The A-Z of Nightwish

(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

One of the biggest metal bands on Earth, both in terms of the scale of their success and the almost untamed weight of their sound, Nightwish’s orchestra-backed symphonic grandeur has been imitated by many but never bettered. Having just celebrated 20 years as a band, we felt it the appropriate time to give the run down on their career.

A is for… Angels Fall First

Where it all began. After originating as an acoustic three-piece, the band’s second demo contained a far more metallic, muscular sound. Label Spinefarm was so impressed with Angels Fall First, that it simply released it as it was, as the band’s debut in 1997. Lead single The Carpenter was an omnifarious split with countrymen Children Of Bodom and black metalllers Thy Serpent.

B is for… bass & backing vocals

A multitude of bassists and male singers contributed to the band’s first three albums, including Tuomas’ own mixed results on the debut. Towering bassist Marco Hietala’s gruff vocals have been an omnipresent focal point both on record and live since Century Child, while he’s still found time to continue fronting his own band Tarot.

C is for… Century Child

Featuring a suitably sumptuous version of the title song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera as well as some of the band’s catchiest moments to date in the likes of End Of All Hope, it’s a wonder the international recognition the band got with 2004’s Once didn’t arrive two years earlier.

D is for… Dark Passion Play

Arguably the most anticipated album in the band’s history following Tarja Turunen’s departure. Fans across the world were not only relieved by replacement Anette Olzen’s bullish showing, but how well the band had adapted to her new style. Packed with some of the band’s best songs from epic opener The Poet And The Pendulum to Tarja-baiting Bye, Bye Beautiful, it’s also considered by many to be their crowning achievement.

E is for… Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Largely abandoning the well-trodden fantastical themes for a look at science and nature, specifically Charles Darwin’s theory of natural evolution, the music and Floor Jansen’s stunning vocals befitted the epic, billion-year story of life on Earth, but without trying to outdo the overblown histrionics of predecessor Imaginaerum.

F is for… Finland’s Eurovision Entry

The annual carnival of bobbins known as the Eurovision Song Contest could have had a decent slab of metal in 2000, when Nightwish’s Sleepwalker just missed out on representing Finland. As Lordi proved when they won the title five years later, the masses really love a bit of Finnish metal, and we’re sure Terry Wogan would have approved.

G is for… Ghost Love Score

10 minutes of the most sweeping, grandiloquence in Nightwish’s arsenal, the centrepiece of Once acted as a fitting swansong for Tarja Turunen’s emphatic but also delicate vocals over a backdrop of playful strings and breath taking crescendos. A definitive crowd favourite as evidenced by the deafening roar it receives when played live.

H is for… Holopainen, Tuomas

Not since Rick Wakeman has the ivory-tinker been such a prominent band member. Nightwish founder and the mastermind behind its elaborate extravagance, Tuomas was destined for a career in biology until a fortuitous trip to America, where his frankly awesome exchange partner took him to see the infamous Metallica and Guns N’ Roses tour, on a night when, presumably, Axl Rose didn’t throw a strop and cause a riot.

I is for… Imaginaerum

Holopainen’s crowning opus is a 75-minute long symphonic smorgasbord of influences and themes, from Pantera to Peter Pan. A concept album written alongside a film of the same name, the grand scope of Imaginaerum is balanced by just how immersive and enjoyable it is compared to so many of the excessive tendencies of their often boring, less-capable peers.

J is for… Jansen, Floor

Following the departure of Anette Olzen, the band recruited Floor Jansen, singer of Dutch band After Forever, primarily to finish touring commitments, and then on a permanent basis from 2013 onwards. After her studio debut on Endless Forms Most Beautiful many fans have begun to herald her as Nightwish’s finest. The follow up, Human :II: Nature, has consolidated her position as arguably the finest singer of the band’s three singers.

K is for… Kitee

The small town in Finland from which the country’s most famous musical export was founded 20 years ago. After playing in local black metal bands and serving as a clarinet player in the Finnish Army, Tuomas conceived Nightwish as an acoustic project, before Tarja’s voice and Emppu and Jukka’s preference for metal sewed the seeds of their eventual sound.

L is for… live albums

Marking some fundamental moments in the band’s history, from their last show with Tarja (End Of An Era), to headlining Wacken (Showtime, Storytime) and ending their Endless Forms… tour in style (Vehicle Of Spirit) there’s plenty of live documentation of the band’s stunning performances. Diehard fans will also find plenty of treats such as orchestral versions of tracks and covers of some of Tuomas’s favourite movie scores among them.

M is for… McDuck, Scrooge

One of the band’s most prominent and certainly most surprising side projects, influenced by Tuomas Holopainen’s love of Don Rosa’s comic serial The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck. For those of us who grew up in the Ducktales era it may be pretty difficult to take seriously, but Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge is actually a pretty decent folk rock soundtrack.

