From fantastical realms to elaborate filmic sagas and love-letters to Darwinism, the Nightwish discography is rich in intrigue – and low on dullmoments. As its central creator, Tuomas Holopainen is inextricably bound to the sounds, feelings and memories that saturate each of these nine albums.
His life is in this music. But if it came to it, in a castaway situation, which albums would he most (and least) want to be stuck with? It’s a tough call. “They are my children,” he pleads, “how would they feel if they saw the ranking? Wishmaster would be so sad!” Still, he did manage to settle on an order, and here it is...
9. Wishmaster (Spinefarm, 2000)
“It went to No.1 in Finland, but to me Wishmaster is one of those albums that was kind of ‘in-between’. It doesn’t stand out to me on a personal level. There was nothing revolutionary about it after [1998’s] Oceanborn.
It was made in a really good spirit – everybody in the band was happy after the success of Oceanborn – so this was just a natural continuation of that. But it didn’t really introduce anything spectacularly new for me personally. I think that’s my problem with it. If Ihad to pick a favourite song, I think I’d pick Dead Boy’s Poem; lyrically, it’s very much in the essence of Nightwish.”
8. Angels Fall First (Spinefarm, 1997)
“Our debut sounds so innocent because it was done as a demo. It was never supposed to be released, but we sent it to the record label and they said, ‘Let’s put this out!’ It still has my parents’ home address on the booklet.
“When I founded Nightwish in July 1996, I just wanted to do moody acoustic music. Since me and Emppu [Vuorinen, guitars] had a strong metal background, it was a natural transition to do something heavier, but that original acoustic band idea can be heard strongly. We couldn’t find anybody to sing, so I kind of dug a hole and fell into it myself.
"We played Elvenpath years later on the Decades tour, and I can’t understand how Floor was able to keep a straight face singing those lyrics – to her credit, she did! I just remember the kid that I was back then, writing those songs, and I kind of miss that kid, because it was all about Donald Duck and fantasy books and snowmen and things fantastical.
"Nymphomaniac Fantasia? Not my proudest moment. But it was done because there was a young kid who had some, I don’t know… issues, ha ha ha! Love-life gone wrong or something. It was a different time.”
7. Century Child (Spinefarm, 2002)
“After Wishmaster, I seriously considered quitting the band, especially thanks to the departure of the [original] bass player [Sami Vänskä] and my slight burnout. Then I went on a hiking trip in Lapland with Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica, and he talked me over that.
"We needed a new bass player, and we needed management because until then it was me and Jukka [Nevalainen] the drummer taking care of the business side. So we got management, and we got Marko [Hietala, bassist/ singer until 2021], who was already a big name in Finnish metal – we were all big fans.
"There was a lot of bad stuff happening in the band as well – that’s reflected on the album. Slaying The Dreamer was a way to get rid of all that frustration. Artistically I found film music, Hans Zimmer above all, and that really can be heard on Century Child. But the album didn’t take us much on the next level. Artistically it did, but not commercially.”
6. Dark Passion Play (Nuclear Blast, 2007)
“It was a really easy album to write because all the emotions were there so strongly, after what happened with Tarja [Turunen, original vocalist who was dismissed from the band in 2005], and everything in my personal life. I was about to lose my mental health, and then doing the songs for this album saved it.
"I’m a very private person, but I write about some really personal things, and these people – Anette [Olzon], for this record – are singing it out for the whole world to hear. Ineeded to do a song like The Poet And The Pendulum, where I killed myself in the lyrics; I had to do it for my mental health, and it ended up being a wonderful piece of music.”
5. Imaginaerum (Nuclear Blast, 2011)
“Again, this was a pretty easy album to write – we all had a good time with it. When it comes to songwriting, I’m a morning person. I’ll wake up about six when I’m at home, then a litre of coffee and I’m off. Usually I’m done by two or three o’clock. I write songs upstairs in my little home studio – just a keyboard and a lakeside view. In the studio with the band, the other members and the engineers are more night owls. Also in the tour bus it’s always me up first, making coffee downstairs.
“It was clear from the start that this would end up being a film. We thought, ‘What haven’t we done yet? Let’s do a music video for every song on the album, and then somehow combine them to become this really weird film.’ It’s a very optimistic album. It just puts a big smile on your face.”
