Friday, June 14, 2024

Nightwish – On Track: Every Album, Every Song

It says something about how big a band have become in their home country when the departure of the lead singer prompts questions in Parliament. But such was the furore in Finland when vocalist Tarja Turunun was ousted from Nightwish in 2005.

Started in 1996 by songwriter and keyboard man Tuomas Holopainen, Nightwish’s journey has been an epic one, and they’re now probably the biggest name in symphonic, goth metal in the world, selling millions of albums and captivating audiences wherever they perform, though any further gigs are currently on ice as the band recently announced they won’t be touring their next (currently untitled) album when released in 2024.

The story of Nightwish revolves around two things. The first is the drive and guiding vision of Toumas Holopainen, whose conceptual ideas have been the driving force behind every Nightwish album, which has helped Nightwish stand apart from similar bands. But the other has been the drama and tensions caused by the way female vocalists have departed from the band, with two women leaving the band, in 2005 and 2012, and in each case causing issues which came close to bringing the band to a halt.

One of Nightwish’s unique selling points was, not just the presence of a female vocalist at a time when they were rare in such bands, but the presence of singer, Tarja Turunun, who’d been operatically trained and possessed a voice capable of shattering wine glasses, and this made fans sit up and take notice when debut album Angels Fall First was released in 1997. Their third album Wishmaster went platinum in their home country as they began to discover their own unique sound, and Century Child saw the move moving away from power metal towards their signature sound of “orchestral elements and bombastic crescendos”. But, after five albums, Tarja was ejected from the band (her description) after tensions caused by her appointing her husband as her own manager, apart from the band, and her refusal to tour the USA, causing the tour to be cancelled. Removing Tarja was a very risky move as she was the voice of the band, and Nightwish were right at the peak of their hard-won success.

Tarja’s operatic vocals were replaced with more normal rock vocals on the next album, 2007’s Dark Passion Play, by the Swedish Anette Orzon, who also recorded Imaginaerum with the band, and whose voice fitted the band’s newer musical direction. But Olzon left the band in 2012, claiming her being too unwell to perform one evening, along with her being pregnant, was the reason she too was kicked out, which the band dispute. Whatever, this album, says Holopainen “saved my mental health,” and songs like ‘Bye Bye Beautiful’ and ‘Master Passion Greed’ were possibly directed at Tarja.

Tuoman Holopainen refers to the situations with Tarja and Anette as “ugly divorces,” and claims, had they not replaced both singers when they did, Nightwish would have folded. However, right after Anette leaves, in comes the flying Dutchwoman Floor Jansen, whom Holopainen credits with saving the band from splitting, and Nightwish go on to release what many consider to be their best album, 2015’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Their only entry into the UK top 30 album chart at no:15. Holopainen frequently tackles big themes in his writings, and this album was rooted around the concept of secularity and the “beauty of science and nature,” with the title being part of a quote from the conclusion of Charles Darwin’s book, The Origin Of Species.

Throughout their career, if there’s one thing Nightwish’s albums have shown, it’s they don’t lack scale or ambition. It’s a given their music needs to be approached with an open mind because, if it’s just metal riffs you seek, you’ll have to widen your parameters. They blend symphonic rock, pop, Celtic folk and operatic arrangements and perform the outcome with some degree of bombast. Ultimately, however, whilst this book is an enjoyable read, the problem with any book about a band like Nightwish is, no matter how well the book’s written and how detailed the descriptions of the songs are, both score very highly here, no book can ever do justice to the scale and vision of their stage shows, because theirs has been a journey of the imagination, and if you saw their 2012 Imaginaerum tour, you’ll know what I’m referring to.

Book written by Simon McMurdo, published by Sonicbond Publications.

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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It says something about how big a band have become in their home country when the departure of the lead singer prompts questions in Parliament. But such was the furore in Finland when vocalist Tarja Turunun was ousted from Nightwish in 2005. Started in 1996...Nightwish - On Track: Every Album, Every Song