I was blown away the first time I heard this band, and now months later, after delving into the genre in a big way, I've yet to hear better. Nightwish are a Finnish 5-piece with standard rock line-up except they use an operatic soprano as lead vocalist. First released in 1998 this is exceptionally powerful and colourful music.
The soprano vocals may take a little getting used to (I've been raised on classic rock) but Tarja sounds absolutely wonderful on the big ballads (one of which is a great version of "Walking in the Air") On some of the more metal-type numbers I can't help wishing from time to time that Ronnie James Dio or Glenn Hughes was singing that material. In other words she has a beautiful big voice but I'm not always convinced it suits the music. Where she really scores is when she turns on the power when a song has a key change.
Tuomas the keyboard player writes all the material but somewhat surprisingly it is very guitar-oriented with great riffs that fairly leap out at you, and are driven along at quite fast tempos by their drummer Jukka. Drum sounds are excellent, the machine-gun bass drum is not overdone and the group are augmented from time to time by strings(orchestral accompaniment was to be enlarged in later releases especially "Once" and "Dark Passion Play")
The best tracks are "Stargazers", "Sleeping Sun" (Tarja's vocals doubled up are sublime), "Walking in the Air", "Sacrament of Wilderness", "Gethsemane" and Swanheart" (the first 4 are also on their "Best of"). The longer tracks are not quite as good as on later releases and some of their endings aren't as well thought out as their intros so I've docked a star from what is an exceptional album.