A rejuvenated Nightwish return to London on the back of some of the best shows of their 13-year career. Alison B hears from Tuomas Holopainen
In the summer of 2006 Nightwish’s prospects were not looking good. Having steadily garnered respect as forerunners of the rising gothic metal scene since the release of their breakthrough fifth album Once two years earlier, the Finns then jeopardized their new fame by bowing to growing internal tensions and firing original vocalist Tarja Turunen by open letter. To the outside eye they’ve since been blessed with the best outcome from a bad situation that they could have wished for.
Sinking into depression amid jibes from both press and patrons of Nightwish’s shows, who sided with fan favourite Turunen, keyboardist and fellow founding member Tuomas Holopainen had a tough time of it that year, but found a silver lining when he forged those high emotions into 2007’s Dark Passion Play, the fullest realization of Nightwish’s opulent symphonic metal vision to date.
To realize that grand vision, however, also necessitated making an equally sizable gamble. Employing a full choir and orchestra helped to make the album the most expensive in Finnish recording history, and the fact that almost everything was recorded at a time when the band had yet to decide who would take Turunen’s place meant it could easily have been just a very expensive mistake.
18 months on from it’s release, Dark Passion Play - which eventually saw Holopainen, guitarist Erno Vuorinen, bassist Marko Hietala and drummer Jukka Nevalainen joined by Swedish singer Anette Olzon - has racked up enough sales to cover its expenses and then some.
The double-edged reward for such success has been a worldwide tour that has barely paused since the release, leaving the band exhausted, and the old advice to ‘be careful what you wish for’ feeling especially pertinent. Almost a year into their epic road trip the band hit South America last November where, perhaps inevitably, a combination of fatigue, raging Tarja fans and a thoughtlessly placed smoke machine conspired to cause Olzon to lose her voice and leave the stage during a Brazilian show.
“You could sense it from the whole group throughout the South American leg. There was a lot of fatigue in the air, people were really tired of all the touring,” sighs Holopainen, who has been on a swiftly enforced three-month break from the road ever since that show. “The schedule was just so hard, and then there was this very badly misplaced smoke machine onstage and a few middle fingers in the front row... With all this combined [Anette] just collapsed. I was there wondering how she’d survived this long.”
With Nightwish enjoying fame on such a scale as to attract tabloid attention back in Scandinavia these events were soon seized upon as evidence that divisions within the band, like those that led to Turunen being dismissed, were opening up once more. The announcement that Olzon has subsequently employed her own personal manager away from the group unsurprisingly fanned the flames, and even her bandmate admits becoming anxious at this point.
“I did feel a sense of deja vu at first,” Holopainen says. “I was a bit shocked, and my first thought was that it had to do with a lack of trust. But then it’s been so hard for her that now I understand it completely. There’s always the language barrier, no matter how well you speak English there’s always something misunderstood and I think she just wanted someone to take care of her business who spoke Swedish, which this new manager does. Now I think it’s actually worked out to be a positive for the whole band.”
Driving home his assurance that Nightwish are still functioning very much as one, Holopainen adds: “after 18 months on the road you can really see the confidence growing in [Anette] and also the chemistry between the band onstage”. Still, a shit-hot show will always speak louder than any words, which is why many will be watching with interest when Nightwish resume their tour for a further five months, beginning in March at London’s own Brixton Academy.
On their return to the road Nightwish bring with them new tour CD/DVD package Made In Hong Kong (And Other Places), as well as the news that work has begun on a new studio album during their time away from the stage. On the topic of the live CD, partly recorded during the band’s first trip to Hong Kong last year if that much wasn’t already obvious, Holopainen is disarmingly frank.
“I’m personally not such a huge fan of live CDs,” he shrugs, “so I wasn’t even part of the mixing process or anything. I kind of focused my attention on other things while they were doing it. I think the documentary DVD is really the highlight of this release. For me it really shows what was going on in the band. Good and bad.”
Although there has been perhaps more than a fair share of the bad in Nightwish’s nomadic past few months, Holopainen is determined that Dark Passion Play’s follow-up will reflect the relative balance the band has achieved since their last spell in the studio.
“Dark Passion Play was born out of the ultimate pain and stress and being really, really sad and it’s kind of a scary thought that you have to think that way to create art,” he says. “Even though I can never get rid of the Scandinavian melancholy - because I always look at the world through dark glasses - this is nothing compared to what was happening in 2005-6. I think there are going to be some more positive and beautiful aspects coming up. I’ll try not to complain so much.”
He may talk about rounding out his tortured goth tendencies with a touch of humour, but there is also a sense that recent events have given Nightwish some serious perspective. Having already declared looking at the band and crew in Brazil led him to think “everyone of them should’ve be in a mental hospital - including myself,” and scaled back the band’s touring schedule accordingly, Holopainen, formerly a master of excess, now talks calmly of the surely daunting task of following up a record as extravagant as Dark Passion Play.
“I’m sure the orchestra, the choir and the guest musicians will be there again,” he says, “but it’s not like we need to top that now.”