Which of NIGHTWISH‘s Tarja Turunen-era albums is your favorite? Surely, many of you responded with very different answers! In 1997, they surprised the local scene with “Angels Fall First,” but they really started to make waves (pun intended) with “Oceanborn.” However, it wasn’t until “Wishmaster” in 2000 that the band started to get a bit of renown, particularly outside of Finland. On May 25th, 2002, the band released their fourth studio album, “Century Child,” which is still remembered fondly by fans of all of the band’s eras. Today, on its 20th anniversary, we will look back on this opera metal classic!
“Century Child” begins with one of the band’s older classics, “Bless the Child.” To this day, it’s still exciting to hear those traditional NIGHTWISH synth notes that get things going. Tarja‘s gentle yet powerful soprano is still quite iconic, and the drums chug along at a nice pace. Perhaps it’s just the nostalgia talking, but there’s a great poetic drama to the feel of these songs, back when there was a lot of focus on things like children and angels and fantasy. However, the band still feels like a rock/metal band, because most of the big backing symphonics are a little more subtle. This gives a bit more space for the bass and guitar to stand out.
The album flows smoothly into “End of All Hope,” a banger of a track that reminds us that NIGHTWISH did have notable guitar-work back in the day. Has anyone else noticed that his presence in the music has been a little overshadowed in recent years? Tarja shows off her versatility, with the rich depth of her deeper notes, which uphold the catchiness of the choruses wonderfully.
In 2002, Marko Hietala was also fresh on the scene, coming in from TAROT to be NIGHTWISH‘s new bassist, replacing Sami Vänskä. However, this was also a big step towards him becoming one of the country’s most renowned vocalists. “Dead to the World” is a great example of how and why that came to happen… his iconic duet with Tarja remains powerful and for its time, was a unique take on the beauty-and-the-beast style of singing, avoiding growls but maintaining a heavy degree of raw emotion in his sound nevertheless. The wails are truly some of his best work to date. The guitar gets a strong lead riff as well, which nowadays might be given to the keyboards or even possibly one of Troy Donockley‘s many instruments. And of course, that final harmonization is the icing on the cake.
“Ever Dream” is another natural classic, with some of Tarja‘s loveliest vocals, great keyboards from Tuomas Holopainen, as well as strong lyrics that toe the Gothic line oh so nicely. Marko‘s subtle contributions are also really powerful and tastefully done. What a royal flush of starter songs! This is then followed by one of the band’s heaviest riffers ever, “Slaying the Dreamer.” The song isn’t quite as catchy as the previous ones, but has a bit more of an ominous note to it, almost sounding like a precursor to songs like “Planet Hell” from “Once” (2004). The progression is quite varied, with the stop parts, a false ending, and a heavy stomping part when Marko comes in screaming, with a nearly black metal breakdown. Follow this with some of Tarja‘s highest notes and you’ve got a surprising track to shake things up midway through, especially right before they slow things down.
The transition from the heaviness of “Slaying the Dreamer” to the gentleness of “Forever Yours” is a bit sharp, but after giving a such a hefty blast of heavy energy, it is about time for a rest. The song is sufficiently pretty, with a nice blend of lyrical singing with vocal notes in the background, as well as one of the older instances when a flute was included in their music – yet another precursor to their current sound. The transition into “Ocean Soul” is much more smooth, as the energy picks up a little. If there’s one weak spot on the album, it might be this track, as it doesn’t really offer anything the other songs haven’t already done, without standing out significantly in energy, riffing, or vocal sound. Perhaps Jukka Nevalainen‘s drums have a few sparkling moments, but not enough to save the track. However, they shake things up with the surprisingly groovy intro for “Feel for You,” as well as its tinkling synth sound. Oh, also, this song features one of Marko‘s best vocal performances, period.
If you were a young metalhead in the naughties, there’s a genuine possibility that when you heard NIGHTWISH for the first time, you immediately wanted to hear Tarja covering “Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. While Tarja‘s soprano sound is perfect for this opera cover, it’s actually Marko‘s sound, almost hammy with drama, that really drives the whole thing home, especially once they start harmonizing. The song is a great depiction of the NIGHTWISH sound… who doesn’t love when Marko belts out, “Sing my angel of music!” and Tarja follows with those high notes?
If there is one NIGHTWISH song that is sadly underrated and severely under-played (as we have never seen it live to our recollection), it’s the tripart “Beauty of the Beast.” The groovy bass, the soft vocals, the fantastic lyrics, and the powerful harmonization of the first part, “Long Lost Love,” as the song pushes forward are utterly wonderful across the board. The synth sound is surprisingly fresh for Tuomas, who has a pretty well-known keyboard riffing style at this point, which makes a strong appearance as the song transitions into “One More Night to Live.” The symphonic backing is wonderfully done, while the dark shift in tone is deeply alluring. Emppu Vuorinen‘s riffing is laid-back but tight, while the drums make sure to keep things moving. The dynamic push forward is subtle as they reach the “all of my songs can only be composed of the greatest of pains” part, before it blasts your pants off with another tiny taste of extreme metal with blasting rhythms and screams. You can really feel the soul of the artist in this track, truly. It begins its wind-down with “Christobel,” one of the more dramatic/poetic parts… some cringe at these bits, but in this case, I’d say it’s excusable just because the song is so damn good. It definitely shows that, from an early start (even with songs like “Fantasmic”) that Tuomas always knew how to write an epic.
If you’re going to rank a band’s albums based on the simple standard of how many great songs are on it, it’s hard to deny “Century Child” the title of best NIGHTWISH album. Even the dated mix can’t hold back how powerful and diverse this album manages to be. While the band surely has better songs on other albums, “Century Child” easily holds its own as a near-perfect collection of high-quality tracks in a way that no other album does. If there’s one album by this band that’s always a treat to put on and just listen through, it’s this one! If you’re looking for a masterpiece, this is a great place to start.
- Bless the Child
- End of All Hope
- Dead to the World
- Ever Dream
- Slaying the Dreamer
- Forever Yours
- Ocean Soul
- Feel for You
- The Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber song)
- Beauty of the Beast
- Tarja Turunen – lead vocals
- Tuomas Holopainen – keyboards
- Emppu Vuorinen – guitars
- Marko Hietala – bass, vocals
- Jukka Nevalainen – drums, percussion