With ripening age I have started to enjoy the occasional musical. Whatever my opinion of the music may be, the moment when every actor on stage joins into a final dramatic chorus together with the leads, the hairs on my arms rise on end despite myself. If an entire symphonic orchestra additionally backs up the singers, all your defense systems go down.
On "Once", Nightwish immediately starts building up towards this point, and after reaching it they just go on. Strings, keyboards, guitars, choirs, choirs and more choirs, Native American chanting, flutes and Tarja Turunen's distinct vocals all saturate the output to the point of total overload. The line between good taste and kitsch is constantly being crossed in both directions. At some point "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff comes to mind, seconds later all I can think of is Meat Loaf running among castle ruins in silly medieval robes.
If "Once" were a movie, it would be the case of a huge budget pic with some problems at the script stage. The London Session Orchestra, that contributes bountifully (and expensively) to this album, is the equivalent of, say, Lucasfilm's FX-unit Industrial Light and Magic, making skyscrapers crumble and dinosaurs move so naturally that you hardly notice the lack of a proper dramatic structure. "Once" is impressive in its rock opera ambitions, but it would have benefited from more variations in tempo. Though ballads are interspersed on the album, they are all bombastic power ballads with more choirs, strings, keyboards... You get the idea.

It's nice to finally hear Tanja in Finnish on "Kuolema tekee taiteijlian" (death makes the artist), the only really restrained ballad of the album. Otherwise I can't really see why I shouldn't get out and watch "Jesus Christ Superstar" or something, where you get this musical vibe and a storyline to go with it. But perhaps my judgment is tainted by the awful promotion copy of the album where parts of the songs are faded to allow a gentleman to read the titles of the songs.