Every Nightwish album ranked from worst to best

Nightwish in 2004
(Image credit: Press)

Since forming in 1996, Nightwish have transformed from unpolished dreamers with big ideas, into the most successful symphonic metal band in the world. To help navigate your journey through their epic discography, we’ve ranked their nine records from worst to best.

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9. Angels Fall First (1997)

Nightwish’s rough and ready debut has not aged well. Composer, songwriter and mastermind. Tuomas Holopainen is many things, but a singer isn’t one of them – this album is the only time he would take on co-vocal duties – and let’s not get started on the awkward lust of Nymphomaniac Fantasia. Grand designs are evident even at this early stage and the operatic vocals of original singer Tarja Turunen are ever striking, but these simple tracks show little of the pomp and splendour further down the road.

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8. Wishmaster (2000)

Closing the door on the band’s early power metal chapter, Wishmaster saw the band growing in confidence even if it is their most forgettable collection of songs. Continuing the magical, Narnia-like atmospherics the band began building on their second album, Oceanborn, on the track, Dead Boy’s Poem, Wishmaster is notable as the moment Tuomas began to explore the Peter Pan-esque concept of lost childhood and innocence, themes he would return to again and again in Nightwish’s later work. 

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7. Oceanborn (1998)

The fact Nightwish gave us Oceanborn little more than a year after their undercooked debut is remarkable. Sure, it’s still the sound of a band finding their feet, but everything here is a huge step forward. Rooted in galloping power metal – the symphonic opulence of later years wouldn’t arrive for a few albums yet – tracks like Stargazers and Gethsemane start to deliver on Tuomas’ big ideas, while Sleeping Sun remained their best album closer until a certain 25-minute epic would come along 17 years later. More on that later.

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6. Human :||: Nature (2020)

A double album, the second disc of which is almost completely instrumental, Human ://: Nature makes you work hard to uncover its charms. Current singer Floor Jansen is given more licence on her second outing with the band to let her formidable range run rampant, while the melodies and compositions of tracks like Shoemaker, Pan and Tribal are their proggiest and most complex yet.

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5. Century Child (2002)

With Century Child, Nightwish really kicked into gear. Bridging their power metal and symphonic inclinations, it was the band’s first time recording with an orchestra, and introduced fork-bearded bassist Marco Hietala, to the mix. Its fantastic opening run of the gothtastic Bless The Child, melodramatic End Of All Hope and Dead To The World, the gorgeous Ever Dream and raging Slaying The Dreamer is one of the best in their back catalogue.

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4. Dark Passion Play (2007)

Following their messy and very public split with Tarja, who was fired in 2005 via an open letter, the band’s next record was an unsurprisingly intense affair. Tuomas poured every drop of his anger, hurt and disappointment into the dark majesty of glorious epic, The Poet And The Pendulum and Bye Bye Beautiful, but this is also a record of devastating beauty. New singer Anette Olzon’s poppier style works perfectly on those prettier moments while some of Tuomas’ most stunning lyricism is on display here - “The good in her will be my sunflower field” (Eva). “It would be an exaggeration to say Dark Passion Play saved my life,” he would tell us later. “But it definitely saved my mental health.”

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3. Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)

Nightwish’s first album with Floor Jansen is a high-concept exploration of evolutionary science, narrated by scientist Richard Dawkins and an absolute triumph. From the full-pelt throttle of Shudder Before The Beautiful and cinematic bombast of Weak Fantasy, to the Celtic flourishes of Elan to the life affirming anthemia of Alpenglow, it’s a constant stream of brilliance. Then there’s The Greatest Show On Earth, a 25-minute show-stopper most bands could only dream of writing. It’s no surprise this was the record that turned Nightwish into festival and arena headliners.

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2. Once (2004)

The album that introduced Nightwish to the masses. Once brandishes many of the band’s most famous songs and saw Tarja on the form of her life: the tempestuous Dark Chest Of Wonders, stomper Wish I Had An Angel, wintery anthem Nemo and their career-defining moment, the extraordinary Ghost Love Score. With Once, the band perfected their symphonic drama and left their peers in the dust. For newbies, this is the best place to start.

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1. Imaginaerum (2011)

After the darkness of Dark Passion Play, with Imaginaerum, Nightwish stepped back into the light. Described by Tuomas as a “celebration of life”, their seventh album was a sprawling, wide-eyed wonder that explored the depths of every human emotion and experience, threw everything at the wall and watched it all stick. Every member of the band puts in the performance of their lives, in particular, Anette Olzon sounds completely at home fronting the band by this point, while stylistically, this is Tuomas’ most ambitious experimental moment to date. For every Nightwish-on-steroids dazzler like Storytime, Ghost River and I Want My Tears Back, there’s a volte-face like the jazz lounge of Slow, Love, Slow or haunted circus-top horror of Scaretale, while Last Ride Of The Day gave the band their most colourful anthem. Just one year after it’s release, and seven years after Tarja’s acrimonious departure, Anette would leave in a similarly dramatic hail of fire, but she left behind her the band’s crowning opus.

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Dannii Leivers

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.