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Nightwish - Decades

CD Info
Album: Decades
Artist: Nightwish
Genre: Symphonic metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
Language: English
Tracks: 22

Nightwish certainly likes to take their time between albums. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, given that they spend a lot of time touring, some time reenergizing their creative spirit, and the rest meticulously crafting their next masterpiece, but since it’s been about three years since the release of Endless Forms Most Beautiful and at least another year, if not two, before the next album, I suppose the time came to give the fans something. And so, to celebrate over 20 years of enchanting audiences and pioneering an entire genre, they put together Decades: A “best of” compilation that spans Nightwish’s entire career, from their first demo to the last track of their eight studio album, all remastered to sound better than ever.

Now, “best of,” according to main songwriter Tuomas Holopainen, is a bit of a misnomer. Regarding the choice of songs, he notes that “the more correct term would be 'the most essential ones'.” So, can Decades de deemed “The Essential Nightwish”?

The compilation begins, appropriately enough, the end. The first track is the closer of Endless Forms Most Beautiful and is by far the band’s most ambitious piece of music. On the surface, this decision makes sense, as it truly is an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-Nightwish-but-were-afraid-to-ask kind of song. In fact, “The Greatest Show on Earth” so unabashedly showcases how far the band has come since their early days that Floor and Marco literally scream the words “we are here” during the track’s climactic highpoint. As a representation of where the band are today, you can do no better. However, for any non-fans looking to get into Nightwish for the first time or see what all the fuss is about, a 24-minute song is a bit daunting as an opener, especially since the last 10 minutes are essentially Richard Dawkins reading a monologue over whale noises. In context, as a closer to Endless Forms Most Beautiful, it’s a brilliant piece of music. For a first-time listener, it could be a bit much. 

The compilation continues backwards from there, hitting the “most essential” tracks from each of Nightwish’s eight studio albums, one EP, and original demo. And while many have complained that the back catalog wasn’t redone with Floor on vocals, Tuomas has an explanation for that too: “They're perfect as they are, they should be respected like they are with the original singers.” And while I would never say no to Floor taking a stab at Nightwish’s early work, it makes sense that a compilation meant to celebrate the history of the band would showcase the songs with their original singers. Like it or not, Tarja and Anette are part of the band’s past and their work essential to Nightwish’s sonic evolution. 

As far as song choice goes, if we’re keeping with the “essential” theme, I would probably swap out “My Walden” for “Shudder Before the Beautiful,” “Bless the Child” for “End of All Hope” (much as I may love it), and maybe “Stargazers” for “Devil & The Deep Dark Ocean.” And how you could have a collection of Nighwish’s most essential songs without “Wishmaster” is beyond me. But overall, each album is pretty well covered with their most representative tracks, and the whole compilation is a fairly accurate summary of how Nightwish’s sound has evolved over its two decades of existence. It has Nightwish at their most bombastic and their most somber, at their most ambitious and their most introspective. It features their most well-known tracks as well as some deep cuts familiar to only dedicated Nightwish fans (I’m looking at you, “10th Man Down” from the oft-forgotten EP Over the Hills and Far Away). So sure, I’ll concede that we can probably term this a collection of the band’s most “essential” work. And for what it’s worth, the remastered versions sound great. Even “Carpenter,” objectively Nightwish worst song, gets a new lease on life, though if I never have to hear it again, it would still be too soon. 

TL;DR: If you’re new to Nightwish, or perhaps just a casual fan, Decades is a good place to start the thrilling journey into the band’s catalog, capturing the magic and innocence of their earlier material and the spectacular bombast of their more recent work. Just be prepared to start with Nightwish at their most ambitious and perhaps excessive. And if you, like me, have been a die-hard fan for years, then this compilation is a fun romp through every era of the band’s history, but perhaps more akin to putting your already complete Nightwish discography on shuffle than a must-have release. Unless you absolutely have to own everything they’ve ever released, you probably can skip this one.