BEST OF 2020 #2: Nightwish
For a few years now I'd secretly hoped the occasion might arise to score an interview with Finnish symphonic metal juggernauts Nightwish. A gal can dream, but - especially in the year of disappointment and despair (2020, I do hate you) - my hopes were not high. So, it was a surreal and sudden moment one morning back in May when I woke up humming a song from Nightwish's new album Human. :||: Nature. after reviewing it a few weeks earlier, before casually glancing down at my phone to see an email had come through with Nightwish interview spots available: THAT. NIGHT. I'm generally pretty quick on my feet prepping interviews, but usually I've always had 24 hours or more notice in which to research, prep and panic before hitting record on the phone call. But this was one of those now or never moments, and before my brain had even registered it, I had already replied with a frantic "YES" to nab a spot, then bunker down to try and magic some next level interview questions for one of my favourite singers of all time.
The bundle of nerves I was serving up as I hit call on my Skype that night were palpable, but it dawned on me that it wasn't actually anxiety or hesitance to speak to someone on the phone (as I feel I need to clarify this point to people who mistake anticipation for anxiety when I relate these stories to them); it was downright hot-blooded excitement, and the second that the probable human angel Floor Jansen picked up on the other end: it reinforced why I do this crazy thing, and also reinforced the incredible reputation Floor and Nightwish have cultivated in their partnership together. This interview somehow wound up on Reddit after I published it (I actually stumbled upon my own name by accident on some random music subreddit, and panicked it was finally a viral video of me somehow spilling coffee on myself. Luckily it was the interview clip instead), before it ultimately picked up more steam than most of my other content ever had in the past; a fact I credit to Floor's impeccable personality, willingness to engage and hilarity as we spent a whirlwind 25 minutes chatting. Couple this with the album review I had published (and lost half of/rewrote) a few weeks before, and it's safe to say a lot of my 2020 was consumed by Nightwish. A pandemic may be soul crushing, but I would have been truly lost without Nightwish by my side. Read and/or listen on for more!
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: May 10 2020
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: April 19 2020
For some bands, an album is less of a career pinnacle and instead a continued journey into the very fabric of being. And for Finnish symphonic metal icons Nightwish, their latest endeavour may hold its lofty claim as being the group's ninth full-length outing, but that achievement is a mere blip on the surface of a deeply engrossing and spell-binding voyage that awaits on the monumental double album HUMAN. :||: NATURE.
Ushering in what would grow to become a significant legacy in the symphonic metal realms, Finland's Nightwish have triumphantly retained their trademark gothic elegance and haunting heaviness amid lineup changes and a blisteringly evolving industry since first forming in a town called Kitee in 1996. Journeying eight studio albums prior to 2020 and establishing fans in every corner of the globe along the way, the group have since gone on to be revered for their experimentation, cinematic theatrics and compositional prowess as they continually offer holistic experiences intertwined with their hefty sonic material, and it's this established routine that is at the core of the group's ninth LP HUMAN. :||: NATURE. that dropped a little over a week ago.
As its title firmly indicates, HUMAN. :||: NATURE. is an exploration of both the dichotomy and similarities between humanity and the natural world, with two distinctive halves on offer; the first where human voices and a spectrum of emotion reign supreme, and a second instrumental half that pins ambitious instrumental outings in a sprawling cinematic setting.
Opening up the album and its first half is the adequately titled Music as it eerily builds its way into a throbbing tribal landscape while hinting at its namesake cultural evolution. From a dramatic and tantalising opening that could equally be at home in one of the upcoming Avatar sequel, Music hypes in its anticipation before dissipating with muddy, ethereal keys and emphatic choirs to lead into the bewitching stylings of frontwoman Floor Jansen. Jansen's breathy, urgent vocals steadily anchor the track as layers slowly add below sonic acrobatics, melding into an array of symphonic beauty complete with sizzling guitars and chugging rhythmics to deliver a triumphant, stomping metal anthem. Up next Noise ups the bombastic antics with some sentimentality for earlier Nightwish material as Jansen flexes her sinewy vocals across a gothic wonderland. Interspersed with ambient reprieves and an utterly snarling breakdown that heavily showcases the dazzling prowess of the instrumentalists, Floor continues to serve up some startling divinity amongst the brawling layers below throughout Noise, broken momentarily by a brief robotic spoken word interlude before drawing to a breathtaking close.
