I can't believe I've had a blog up for nearly a month and haven't spoken about Nightwish, in my opinion the best example of the "symphonic metal" genre on the planet. Of course, most people here in America have no idea any such thing as "symphonic metal" even exists; it's rather more popular in Europe than it is here. There's still a dedicated following here in the States, though, of that I can assure you.
Ironically, it was the young man that's now married to my ex-wife that introduced me, indirectly, to their music; when he came over here to visit us and look for work, he brought along a lot of Finnish music for her, mainly metal of one sort or another. I don't have the affection for death metal that he does, but the Nightwish tracks certainly caught my attention. So I wound up losing a spouse but gaining, indirectly, a new world of music. (Yes, I do lead an interesting life, did you doubt it? )
More on the band, including some music, below the fold.
Nightwish were founded in 1996, in Kitee, Finland, by the man who has since been their primary creative force, keyboardist and composer Tuomas Holopainen. He originally set out to create experimental acoustic music, but he was certainly no stranger to metal, and, with a powerful lead vocalist in the classically-trained, operatic Tarja Turunen, he created the sound that Nightwish still sticks to today. (Most symphonic-metal bands have a female lead vocalist, often a classically-trained one.) Tuomas is inspired in his writing by film music, such as the works of composer Hans Zimmer (who did the scores for movies like Crimson Tide, Gladiator, Inception, and the video game Modern Warfare 2), by Disney, and by fantasy literature, including the Dragonlance series and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, among other things. His style, in turn, has inspired many other bands of the symphonic-metal genre and outside it; Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica, for instance (which is more of a power-metal band) has credited Nightwish as an influence on several occasions.
Besides Tuomas and Tarja, the original band consisted of guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, drummer Jukka Nevalainen, and bassist Sami Vänskä. Under this lineup, they released three albums, Angels Fall First in 1997, Oceanborn in 1998, and Wishmaster in 2000. Oceanborn contains several tracks I listen to regularly, including a cover of Howard Blake's Christmas song "Walking in the Air" and this track, inspired by a 1999 solar eclipse:
(For those of you paying attention, "Sleeping Sun" is one of the tracks I want played at my funeral.)
Wishmaster contains even more noteworthy tracks, such as one inspired by a Disney show ("FantasMic" ) and another one which is about the victims of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 ("The Kinslayer" ). The title track, however, is the most noteworthy, drawing its inspiration from both Tolkien and Dragonlance--in fact, the song is about one of Dragonlance's main characters, Raistlin Majere:
(There's also some very funny "misheard lyrics" versions of that song available on YouTube: "Hamster! A dentist! Hard porn, Steven Seagull!" Et cetera.)
After that album, Marco Hietala replaced Sami Vänskä at bass, and Marco's fine power-metal voice also contributed to the band's sound. On their very next album, Century Child (2002), in fact, they covered the title song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, with Marco singing the part of the Phantom to Tarja's Christine:
The album also contains some more of their better known tracks, such as "Ever Dream" and "Bless the Child."
It was with their fifth album, Once (2004), that they started to see serious acclaim outside of Finland. One song, "Wish I Had An Angel," was even featured on a film soundtrack, for Alone in the Dark. This album has other great singles such as "Nemo" and "The Siren," tracks that would later go on to be featured in their concerts like "Dark Chest of Wonders," a lengthy track hinting at their full epic potential ("Ghost Love Score" ), and a full-length song in Finnish ("Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan" - translated, "Death Makes an Artist" ). But the song I would like to feature from the album is Sabrina's favorite...maybe because it speaks to her soul. It's a song about Native Americans and their experiences, and Native American musician John Two-Hawks not only plays cedar flute on the track, he recites a poem, in Lakota, as a coda to the song:
It was after this album, and the tour associated with it (the live album and DVD of which is called, fittingly, End of an Era), that Nightwish acrimoniously split with Tarja. The reasons behind this are complex, and involve Tarja's husband, Argentine businessman Marcelo Cabuli, pushing her towards more commercial interests. To replace her, Nightwish brought in Swedish vocalist Anette Olzon, in a move which has caused something of a break in their fanbase. Even today, you can see posts of "Anette sucks, bring back Tarja!" attached to most YouTube videos of the band, as well as reply posts of "Dude, Tarja got fired, Anette is good, get over it!" Anette isn't the operatic singer Tarja is, but brings a lot of "soul" to her performances, even of the older songs that you'd think she couldn't do justice to. (Having seen her sing these songs live, at the Ogden Theater in 2008, I can attest to the quality of her performance!) And, of course, since then, Tuomas has written music to her vocal range...and in which, it could be argued, Tarja's performance might have been too "over the top."
