From The Erbo Files
Monday, May 20, 2013

Anyone who's read what I've written, or who knows me, knows that I'm a big Nightwish fan. I play their music frequently, I have albums and other memorabilia (some of it provided courtesy of my ex-wife in Finland), I've seen them in concert twice, including the well-known "replacement vocalists" concert here in Denver. But only now have I managed to see the magnum opus of the band, and its creative genius Tuomas Holopainen: the film Imaginaerum. Sadly, that first experience was not in a theater, but, instead, on our own TV and stereo system, as the DVD and Blu-ray of the movie arrived here before a theatrical release did (and then, only by direct shipment from Finland).

The movie is a cooperation between Holopainen and Stobe Harju, the director who'd previously directed the wonderfully surrealistic video for "The Islander" off the Dark Passion Play album. Originally, the plan was to do videos for each song on the Imaginaerum album, but, as they looked at it, they saw that the whole told a coherent story, so they brought in additional screnwriters Mikko Rautalahti and Richard Jackson to turn the story into a film. They also brought in composer Petri Alanko (most notably, composer of the music for the video game Alan Wake) to take Nightwish's music from the album and build a full film score around it. The film relies heavily on visual effects and computer-generated imagery, most notably for the character of "The Snowman," a major antagonist.

The story revolves around composer and musician Thomas Whitman, played by Quinn Lord at age 10, Francis-Xavier McCarthy at age 70 (present time), and Holopainen himself at age 47 (making it obvious this is Holopainen's alter ego). In the real world, he suffers from dementia and is close to death, and his only living relative, daughter Gem (Marianne Farley) is estranged from him and has no trouble coolly authorizing a DNR order. In his dreamworld, he's regressed to childhood, where the Snowman (voiced by Elias Toufexis) finds him at the orphanage of his youth and takes him on a ride (a reference to the animated short film The Snowman, which featured the song "Walking in The Air," a song later covered by Nightwish). From there, the plotline follows two separate journeys. Inwardly, Tom must follow a twisted path through his own memories to recover that which he's lost. In the outside world, Gem, staying at her father's house, must attempt to reconcile herself with her father and piece together clues to his life. In this, Gem finds help from the 73-year-old Ann (Joanna Noyes), who was the singer in Tom's band (and is played, at a younger age, by now-departed Nightwish lead vocalist Anette Olzon).

The full band appears in two major sequences of the movie: a jazz-club scene performing "Slow, Love, Slow," and a demented circus scene, performing "Scaretale." In the latter, note the band's bass player Marcus (Marco Hietala, of course) acting as ringmaster, and a cameo appearance by Troy Donockley, the band's guest piper on their last two albums, as a stage magician. But those familiar with the Imaginaerum album will note themes from the entire album throughout the score. The section derived from "The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove," for instance, has been noted as one that Olzon particularly likes. (The album's title track, an orchestral "overture" of the entire album, is played over the end credits, much as I figured it would be.) When you see the visuals for certain parts of the movie--"Slow, Love, Slow" and "Arabesque" in particular--you'll understand why those pieces are where they are on the album and why they're arranged in the manner they are.

The accessibility of the film is not limited to Nightwish fans, however; my fiancee Sabrina saw it with me and was genuinely touched by the story and its ultimate resolution, to the point of shedding a few tears. Gem undergoes a complete transformation of her character even as we see Tom go through the transformation from young boy (masterfully played by Lord, who was nominated for an award for his performance, and rightly so) to old man in his dreams. I believe that, with this movie, I have now seen, as much as anyone can see, into Tuomas Holopainen's soul. It's a powerful experience, and not to be forgotten--or missed.

One final thought: A key plot point in the movie turns on Ann's earlier "betrayal" of Tom by attempting suicide. Did we see life imitate art, in a similar "betrayal" of Tuomas by Anette, as she left Nightwish to have her baby? I fervently hope that Nightwish, unlike Whitman's band in the movie, will carry on after this, as they seem to have done.

To my knowledge, the only way one may obtain Imaginaerum in the United States is via the Nightwish Shop.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The drama has taken an unexpected turn.

Anette Olzon, despite having been extremely sick that night, had something of a complaint with the way the rest of the band handled the Denver show:

... I was never asked if it was ok they used Elise and Alica [sic] in the show last night. I don't think it's a good decision they made and I'm sorry for those of you who came to see the whole band but got something else. But I was very ill and this decision wasn't mine.

She later expounded on this: "Like life, sometimes we get ill and shows do get cancelled. Rihanna wouldn't ask Britney Spears to sing for her if she was ill;=) To think a show is more important than the humans in the band is for me, so totally not in this world."

Well, I'm not sure that analogy holds in this case; Rihanna and Britney Spears are much more tied to their particular music than Anette was tied to Nightwish's she should know, having sung many songs that were originally voiced by Tarja Turunen. (At least three were still on the set list as of the Denver show: "Wish I Had An Angel," "Nemo," and "Over the Hills And Far Away." ) Besides which, I'm sure I was not hallucinating when Tuomas and Troy took the stage during the intermission, and Troy asked us which outcome we preferred: a canceled show, or running it through with Elize to help. We, the fans in the Ogden Theater that night, overwhelmingly supported going on with the show. So if Anette blames the other band members, she'll have to blame us as well.

And now the other shoe has dropped:

Another chapter of the Nightwish story has ended today. Nightwish and Anette Olzon have decided to part company, in mutual understanding, for the good of all parties involved.

In recent times it has become increasingly obvious that the direction and the needs of the band were in conflict, and this has led to a division from which we cannot recover.

