 2002’s Century Child the first time, and in my opinion that remains their best album. An argument can also be made for 2000’s Wishmaster, but regardless of where you stand I believe that those albums and Oceanborn constitute what is the quintessential Nightwish experience, and the place where anyone new to the band should be referred. Oceanborn itself is a borderline classic album due to its influential timing when the female fronted genre was taking form, however in the end I opted not to make that distinction because of the album that followed it potentially being more deserving of that honor in my opinion. Regardless, Oceanborn is a snapshot in time of Nightwish when they were in their purest creative form, unhindered by expectations or the drama that would follow in later years, and an album that captures the beauty of this genre and what it has to offer the world perfectly.

Killing Songs :
Sacrament of Wilderness, Swanheart, Moondance, and the incredible The Pharaoh Sails to Orion.
Cory quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Nightwish that we have reviewed:
Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Nightwish - Imaginaerum reviewed by Cory and quoted 84 / 100
Nightwish - Dark Passion Play reviewed by Marty and quoted 92 / 100
Nightwish - Wish I Had an Angel reviewed by Ben and quoted no quote
Nightwish - Once reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 98 / 100
To see all 16 reviews click here
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