Thrash Hits’ Tom Dare loves Nightwish. He’s barely put his memories of the Tarja Turunen era behind him and they’ve gone and shed Anette Olzon. Here’s what he made of it after he stopped crying.
Nightwish have parted ways with singer Anette Olzon. While parts of the the UK is sniggering in adolescent fashion at the very mention of these Finns, and large swathes America is looking over the water, scratching it’s head and asking “Who?”, in Europe, this is bloody huge news.
Nightwish are one of the few metal bands to come along in the last 15-odd years that sell huge numbers of records in the mass downloading era. Even Dark Passion Play, generally regarded as one of their weaker records, sold hundreds of thousands of copies on the continent. And it comes at the worst possible time – they’ve only just become truly stable after the last time they split with their singer.
The seven years since the acrimonious departure of their former lead vocalist, Tarja Turunen, haven’t exactly been a smooth ride. It took Nightwish the best part of two years to find a replacement, meaning the band’s sixth album had to be written without knowing the specific strengths and weaknesses of the lady needing to sing it.
The Tarja tune:
Tarja’s operatic warbling was undoubtedly a key component of what made the band so distinctive on their emergence, however much that shtick has been ripped off since. By the time their fifth album, Once, rolled around though, it was obvious composing for that style was limiting them. Tuomas Holopainen (who founded the band and has written the majority of their music) seemed to be straining at his creative boundaries, but evolving a band with such a specific vocal style is not easy.
Her departure freed some of those shackles, but not knowing the range or character of her replacement imposed limits of a different kind. The result was that parts of Dark Passion Play was predictable pop metal, and had a limited replay factor. The tunes were sizeable, but much of it was a little stock and unadventurous. There were, however, vastly more ambitious tracks – most prominently ‘The Poet And The Pendulum‘, a sprawling 14-minute odyssey where Tuomas once more laid his emotions bare while hiding them in the theatricality of the music, is arguably the finest song he’s ever written – and showed glimpses of entirely unexplored territory the band could master.
Following a mammoth, gruelling two-year world tour, the band seemed to be finding their feet once more. Tarja’s replacement, Anette Olzon, was getting stronger as far as the band’s live performances went, her confidence seemingly growing in the role, and the band weren’t having to trot out old Wishmaster favourites in order to please the crowd. Then, after an elephantine gestation period, Imaginaerum happened.
The comeback video (with 60 million views):
All of a sudden, the suggestions of a Tarja reunion (something the band seemed to get asked about every time they went out for some milk, especially given her superstar status in their homeland) seemed daft. A much more varied, beautifully constructive work with fluctuating pace, tone and intensity, that ran from gigantic, chorus-focused bombast to gentle contemplation to smooth jazz (nice) showed that Nightwish had far more options open to them with Anette – and that she could nail the variety of parts she was being asked to perform. The subsequent live shows have been great and, finally, after seven years, the band had reached a stable platform from which they could launch into a bright future.
Evening putting aside the bloody great tour they’ve now got to do without Anette, purely because we’ve no real idea how stand-in Floor Jansen (formerly of the now-defunct After Forever) will fill her shoes, the questions going forward are numerous. Perhaps most strikingly, Imaginaerum has a movie to accompany it coming out next month – a film that Nightwish have pumped €1million of their own money into making (and even if you’re Metallica, that’s a fuckton of money). Now the singer – who apparently features in the film itself – who recorded the tracks the film tells the story of isn’t there.
But that’s not so much what I am concerned about as a fan. I’d dealt with my feelings over Tarja’s departure to the point I barely listen to those old records anymore – what they’ve done since, even if it’s only two albums, has become Nightwish in my head. The last album and the highlights of the one before were so bastard good, I no longer miss the “good old days”.
Where they nailed it:
My worry isn’t that Nightwish won’t be able to find a singer good enough. They know what they’re doing, and a band that size won’t struggle for more-than-qualified applicants. I’d expect half the adult female population of Finland to have already emailed their CV to Nightwish’s management along with a links to their YouTube performances. My worry is that it’s another period of instability and uncertainty, that it’ll take another two-year search to find a successor, that the next album will have to be a little compositionally restrained while they sort things out – and, inevitably, that if lightning can strike twice, that it could strike a third time.