Dark Passion Play (2007) was the first album Anette sang on; the title is taken from a lyric of the album's epic first track, "The Poet and the Pendulum," a track which is very much about Tuomas and his feelings. The second track of the album, "Bye Bye Beautiful," was aimed at Tarja, and is a fairly angry song with choruses voiced by Marco. An even angrier song, "Master Passion Greed," arguably the heaviest song on the album, was aimed at Marcelo. (To the band's credit, they never played "Master Passion Greed" in concert...and, though they led off many of the shows on their subsequent tour with "Bye Bye Beautiful," they've recently announced they're retiring that song from live performances, too. It seems they've gotten over it.) The biggest hit off the album, and probably Nightwish's biggest hit of all time, though, is the third track, which is a very catchy number indeed...and the video for it takes one of Finland's greatest art treasures, Hugo Simberg's painting The Wounded Angel, and brings it to life:
The B-side of this track is a song that reflects one of Tuomas' great ambitions: to write music for a film. This song was composed for the Finnish film Lieksa! (English title: The Matriarch) and is not technically a Nightwish song, featuring only Tuomas, Marco (who sings the song) and Jukka; the band does play it live on occasion, though, to give Anette a break mid-concert.
(FYI, I want this track played at my funeral, too. Just noting this for posterity.)
The other important track on this album, and especially the video thereof, is a venture into more of a "folk metal" genre. The song features Troy Donockley on pipes and other instruments, and the video, filmed in Rovaniemi in the Finnish state of Lapland, was directed by Stobe Harju. Remember those names, they'll turn up again later.
After the epic tour of this album, which lasted two and a half years (and was chronicled by the live album and DVD Made in Hong Kong (And in Various Other Places) ), Tuomas had even bigger ideas...an entire feature film, for which their next album would be a soundtrack. He envisioned the story of an old composer on his deathbed, having reverted to youth in his mind, and a plotline involving both the composer's attempts to find himself and his daughter attempting to reconnect with him in the real world. This concept came to be known as Imaginaerum (2011). (The title was originally Imaginarium, but Tuomas changed it to avoid confusion with other things of that name.) Troy Donockley contributed to the sound of several tracks of this new album, which featured not just explorations into folk metal and acoustic music ala "The Islander" ("The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove," for one), but one track that's an outright shout-out to 1930's American jazz music ("Slow, Love, Slow" )...and they pull it off brilliantly. Yet they haven't left the symphonic-metal sound behind; there's another lengthy track on this album ("Song of Myself," inspired by the Walt Whitman poem of the same name and featuring a reading thereof), and the first single from the album rocks hard with the best of them. The accompanying video is a "behind the scenes" look at the filming of the movie.
The film itself, written and directed by Stobe Harju, is in post-production as of this writing, scheduled for a 2012 release. Yes, the members of the band all perform in it; Tuomas himself plays "Tom," the lead character (though two other actors play older and younger versions of Tom). The other band members have supporting characters, "Ann," "Marcus," "Emil," and "Jack." Though the album's music will feature prominently, there's also a score supplied by Petri Alanko, who did the score for the video game Alan Wake. The movie will also feature CGI effects, with a visual style inspired by Tim Berton, Neil Gaiman, and Salvador Dali, and a musical style somewhere between Moulin Rouge! and Pink Floyd's The Wall. I hope the movie plays somewhere in Denver...and I hope the band puts in a return appearance, too.
I don't think I could overstate the influence the band has had on me. The music I usually listen to these days while programming is based on the output of my best-developed Pandora station, "Amaranth Radio" (named after its initial seed..."Amaranth" ), and Nightwish is the lion's share of that playlist. Heck, as I'm growing my hair out (because Sabrina likes the long hair), my goal for what would be a "good" length is the length Tuomas wears his. (I've got a ways to go yet. No hurry.) May they have many more years of success ahead of them. \m/