Nightwish has no intention of cancelling any upcoming shows, and as a result we have decided to bring in a substitute vocalist starting in Seattle 1.10.2012. Her name is Floor Jansen from The Netherlands (ex-After Forever, ReVamp), and she has graciously stepped in to help us complete the Imaginaerum world tour.

We are all strongly committed to this journey, this vehicle of spirit, and we are sure that this will lead to a brighter future for everyone.

We forever remain excited about the adventures to come, and we are extremely proud of the two beautiful albums and the wonderful shows we shared together.

Wow. So not expecting that.

A number of observations in the wake of this news:

  • This has all the earmarks of being a "straw that broke the camel's back" kind of situation. There musthave been earlier incidents between Anette and the rest of the band that led up to this; one incident, in isolation, doesn't seem like it would have been enough. Anette's hiring already caused something of a Broken Base with many fans, and all the criticism of her vs. Tarja (unjustified, IMHO) had to have been rough on her. We may never learn the whole story behind this, however.

  • Floor Jansen is as good a pick for "replacement vocalist" as you could get. After Forever was one of the bands that helped define the symphonic-metal genre. She's very much in the vein of Tarja and Epica's Simone Simons, in terms of her vocal style.  Once she gets up to speed with the Nightwish repertoire, the remaining shows on the tour should work out well.

  • Will she be a permanent replacement? Probably not. So Nightwish will have to audition lead vocalists again. This, of course, has happened before, and I'm pretty sure they can survive it...assuming Tuomas himself wants to continue after this.

  • And that illustrates one of the big things about Nightwish that any replacement vocalist will have to remember: They may be the "face" of the band, but they are not, and never will be, its center. Tuomas is that center, and any lady who takes over vocalist duties for Nightwish will have to subordinate her ego for the sake of the band--no easy task for anyone with the temperament to be a lead singer. Tarja ultimately (and famously) failed in this; Anette may have as well, though I have no solid proof of this.

In closing, I bear Anette no ill will. I was fortunate enough to see Nightwish with her as lead singer when they came to Denver in 2008, for the Dark Passion Play tour, and, had this blog been running back then, I would have raved about that show just as much as I raved about this one. She handled both her own repertoire and Tarja's with aplomb; I'll remember her performances of music like "Sleeping Sun" and "Wishmaster" always. And, though she was singing Tuomas' words over Tuomas' music, it was her voicethat first brought the world "Amaranth." For that, I am eternally grateful.

And now, like the rest of you, I await further developments.

UPDATE: Steven "Padre" Buehler, a fellow fan, weighs in with his own analysis, relating it back to his own experience seeing Nightwish during the DPP tour (for what would be their last show, due to a hurricane and, once again, Anette getting sick).

SECOND UPDATE: Well, now. It turns out Nightwish was already planning to let Anette go. We know this because Floor has said, in a radio interview, that the band asked her to to join them starting in November...but then she got a text on September 29 (the day after the Denver show) that said, "How fast can you get to the USA?" So the only effect the Denver show drama had, it appears, was to accelerate the timetable of Anette's replacement.  Denver fans can breathe easy.

Troy has spoken up about the events surrounding the switch:

The joy of this adventure was being wrecked and everyone was feeling very insecure. It was seriously interfering with our tasting sessions of the fine wines from the Napa Valley. Outrageous!

We never could have predicted that myself and Tuomas Holopainen would find ourselves on stage, alone, asking an audience of over 1,600 in Denver to vote by a show of hands on whether the band should perform or not. Touchingly we were met by a sea of upraised hands; beautiful – but how surreal.

We are all feeling a squillion times better. Our replacement singer Floor is simply majestic and we are having fearless fun. And on evidence of the ecstatic response to the last two shows, the fans seem to understand that this ‘vehicle of spirit’ cannot be derailed so easily.

Which jibes with my initial report from the opposite end of that poll...and from the show itself, for that matter.

Floor seems to be having a good time with what she calls "a really awesome opportunity," but hasn't said whether she wants the job permanently. Bear in mind, she has another band, ReVamp, that is expected to release a new album next spring, and she wrote most of the material for their first album, so this might interfere with a gig as Nightwish's lead singer. (And no, Tarja doesn't want the job back, so just don't go there.)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The scene: The Ogden Theater, Friday the 28th. Andrew, Ian, and I were standing in the middle of the ground floor, next to the area with the sound and light boards. My ears were still ringing after hearing Kamelot's opening set, which was some serious fuckin' metal; they even played a couple of songs I recognized, "Ghost Opera" and "March of Mephisto." The stagehands were busy removing their equipment and preparing for the main act: Nightwish. This was the concert I'd been waiting for. I'd even spotted Marco out in the alley earlier, as I was waiting in line for the will-call window; he was busy filming an interview of some sort.

Suddenly, two familiar figures appeared on stage: Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboardist and composer for the band, and Troy Donockley, the piper that featured so heavily as a guest on Imaginaerum, and before that, on "The Islander" and "Last of the Wilds." The room erupted in cheers.

Tuomas raised a finger to his lips, signaling for quiet. (He doesn't speak much in public.)

"That means a lot to us," said Troy, before launching into the bad news: Anette, the lead singer, was very sick, had been violently vomiting, and was being rushed over to the hospital as we speak. However, a backup plan of sorts was being worked out. Elise Ryd, backup vocalist for Kamelot, had volunteered to step in and sing what she could, and the band would count on our help with the rest. He put it to a show of hands. I raised both my hands; the theater was a sea of raised hands.

The crowd had spoken. The show would go on.

Now, sometimes, incidents like this result in disaster.

But sometimes--sometimes--this is when magic happens.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

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.

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Copyright © 2012 Eric J. Bowersox, All Rights Reserved.
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