Nightwish: Never Ending Story

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Nightwish do not do “boring”. The band’s sound from the outset has been theatrical, grandiose, bombastic and generally larger than life, and the path the Finns have followed apart from their music can have similarly dramatic adjectives applied to it. The acrimonious fall-out with original singer Tarja Turunen made headlines, but by the release of last album Imaginaerum in 2011, it appeared to be a mere stumble in the band’s upward trajectory (both in terms of creative ability and popular success).

That album was comfortably the band’s best, most over-the-top record to date, had a fantastical film accompanying it, and proved that Tarja’s successor, Anette Olzon, had the voice to make the role her own. Fast forward less than a year, and Anette had her own less-than-friendly split from the band in the middle of a US tour.

ReVamp and former After Forever singer Floor Jansen stepped into the breach, at first temporarily, but later permanently. 2015 sees the band about to release their first album with Floor, and if convincing Nightwish’s vast, vocal fanbase that she can do on an album what she can undoubtedly achieve live was not enough of a challenge, the band have decided to make things even more attention-grabbing./o:p

Instead of the usual fantasy themes acting as metaphors and allegory for real-life experiences, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is about the real world, with most of it (60%, according to the band’s main songwriter) dedicated to the wonders of biology and natural sciences. This culminates in a 24-minute closer, The Greatest Show On Earth, which charts the history of evolution, complete with monkey calls and whale song (no, really).

This, along with the album’s intro, is narrated by Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist who’s made a name for himself outside of his scientific work both by debating the merits (and lack thereof) of religion with people of faith, and for sending secular liberals into apoplexy with his comments about sexual violence on social media. Dull, unsurprisingly, this is not./o:p

“We wish that people would realise the beauty and the magic of reality and science, of biology and evolution,” says the band’s leader, founder, principal composer and keyboard player, Tuomas Holopainen, as Hammer attempts to pick apart everything thrown up here. “I’ve always sort of understood evolution, and it’s a beautiful thing, but after reading the books by Dawkins, I really got into the core of it, and it was a spiritual experience. I wish everyone would get it; that we’re all cousins, that we are all made of the same stuff, that we all share a common ancestor, and some people get scared by that… I was going to say ‘thought’, but it’s a fact.”/o:p

“Some people are scared of the fact that me and my morning lettuce have a common ancestor. We’re all cousins, and for me, that’s the most poetic and beautiful, humbling thought ever, and I wish people would understand evolution on that level. It would maybe make us a bit more humble as human beings.

“For the past few years, I’ve been heavily immersed in this stuff,” he continues. “I watch science documentaries all the time, read these books all the time, instead of fiction or fantasy. That’s where it comes from; I just had this really strong urge to let out all the beautiful stuff that I’ve read.”

A quick explanation of Tuomas’s youth makes it a little less confusing as to exactly why a man famous for embracing Tolkien and Disney as lyrical inspirations (a man who, lest we forget, just last year released a solo album based on the life and times of Scrooge McDuck) is now citing, for example, famed astronomist Carl Sagan. Tuomas’s interest in biology stems from childhood, wanting to become a scientist and even studying environmental sciences for a year at university before music came calling. And, when the vastness of the story being told – the entire history of life, from simple single-celled organism to sentient primates capable of travelling to other planets – is thought of as a narrative, it does actually fit rather well with the huge tales Nightwish specialise in. However, that doesn’t explain how in Satan’s putrid, sulphurous name Nightwish managed to convince Richard Dawkins to narrate a heavy metal record.

“That’s what the studio engineer in Oxford asked me as well: ‘How the hell did you get him?’ And the answer is I have no idea!” laughs Tuomas. “He doesn’t really do anything else [artistic]. I’ve heard that many people have asked him, but all he has done is The Simpsons so far. For some reason, he agreed to collaborate with us. I wrote him a handwritten letter, telling him who we are and what we had in mind, and he replied by email saying, ‘I’ve never heard of Nightwish, but I went onto YouTube and listened to some of your stuff. I enjoyed it very much, and I would be happy to collaborate with you.’

One letter, one email, and after that, we were in contact with his personal assistant setting up the studio schedule. I sent him all the stuff he should narrate in the studio, and he was happy with that. The most polite gentleman ever, a really nice guy. Then he turned up at the studio in Oxford, did his talking, and that was it.”

An hour and a half later, during which time Professor Dawkins and Tuomas apparently discussed little of weight beyond a shared love of Greek composer Vangelis, and the The Selfish Gene author joins Sir Christopher Lee, Orson Welles and Brian Blessed in the list of unexpected narrators for a metal record. Tuomas appears unconcerned by any potential controversy that may cause, too, despite the furore surrounding Dawkins’ opinions on religion (expressed in his books and lectures), or about foetuses with chromosomal abnormalities, or one form of rape being worse than others (as expressed on Twitter).

