Nightwish have always been a band with a vision. To some they're considered pioneers of symphonic metal. To others they're the band that beat Evanescence to the punch in terms of ethereal female vocals over robust metal atmospheres. But however you see them, each Nightwish album is anevent. Released in late 2011, Imaginaerum was the band's big concept statement, a narrative which tells the story of an elderly composer looking back on his life from his deathbed.
The band is currently in Australia to promote the album and its attendant feature film. Of course nothing in the world of Nightwish is permanent; just as their music evolves, so has their lineup, and they recently bade farewell to vocalist Anette Olzon (who replaced Tarja Turunen). Stepping up to the mic on short notice is Floor Jansen (After Forever, ReVamp), who is doing an incredible job, as YouTube clips reveal.
"She's exceptional," lead songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen says on the phone from Brisbane. "We're not going to go into details [about Olzen's departure]. The main thing is that everybody's happier at the moment - Anette, Floor and the band. And that's the thing that really matters." Jansen was the band's only choice when they were forced into a decision about whether to continue with the Imaginaerum world tour or to cancel. "When she came along it was like a sledgehammer into the face," Holopainen says without irony or smirk. "It was like, 'wow'. We knew her skills and everything, but she's just incredible. To this day we've never had a rehearsal yet. We just haven't had the time, and still she's doing such an amazing job. So really thumbs up for her."
With a new lead vocalist perfuming material that has already been established with another voice, it's almost like a new chance for the band itself to get to know Imaginaerum. Holopainen says he's very happy with the sound as it stands now, but can't wait to see where it's going to go in the future. "It just sounds really brilliant overall, but I would like to get some relaxed time with her and the band in the studio or in the rehearsal room to go deep into what we could do, because for the last few months it's been more like doing shows and coping with the tour. I don't quite know the whole potential yet!"
Part of the magic of the album is its cinematic quality - no great surprise given Holopainen's stated love for film music, nor the overall plan for the project, including the film which he co-wrote with its director, newcomer Stobe Harju. "The idea for the movie came about in 2007 when I was listening to the mastered Dark Passion Play album, and I was wondering what the hell we were going to do next, because that album was already so huge and diverse and complicated. And with every album you want to challenge yourself and the band and the people to do something different and innovative." It was at this point that Holopainen decided to knit the music's strong visual side with an actual film. "Soundtracks are the biggest musical inspiration for me personally, so why not do a movie to go along with the album?" Then he chuckles. "I realise that so-called band movies have a terrible reputation," - Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains The Same comes to mind, with its cheesy visuals - "but we wanted to change that with Imaginarum." Holopainen has an extensive background in classical music, playing clarinet and classical piano for many years, to the point where he feels like he's totally overdosed on classical music. "I still have a lot of respect for the classics like Mozart and Bach, but I can't listen to them at home," he says. Then when he discovered film music - composers like James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer and John Williams - he found what he considered to be the updated version of what those guys were doing centuries ago. And while his favourite is Howard, Holopainen reserves a special place in his heart for Williams. "Oh dear. He's such a legend. He's written so many themes that everybody on the planet knows. It's unbelievable. The Indiana Jones theme, Star Wars and all that. Oh dear!"
Interestingly, despite his reputation as a symphonic metal composer and producer, Holopainen prefers to work in more arcane mediums compared to the typical modern musician. "I'm all into Korg keyboards, and I have an endorsement so I'm not allowed to use anything else! I use the Kronos in the studio and live as well. But I'm really not a technical person at all. I know the basics of keyboards, but I never, ever use computers when I'm writing. I still use these discs that you put into the keyboard, and I do all my demos there. I only use computers for emails and for fantasy hockey! That's it! I also write a lot of [music] on paper. In that way I'm an old-school guy. There's something romantic about doing it by hand. I want to keep some traditions alive. There's nothing more beautiful than a hand-written sheet of music."
BY PETER HODGSON
Nightwish perform at the Palace Theatre on Monday January 14 (sold out) and Tuesday January 15, with support from Sabaton.