From a mystical, menacing outing with Shakespearean lyrical references and an abundance of chugging delights on Shoemaker, to a folk-hued jaunt that would be equally at home as the intro exposition song in a Celtic Disney flick (and also featuring a rockin' sprightly breakdown amid lead vocals from instrumentalist Troy Donockley) on the bucolic Harvest, Nightwish finally give in to their darker sides and barrel into the gothic wonderland that is Pan. Returning Jansen on lead vocal duties, this rock-opera-ready jam effortlessly flips between operatic flourishes and belting metal might as Pan swirls with drama and walloping ferocity. From its glistening pianos to the appearance of some significantly hefty guitar solos to tantalise the heavier fans, Pan is a lesson in opulent vitality and, as with Noise earlier on, a masterclass in what ultimately endeared Nightwish to its legion of fans so early on.
Folk metal tendencies return with warming gusto on the affable How's The Heart, as Nightwish take a step back from their usual complexity and instead offer up an effortless charmer that relies on its steadfast rhythmics and a hooky chorus that would readily entice crowds in a live setting. While relatively calm and placid in the scheme of the album so far, How's The Heart ultimately highlights the versatility and flair behind the Nightwish brand (helmed firmly by bandleader, main composer and lyricist Tuomas Holopainen), while adding more sonic layers to the fragile human condition under examination throughout this journey. And with only one half of HUMAN. :||: NATURE. dedicated to featuring lyrics, up next Procession amply provides a pure vocal vehicle for Jansen to shine. Possessing a generally sparse sonic backdrop laden with electronics as well as more traditional instrumentation, Procession sturdily grows with Jansen shifting between throaty power and billowing airiness amid pianos and pipes, proving that while Nightwish can smash riffs like nobody's business, they are equally as capable displaying fragile charisma and thoughtful simplicity.
Next up is the appropriately named Tribal, not only living up to its clear-cut title but also serving up some of the heaviest moments on the album. Atop gutteral rhythmics and savage riffery, Jansen commands with significant vocal snarl before a formidable breakdown meshes staccato chants and venomous melodics that will have heavier fans salivating with its increasing brutality (and a particularly memorable percussive outing from drummer Kai Hahto). But from lashings of gnarled beauty comes a Nightwish power metal ballad moment, with Endlessness kicking off with lulling beats guiding some blazing guitars. The signature drama and symphonic elements are brought to the foreground yet again, with the first half of the album closing out in emphatic fashion led by bassist Marko Hietala on lead vocals for a portion of a track. Packed full of dazzling homogeneous moments and show-stopping arrangements, Nightwish hurl everything they've got in a climactic flurry before fading into a sea of haunting choirs and synthy strings - and here, we enter a brave new world.
Subsequently traversing into the second-half of HUMAN. :||: NATURE., Nightwish continue to deliver indelible musical magic whilst shedding the majority of its vocals on the tracks to follow, with each song title preceded by the phrase All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World. And while the thought of losing Jansen's vocal presence may initially deter, what remains is a gripping exploration into neo-classical beauty and cinematic whimsy as the group weave immersive tales of the natural world armed with an orchestra and some occasional vocal additions. From haunting choral tones (Vista) to tales of the nautical (The Blue), the pastoral (The Green), desolate melancholy (Moors) and shimmering wonder (Aurorae), the virtuosic might behind Tuomas Holopainen's and orchestral arranger Pip Williams' pain-staking compositions brims to life alongside The London Session Orchestra as the diverse movements prompt introspection and contemplation while heralding an ultimate love letter to the natural earth. With its flourishing climax found in the glistening neo-classical Anthopocene, Nightwish, or more specifically Holopainen, rounds out with a touch of spoken word from British actress Geraldine James and a return to tribal and choral bliss as the overarching themes of humanity, nature, technology, art and, of course, music band together for one final, dramatic outing on Ad Astra.
When speaking of HUMAN. :||: NATURE. as a whole, it's difficult not to treat the distinct stylistic and thematic separation between the two halves as individual entities. But with the starkly separated title heralding the similarities and differences that await in this truly staggering voyage, it's little surprise that HUMAN. :||: NATURE. ultimately gifts such a diverse and ambitious listening experience. And marking their first new release in five years after the gargantuan previous effort that was Endless Forms Most Beautiful, the bar was set staggeringly high, even by Nightwish standard,s for their next adventure. The end result for Nightwish and their ninth album is one that is unabashedly grandiose, opulent and experimental, continuing the pursuit of pushing their own artistic limits while maintaining their steadfast sonic identity with each new endeavour. HUMAN. :||: NATURE. is an undeniable epic that offers a true sonic experience and purpose beyond its riffs and dizzying flair, and will no doubt reveal new treasures to delight with each return listen.
BY TIANA SPETER