N is for… Nemo

Backed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, fresh on the heels of its exquisite exhibition in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, 2004’s Once was an album that overflowed with magniloquence and sheer cinematic scope. However, it was the success of lead single Nemo and its snow-swept video that catapulted Nightwish from Euro metal darlings to worldwide acclaim.

O is for… Oceanborn

Though their debut had its charm, it was little more than a repackaged demo. It was Nightwish’s second album where the folky tunes written around a campfire turned into a more dramatic, regal power metal voyage. Your reaction to their cover Walking In The Air will depend entirely on how much you cried during animated film The Snowman.

P is for… percussion

Nightwish were a far different proposition until the arrival of drummer Jukka Nevalainen in 1997 guided them towards their more extravagant symphonic metal sound. The sticksman and his ever-present bandana have been missing from behind the kit since 2014 as he deals with health issues, leaving Wintersun’s Kai Hahto to step into the vacant stool.

Q is for… questionable views?

Don’t worry, the Finns aren’t some sort of National Socialist Power Metal band. Rather, in this month’s Metal Hammer, Floor Jansen simply stated she thought Slayer were “dreadful” and “ unbelievably boring”. Though we couldn’t disagree more, the internet wetting itself in anger over Floor merely expressing an opinion on her musical tastes was a tad excessive. Everybody, chill.

R is for… Richard Dawkins

We love a good non-metal cameo in metal, whether its Orson Wells (Manowar), Christopher Lee (also Manowar), Neil deGrasse Tyson (Avenged Sevenfold) or Brian Blessed (yep, Manowar), so it was a no-brainer for Nightwish to enlist evolutionary biologist and ardent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins for a guest spot on Endless Forms Most Beautiful, an album influenced by his own work. He even joined the band on stage during 2015’s spectacular Wembley Arena show.

S is for… symphonic

It’s not just the full strings and horns treatment, but also choirs that add to the complete Nightwish opulence. Though still sounding dramatic on synths, it wasn’t until Once where the majesty of a live orchestra was captured to its fullest, while their two most recent opuses have required not one but two choirs for the full pomp effect.

T is for… Turunen, Tarja

The soprano is the one really who helped Nightwish’s symphonic bombast stand out from the pack ion their first five albums, and spawned countless imitators in the process. Since leaving the band in acrimonious circumstances in 2005 she’s gone on to establish a solid solo career spanning both classical music and metal.

U is for… Uilleann pipes

With the fulltime appointment of Englishman Troy Donockley in 2013, Nightwish can now boast an accomplished uillean pipes, tin and low whistle, bouzouki and bodhrán player in their midst. Only the Dropkick Murphys can claim a greater assortment of Celtic instruments in rock.

V is for… Vuorinen, Emppu

The diminutive, quiet six-stringer is who really centres the kaleidoscope of sounds and bravado conjured by Holopainen’s imagination with his straightforward metallic riffing. One of only two original members currently playing in Nightwish, he has also co-written several songs throughout their career.

W is for… Wishmaster

With subjects tackling everything from Tolkien to the Columbine massacre, the band’s third album weighs in both with fantastical majesty and a deep emotional connection, no less than on the affecting Dead Boy’s Poem. Recently the title track’s been given the hilarious/dreadful bluegrass treatment by Steve ‘N’ Seagulls.

X is for… xylophone

Unsurprisingly there’s very few instruments that have yet to feature on a Nightwish album – mercifully we’re yet to hear a recorder and melodica – and with the London Symphony Orchestra having a player in their midst, the more astute of you may be able to pick up the delicate chimes of this primary school favourite.

Y is for… Yours Is An Empty Hope

With all the talk of amplified extravagance and pushing the parameters, tracks like this from Endless Forms… help remind us why Nightwish are such vital standard bearers for metal. Overflowing with affluent strings and grandeur, it’s the metallic riffs, dark undercurrent and Marco’s gruff vocals that identify the band as a truly special rock proposition, but a metal band nonetheless.

Z is for… Zimmer, Hans

Holopainen has made no secret of his love of film soundtracks, and with the band’s huge scale and epic fanfare it’s easy to see their influence. As well as name-checking certain films, the keyboardist has heralded the work of composer Zimmer in particular, whose scores have thundered behind the likes of Gladiator, The Dark Knight and The Lion King, for which he won an Oscar.

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Adam Brennan

Rugby, Sean Bean and power ballad superfan Adam has been writing for Hammer since 2007, and has a bad habit of constructing sentences longer than most Dream Theater songs. Can usually be found cowering at the back of gigs in Bristol and Cardiff. Bruce Dickinson once called him a 'sad bastard'.