This is something I was feeling a little apprehensive about a few months ago when I bought Century Child for a few pennies and since then it's been gathering dust in my CD rack for the last few months. Then, quite recently, I snapped and felt compelled to play it, so worth the delay? I first started listening to Finnish act Nightwish about 2008 when Anette Olzon was making it with the band and of course, their first female singer was Tarja Turunen, who is now forging her own musical path.
The reason I wasn't overtly happy about listening to Tarja was because of her operatic characteristics and while classical and metal can go hand in hand very comfortably, likewise her singing, I've grown to the fact that she really doesn't float my boat. Just personal taste mind, and The 'Wish's following album to this, Once, is a decent album, but again, the vocals are like trying to introduce a top Peruvian Ceviche dish into a McDonald's restaurant. It was always going to be a mismatch. However, Century Child saw the debut of Marko Hietala not only as a replacement bassist for the recently sacked Sami Vanska but also as the perfect male vocal foil. I also think he's one of the best metal singers around so maybe this record's much better than its successor in Once.
As may well be expected in symphonic metal, the opening track Bless The Child has all the hallmarks, ethereal choral singers, gradual introduction of polished keyboards and Empuu Vuorinen's ESP kicks in accompanied by a poetry recital by Sam Hardwick which he resumes at the end of the song. Next song kicking in, End Of All Hope, but arrghhh!! Please excuse my proverbial screams, but the rhythm and lyrical structure are a carbon copy of preceding album and title track Wishmaster, and so soon afterwards? Oh dear. Then Hietala makes his vocal duetting debut in Dead To The World and he certainly brings in some glam flavour, especially from his previous act Tarot. Not many male metal vocalists can claim to hit the high 'C' comfortably, and he features in another three tracks here too.
2002 was probably the turning point for Nightwish, where they began more heavy usage of orchestral backdrops which these days I recognise is a trait for any symphonic metal wannabe, thankfully, it's turning out to be the album where Vuorinen had more guitar input. It's also recognised as where Miss Turunen was partly shedding her operatic roots although their cover of Phantom Of The Opera I'm guessing was recorded to keep certain band members happy. I've never liked any Lloyd-Webber songs albeit not able to explain why and even with this version I'm still not endeared to it. Again, personal taste.
Fortunately, there are a few more tracks which I do enjoy, like Feel For You which sees the Turunen/Hietala partnership working well, and I've also enjoyed his basswork in the bridge and introduction. Final track, Beauty And The Beast is actually divided into three sections - Long Lost Love, One More Night To Live and Christabel which in retrospect feels like a 10 minute prequel to The Poet And The Pendulum (from Dark Passion Play, click on the link here) although not quite as dark or diverse. Still, a mixture of tempo and guitars and keyboards make this an eclectic bowl of kudos.
Century Child is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. It's not as heavy or as dark as I thought although their previous albums weren't indicators as to the footing in the rungs of metal that the group were trying to find. Mind you, compared with their later material, it feels like a working progress, but with Tuomas Holopainen's tinkering around with the instrumentation and his tendencies to lean to a more bombastic and resounding acoustic, this is another Nightwish album that could grow on me the more times I listen to it. Perhaps not as diverse as Once, and probably more straightforward and less intense.
7.5 out of ten. This is good and well worth a listen.