Nightwish – Angels Fall First

August 27, 2012 in Artist Rewind, Reviews by blackwindmetal

Angels Fall First
Nightwish
1997 

Way back in the mists of time (the mid-1990s), in a wintry northern country, a guy sat by a campfire and had an epiphany.  He wanted to do an acoustic musical project with big female vocals.  He recruited some of his high school friends who, along with him, had attended a special school that focused on the arts.  They lived in the middle of nowhere,  and despite the initial acoustic aspirations, this group would go on to become one of the biggest names in heavy metal, complete with a big soap opera to boot.

Tuomas Holopainen was that dreamer sitting at the campfire, and the name for the project he came up with was Nightwish.  After dilly-dallying around with some demos – one of them a track called “Nightwish” – this Finnish quartet (as it was at the time) released their debut album, Angels Fall First.  In the album booklet of the special edition copy I have, there is a quote from Tuomas saying, “What was supposed to be no more than a demo recording ended up becoming our debut album back in 1997.  Reflecting on those times now, I hear a cute little effort full of youthful ambition and an ignorance of what is to come.”

This “cute little effort” introduced the world to themes that Tuomas, the composer and lyricist, would become obsessed with for several albums to come: love of nature, loss of innocence, fantasy themes, the concept of “beauty and the beast”, and mythology.

Angels Fall First as an album is an interesting listen for those of us who didn’t start out listening to Nightwish until much later in their career.  The fact that it features Tuomas himself on vocals in a few different songs is very strange, and he’s not very good (even he says this and admits that having to sing on stage is one of his worst nightmares).  In terms of compositions, there is a lot to this album.  Given that Nightwish was among the first bands to pioneer the genre of symphonic power metal, we get songs that show the early roots of Nightwish’s foray into this sub-genre.

The opener, “Elvenpath”, is a jumpy tune that introduces us all to guitarist Emppu Vuorinen’s talents as a super riffer with a penchant for killer guitar work.  We are also introduced to something that is the hallmark of Tuomas’s style, and that is the grand instrumental intro.  But the main element of Nightwish’s sound we first hear with “Elvenpath” is the soon-to-be iconic vocals of Tarja Turunen.

Tarja’s big, classically trained soprano vox are almost overwhelming in this debut.  Combined with Tuomas’s elegant, complex, and sometimes bombastic music, Tarja’s voice is the carrier of the composer’s message both in a literal and figurative sense.  She sings his lyrics and tells his stories, but she is also the beauty to his beast.  This self-deprecating attitude played out in the assumption of a “beast” role is something, it turns out, we’re going to have to get used to, because it comes up a lot in the future.

Musically, this isn’t my favourite Nightwish album by a long shot, though I agree with many old timer fans that Angels Fall First was probably Nightwish at its most pure and innocent.  There is a lot going on in it.  We get the crispy riffing and double bass drums de rigeur in the genre, but we also get lovely acoustic moments, such as the title track and my fave on the album “Angels Fall First”, and then we get a partially sung, part instrumental suite known as the Lapland, or Lappi, suite in four parts.

But there is, to me anyway, a decent amount of cheese on this album.  “The Carpenter”, which, who are we kidding, is about Jesus, is not my cup of tea lyrically and is probably one of Tuomas’s least image-heavy songs.  Another song that always confuses me is “Tutankhamen”.  While mythology is a theme that comes up again and again, when I hear and see the word “stargate” in this context, I think of the movie and its connection to Egyptian myth.  Am I crazy?  I don’t know.  Then there is that reference to Carter in the last line.  Carter is a character in the TV show Stargate SG-1.  It’s just odd, having these pop culture/TV references in here!  Then there is the tail end of the song, where there are a few lonely notes going down in scale that sound reminiscent of the music you hear when Wile E. Coyote gets thwarted again by the Roadrunner.  Again, very odd!

Though I love the acoustic guitar, the flute, and in general, the synths,  Angels Fall First fails to resonate with me, and combined with some strange songs and Tuomas’s rather…er…underwhelming vocal performance, it’s the Nightwish album I listen to the least.

Allyson’s Rating 3.0 out of 5