4. Once (Nuclear Blast, 2004)
“One of the best times that this band has ever had was 2003- 2004, making the Once album, and the first part of the tour after that. In late 2003 we flew to London to record the orchestras. I rang the studio doorbell and Rick Wakeman opened the door. I think I said, ‘Errr… [makes incoherent starstruck noise] Thanks!’
"We went to the studio, started playing Ghost Love Score and my face melted. Like, ‘I’m next to Wembley, listening to the orchestra playing a song that I wrote, this is really life at its best.’
"Something happened with that album – all the stars were aligned. I remember looking at the album charts and seeing ‘Nightwish, Michael Jackson, Anastasia’ and going ‘Really?!’ I don’t think any of us were quite prepared. You get sucked into this massive world of big tours and worship from the fans, then the money starts to flow in, and it’s easy to lose your perspective. Impulse purchases? I did a round the-world trip on my own, it was wonderful. But money has very little meaning to me."
3. Oceanborn (Spinefarm, 1998)
“Our ambition went through the roof after Angels Fall First, because we all realised that this is actually really fun. I was studying biology, Tarja was studying singing, I think in Germany, Jukka was studying to be a computer engineer, Emppu was working in a carpet factory.
"Music was just a hobby. And then we realised, ‘There’s something going on here, so let’s put all the focus in Nightwish for maybe a few years, and see what happens.’ It was eight hours every day in the rehearsal room, playing the songs and just really feeling it. It was the watershed album for us, it took us to the next level.
"All the guys, we had just gotten out of the army so we all had short hair, we had no idea about the metal scene at all. We were complete countryside hickeys who just happened to like metal music, and we were given this chance to show what we could do with a three-album deal. It shouldn’t have worked on paper, but somehow it did.”
2. Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Nuclear Blast, 2015)
“If Floor hadn’t come along, I think that would have been the end of the band. We got over an ugly divorce once [with Tarja], then again with Anette, then Floor comes along and everything shines bright again. She learned the setlist in 48 hours – when I called her, she was at her sister’s wedding. Even from the first show the fans embraced her. So we took a lot of that good feeling for Endless Forms Most Beautiful [named after a line from Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species].
"We went to Röskö campsite in Finland to record. It’s a four-hectare area by a lake in the middle of nowhere, belonging to the Boy Scouts. We stayed for three months. Every morning we’d rehearse for a few hours, have lunch, go back, rehearse and then spend the evening with each other by a campfire, barbecuing, playing acoustic guitar, singing, going to the sauna and talking about the songs all the time. The Greatest Show On Earth, that’s the Nightwish desert island song. I’m sure we’ll play that at the end of the setlist until forever.
"We recorded Richard Dawkins’ part in Oxford. He’s quite the character. I’m a huge fan, so I was really starstruck. He did his parts beautifully, it was over in about 30 minutes and then he gave us a ride back to central Oxford in his Tesla. And halfway back he asks us, ‘So are you musicians or something?’ Ha ha! So his head’s somewhere… all the time! But he’s a wonderful guy.”
1. Human. :II: Nature. (Nuclear Blast, 2020)
“I immediately knew after Endless Forms Most Beautiful that ‘OK, we have to do more songs about this.’ And so the idea of Human. :II: Nature. was first to have songs about humankind, and then you play the other CD and relax and go into nature. My memories of making the album are of happy times, no conflicts. We returned to Röskö to make it.
"When the pandemic hit, it was like, ‘Should we postpone the release?’ But it was all printed and the advertisements had gone out to the papers. So the record label said, ‘Let’s go with it. Maybe people will have more time to concentrate on it…’
"Noise was a big single, but there’s also something about Shoemaker [named after famed geologist/astronomer Eugene Shoemaker]. It’s on the artsy side, but not in a pretentious way.
"Realising what evolution is… it’s about realising our mortality, at least for me. And it’s made all the difference. When I kind of realised that this is very likely the only life we’re gonna have – it’s only after that that I started hugging my dad. I never hugged my dad before that. I’ve just felt much more liberated and in the light ever since.”