Released as their 20th anniversary world tour began, Decades marks the recorded history of Nightwish, Finland's most popular symphonic gothic prog metallers. Containing 22 tracks spread over two discs, it was compiled by founding keyboardist and songwriter Tuomas Holopainen. It's a curious document. First, it contains no new material. The closest thing comes in the form of the demo version of "Nightwish" instead of the studio version found on their debut album. Everything else comes straight from the studio catalog. This presents a conundrum, of course. Who might purchase Decades? Reductively, it comes down to two groups of people: completists who need absolutely everything (since this band is no stranger to compilations) and the blessed, daring souls curious enough based on a few songs, an album, or reading an article.
Legacy Nightwish fans will argue endlessly about the choices Holopainen made, and what he left off ("The Phantom of the Opera," "Dark Chest of Wonders," and "Over the Hills," for starters). Some fans have argued vociferously that Nightwish should have simply re-recorded these songs with current vocalist Floor Jansen. Wisely, Holopainen lets the originals stand; his twist, apart from song choices was in how he sequenced Decades: in reverse chronological order. This means, of course, that the material from the Jansen era is in the minority, as she was preceded by founding vocalist Tarja Tarunen and Anette Olzon. The first arguable choice is the set's leadoff: the 24-minute "The Greatest Show on Earth" from 2015's Endless Forms Most Beautiful. The other two of its tracks here, "lan" and "My Walden," might have been better complemented by a shorter choice or even two more, had he left the opener off. Interestingly, only two were culled from Imaginaerum ("Storytime" and I Want My Tears Back").
On the other side, the set is peppered with great singles including "Amaranth," "Nemo," and "Wish I Had an Angel," along with other tracks that reveal the band's effortlessness with shifting styles, textures, and drama, including "The Poet and the Pendulum." Disc two's 13 cuts offer a number of real highlights: the inclusion of "Ghost Love Score" to open disc two is a particularly welcome choice. Other excellent picks include the mighty "The Kinslayer," "Sleeping Sun," and "The Carpenter." The decision not to include even one unreleased or new track is troubling, as it would provide a real reason for fans to purchase the set. That said, what is here is a solid, excellent representation of what Nightwish have accomplished in their long, pioneering career. The curious will find this a more than adequate introduction to the band's powerful, mysterious music. ~ Thom Jurek