Released at a time when Nightwish
's future appeared uncertain because of the shocking departure of charismatic frontwoman and de facto band calling card Tarja Turunen, Highest Hopes
is a comprehensive greatest-hits collection spanning the chart-topping Finnish pop-metal act's entire first decade. Summarized in one convenient CD at last, the 16-song set proves that Nightwish were nothing if not consistent -- both in terms of quality and overall style -- throughout the five and a half studio albums recorded during that period. Yes, enduring early numbers like the Tolkien-esque
"Elvenpath," the somewhat preposterous, narration-embellished "The Kinslayer," and the neoclassical metal-by-numbers of "Stargazers" eventually gave way to slightly more refined (and restrained) pop-metal singles like "Ever Dream," "Wish I Had an Angel," and "Nemo" (which, one presumes, was about the submarine captain, not the fish), but the relatively seamless transition between them all is made abundantly clear by the non-chronological order in which they are presented here. Likewise, with the exception of their still tentative (and therefore, on this collection, mostly ignored) first album, Nightwish showed equal mastery at composing potent power metal ("Sacrament of Wilderness," "Wishmaster," "Dead to the World") and tear-jerking ballads ("Walking in the Air," "Dead Boy's Poem," "Sleeping Sun") in all phases of their career. They even took Gary Moore
's generally forgotten '80s nugget "Over the Hills and Far Away" for their own, recording a debatably definitive version that is wisely included in this disc, alongside a brand new recording of Pink Floyd
's "High Hopes." Also keep in mind the band's immaculate instrumental execution through the years, and what this collection proves above all else is that, though they've inspired quite literally dozens of imitators, Nightwish's groundbreaking fusion of melodic power metal, symphonic orchestration, theatrical lyrics, and (of course) Turunen's classically trained, operatic soprano, has arguably yet to be equaled. Whatever becomes of the group's trajectory following its popular singer's exit, you can at least take this statement to the bank.