Floor Jansen - Vocals
Tuomas Holopainen - Keyboards
Emppu Vuorinen - Guitars
Marco Hietala - Bass, Vocals
Jukka Nevalainen - Drums
The cinematic storytelling, symphonic flourishes, shredding guitar work and chugging rhythms mastered by Nightwish across their expansive and impressive career has ensured the hugely influential band a place in the heavy metal pantheon that is unique and unrivaled in the field.
Nightwish have sold more than 7 million albums worldwide and continues to expand the breadth and scope of their artistic vision with each successive release. The keyboard driven compositions from bandleader Tuomas Holopainen surpass that of some of the most brilliant film scores and work brilliantly alongside the engagingly transcendent voice of singer Anette Olzon (recently replaced by Floor Jansen). It made perfect evolutionary sense when the Finnish band's seventh studio album, Imaginaerum, arrived with a visual counterpart in the form of an album length movie.
The group's debt to their musical heroes in bands like Stratovarius, The 3rd and Mortal and My Dying Bride is freely acknowledged, but Nightwish has absolutely created something particularly brilliant and distinctly their own.
Olzon's recorded debut with the band, Dark Passion Play, marked the start of a new era for the group in 2007 and went on to sell 2 million copies worldwide. The hefty contributions from magnificently skilled six-string shredder Emppu Vuorinen, thunderously ripping bassist (and co-vocalist) Marco Hietala and proficient, creative and massively talented drummer Jukka Nevalainen within the Nightwish framework are undeniable. However, like many important bands across several genres, the group's principal songwriting and overall arc rests on the shoulders of one person. But Holopainen understands and is at peace with his renowned leadership role in Nightwish.
"There is only one mother to every child, but it takes a whole bunch of people to raise him or her," he points out, by way of comparison. "This is just how it works in Nightwish, always has. The music is rather complex and detailed and it's easier to keep the wholeness together if there's one mastermind; one mind to keep the myriad details in order. There's a reason why countries have rulers and bands have leaders. It has nothing to do with ego or a sense of power. It's all about organizing and making things work."
Incredibly, Holopainen had already begun conceiving ideas for Imaginaerum during the late stages of the process for the album before it. "Every album is the ultimate catharsis and the sense of melancholy and emptiness after finishing an album is overwhelming," he explains. "The only way to get on top of that is to think about what's to come next. After mastering Dark Passion Play, I felt so lost that I needed a new project immediately. So I began thinking about how to take the band to the next level, how to challenge the band and the fans in a whole new way. That's how the idea of the movie and the thematic Imaginaerum album came to be."
But before he could work no that further, there was the touring and promotion process for Dark Passion Play, Nightwish's first album without original vocalist Tarja Turunen. Critical and fan reception to the record and the band's new singer was overwhelmingly positive, which created an even more positive atmosphere during the making of Olzon's second album with the group. "She was mostly free from the pressure to convince people. That can easily be heard in her performance on Imaginaerum," Holopainen says. "It's much more relaxed, confident and diverse. And this time people will focus on the essentials, the overall image of the album, instead of just judging the vocal works."
Imaginaerum is a concept album which paints a vivid picture through diverse and distinct chapters like the catchy “Ghost River,” the heavy handed “Rest Calm,” the ballad “Turn Loose the Mermaids” and the super accessible “The Crow, the Owl and the Dove,” which was co-written by Hietala. The fourteen-minute “Song of Myself” is inspired by the poem of the same name from Walt Whitman, complete with a recitation of the poem itself in the song. “Last Ride of the Day” ties directly to the roller coaster that is included in the cover art.
For the film collaboration, Holopainen began by writing twelve short stories while visualizing what the accompanying images would look like. Next he wrote music to accompany those stories and visions then presented demo versions to Stobe Harju, who had directed a music video from Dark Passion Play. "I wanted him to direct because we share very similar interests in movies, stories and visuals. His work on 'The Islander' video was so convincing that we never even considered anyone else for the job. It was his idea to turn the separate short stories into one full-length feature."
Harju kept Holopainen's vision in mind as he wrote the film and through this shared collaboration and respect, each of them was able to produce works of art that stand alone or together with equal merit and worth. "It was important from the very beginning to keep the album separate enough from the movie, so that it would work on its own for someone who hasn't seen the movie."
Nightwish buckled down together at a legendary campsite outside of Kitee, Finland called Rosko to rehearse the material and remain free from the distractions of the outside world. "I used to go there all of the time during my boy-scout years," the keyboardist explains. "It's a secluded paradise by a beautiful lake, a perfect getaway." The band would spend several hours playing music together each day, followed by fishing, water skiing and general relaxation. "Being close to nature was inspiring to all of us."
The band encountered a couple of setbacks while recording, which Holopainen would later jokingly refer to as "the Curse of the Mummy" in the press. First, Olzon slipped and fell in her home and broke a rib. Hietala injured a rib as well not long after, incidentally on the same day that a recording engineer was hit by a horse and cart.
After recording, several mixing sessions took place as they worked to achieve a note perfect sound that would please their more perfectionist tendencies. As Holopainen wrote on the band's official website: "We could have honed the songs 'til Armageddon, but at some point, you just have to let go and start admiring the scenery."
In the band's native Finland, Imaginaerum went double platinum on the day of its release while its second track, "Storytime," topped the radio charts. "Finland is where the roots are and they go deep," remarks principle songwriter and co-founder Holopainen. "Some of the faces I saw in the front row during our Oceanborn European Tour in 1999 are still there and they are still in the front row!"
Nightwish celebrated their fifteenth anniversary as a band around the same time of the new album's release. Through the years, their mesmerizing blend of darkness, heaviness and engaging melodies has evolved and endured like few other bands. "The key to everything is not to think too much, not to calculate in advance, but just let the mind flow," Holopainen says. He insists that honesty, integrity and a straightforward approach to their craft is at the heart of the group's hard won longevity and continuing success.
It's from this vantage point of experience that Nightwish's leader is able to offer the following advice to likeminded bands: "Forget the music business, trends and other people. Create exactly the kind of music and stories that you feel compelled to do. And find the right people around you to take care of the crappy side of the business so that you can just be a musician. That's all there is to it, really."