“I dived deep into those issues, with the Down’s Syndrome babies, and him being a woman-hater, and all that,” Tuomas says firmly. “It’s so misunderstood, so misquoted. People love to misunderstand him, because if a person debated is a sham, nobody feels inadequate. That’s the way I see it. I wish some of these observers would read some of his books and read the whole thing, but it’s so easy to judge.”

While Dawkins may be the most internationally famous new collaborator on Endless Forms Most Beautiful, singer Floor Jansen is the one whose efforts the fans are most likely to bicker about online. Unlike her predecessor, who had to come in to sing a finalised album, Floor was a part of the creative process – one that has a clear director, but is far less of a musical diktat than it might seem.

“Very musical, highly intellectual and interactive,” is how Floor describes the band’s methods. “Despite Tuomas being the band leader and main writer, it is a process that makes the album sound the way it does. We’re all tapping in there, we all use our creativity and are allowed – ‘allowed’ sounds so military – we have the freedom to make it our own. I think that’s something unique, where someone who has the talent and skill of Tuomas – and also Marco [Hietala, bass/vocals] – can work with other people. As a songwriter, I know how hard it can be to work on your song and see things changed, but Tuomas is very open-minded to these things.”

“The easiest ever!” Tuomas enthuses of Floor’s creative introduction to the band. “I think she did her thing in less than 10 days for the whole album. She already knew all the songs before we entered the rehearsal room. I sent her the original demo with vocal lines played on the piano with all the lyrics. Then we spent a month and a half in the rehearsal room, got all straightened out, went into the studio and did her thing beautifully, did some experimenting on the way – and that’s it. Really, really easy. She’s super-motivated, and wants to be included in all the parts of the process. You can feel the passion and motivation that she has.”/o:p

Floor Jansen: in it for the long haul

Much like Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, Nightwish is, quite clearly, a club where no individual is bigger than the entity itself. Any players the unit feel are upsetting the whole have been quickly moved on, even if – as is the case with both former singers – they are the most famous, recognisable member of the troupe, and their talents and style are likely to be difficult to replace. Given that, you might feel Floor might be concerned for her place in the band if things do not go well.

“No,” Floor says firmly, “because we grew to an understanding amongst each other, that where things are not going well, we can actually talk like grown-ups. To let things grow into a situation where it’s beyond saving, we’ve all seen it happening in our past, and I think we’ve all learned to step up before that ever comes to pass. So I don’t think my position is threatened if I don’t do something right. ‘Floor, you fucked up, you’re out.’ It really doesn’t work that way.”

To aid communication, Floor has moved from her native Netherlands to live in Finland, and is learning the notoriously difficult Finnish language – although she admits that, having had less than two years of learning so far, her aptitude at speaking it is probably no better than a three-year-old Finn’s. It is abundantly clear, however, that she wants to make this a smooth success – and, while this might appear to be a band that loves its drama, she is not alone in that.

“Let’s hope that we’ll stick with this one, and that she wants to be there ’til the end as well,” says Tuomas, only half-jokingly. “Because it’s quite an energy vampire!”

ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL IS OUT MARCH 27 VIA NUCLEAR BLAST/o:p

AIN’T NUTHIN’ BUT A BOFF THING

Many, many years before Marilyn Manson was getting the church in a huff, science was the real hotspot for heretics…

NAME: Charles Darwin

LEGACY: Known for popularising the theory of evolution by means of natural selection, Darwin’s often contentious work tilted the balance of explaining humanity’s existence irreversibly in science’s favour. That didn’t make him hugely popular with diehard creationists, some of whom debate his work’s authenticity to this very day.

IN HIS WORDS: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

ESSENTIAL READING: The Origin Of Species (1859)

NAME: Galileo Galilei

LEGACY: Widely regarded as the father of modern science, Galileo’s advances in astronomy helped to craft our understanding of heliocentrism and the structure of our solar system. His work was investigated by the Roman Inquisition and placed in their ‘banned book’ index.

IN HIS WORDS: “The authority of thousands is not worth as much as one spark of reason.”

ESSENTIAL READING: Two New Sciences (1638)

NAME: IsaacNewton

LEGACY: Another key figure in the scientific revolution of the 16th-17th century, Newton’s groundbreaking strides in physics enabled us to understand the effects of motion and force. His dissertations on the corruptions of the Bible and the church didn’t win him many religious mates.

IN HIS WORDS: “To explain nature is too difficult a task for any one man.”/o:p

ESSENTIAL READING: Principia Mathematica (1687)/o:p