Five years is the longest break between studio albums for Nightwish, so to come back after that long and score number ones in Finland, Germany and Spain with their ninth record ‘Human. :II: Nature.’ is a mighty feat. In Australia, they even got their first ARIA top ten album (reaching #7).
When vocal leader of the six-piece Finnish symphonic metallers, Floor Jansen, tries to think of a reason why this album has surged in popularity, at first she’s stumped. “I have no idea,” she says. “Our music hasn’t changed in all honesty. I think it’s the way it was brought to the Australian people maybe – different approach, different networks. I also come from a country where metal is definitely not popular and where it’s considered noise and we’re considered B music, B market, which is really funny because we have many, many international successful metal acts coming from the Netherlands known all over the world, but not in their own country. And so the same went for me.”
Not since 2007’s ‘Dark Passion Play’ has a Nightwish album scored this many top chart spots. One possible reason could be Jansen’s appearance on Dutch reality TV show, Beste Zangers (best singers), in 2019. In each series, a number of well-known performers alternate as the central artist who picks songs out of their own repertoire to be sung by the others. The original performer judges the covers of their songs done by the participants. “(It) changed the way that the audience perceives me entirely through a different approach,” Jansen says. “It got Nightwish on number two in the main charts here and I don’t even think we really reached the main charts to start with. So it really changed, but we didn’t. That’s the interesting thing. I really think it’s the approach on how it was given to a broader audience.”
The TV experiment was just one of a truckload of things Jansen and her crew got up to in those years when writing new music was not the focus. Following the release of her Nightwish album debut, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’, in March 2015 (also drummer Kai Hahto’s debut), they toured the world almost non-stop from April 2015 to October 26. Then they actually took a year off for the first time in the band’s history. In that year, nothing happened. No songwriting. No nothing. “Not much of it is really sitting around,” Jansen says. “Even in the year we were off Nightwish, a couple of albums for us as individuals came out, so we really spend our time,” she laughs.
In 2018 the band released compilation album, ’Decades’, which featured original vocalist Tarja Turunen, her replacement Anette Olzon and also Jansen. Another tour wouldn’t be far away. “Instead of picking up with writing a new album, we decided to go back into time … We did a whole world tour called ‘Decades: World Tour’, where what we’ve been playing had not been played at all with me, or at least been a very long time for the band. For long term Nightwish fans, that was the ultimate.”
When they began planning the tour, the group sat down together and thought about the setlist endlessly because they wanted to please everybody. “So you come up with this compromise, which is two hours long,” she laughs. “When we started to rehearse with the band, of course, the sound of Nightwish today is different than it was back then. ‘So what kind of instruments do we have and what are the styles that we want to have?’ And in the old songs, Troy (Donockley) is not there, for instance, with his Uilleann pipes pipes or with the flutes, so we looked at the sounds new, and from that, the conclusion was that … it’s not that great to have a pile of backing vocals running along if you have two other singers in the band that can sing along live. And so we started to sing; harmonise way more than ever before live. And of course that changed the sound of the old songs a little bit, but it gave you a real live feel, a really big boost, and that also inspired Tuomas (Holopainen) when he started writing for the new album.”
Having the three vocalists Jansen, Donockley (backing vocals) and Marco Hietala (male vocals, bass) sing on each track was vital to the sound of Human. :II: Nature. “Of course, the majority of the songs are sung by me, so the guys are harmonising,” Jansen says. “Troy for the first time in history has his own main vocal role (on Harvest) and I am harmonising there together with Marco and it’s different from the previous album. Now, again, Marco has his own lead song, Endlessness, where it’s Troy and me harmonising. It was for me something new to do as well and really enjoyable. It’s keeping the colours, the differences and the flow of the album much more interesting.”
Band founder, leader and musical wizard Holopainen once again came up with the subject matter for the album, which is, well, about humankind and nature. “It’s all one as well,” Jansen says. “We are nature. We’re made of the same DNA as everything else on this planet. Just have a few differences, but not so much, actually.” Jansen doesn’t want to speak for how their leader got his inspiration, but she can say that everybody in the band thought the subjects felt very natural to write about.
This is also their first double CD – the first has lyrics and instruments, while the second is eight connected instrumental movements. “Love letters to nature,” she says. “You could call that the nature part, whereas the songs that the band played on – all the other subjects are related to humankind.” And while some metal bands grab an orchestra to jazz up or reimagine their material, Nightwish go straight to the top: they hire The London Session Orchestra. That would cost a mint, Floor? “Of course it does, but let’s do quality over quantity. We have the luxury to work with the real deal. We could put the money in our pockets, but it’s nicer to invest in beautiful work that will last for the rest of our lives and beyond. It’s a worthy investment.”
On the first disc, Jansen says track one, Music, is pretty straightforward. It’s about the history of music; how it developed from rudimentary tribal sounds to the complex music we hear today. While that does sound basic in concept, it encapsulates how far a band like Nightwish have come. To make metal with symphonic elements is to borrow so many ideas from history, synthesise them and hope people like them. From Bach to blues to rock to metal, there’s centuries of meaning there. It also features a ripping solo by Emu Vuorinen. “(Metal) stays often within the classical structures, but it’s also definitely mixed with blues in its original structure,” she says. “The building of chords and progressions or waves – it’s not only classical. And of course, classical music has evolved itself too. So there’s modern classics and then there’s metal that mixes elements there. It definitely is a form of modern classics, if you will. I think, however, that the classical world would never dare to say something like that … Most of them are pretty old fashioned and stuck in how it is supposed to be and not in how it can be. I remember when I studied even – I studied classical singing, but I also studied rock academy and had classes in opera. My teacher was a very open minded man who believed a voice can do everything. But there were many other teachers there who literally said to me, ‘What you’re doing is not possible. You need to choose. If you want to become a real opera singer, you need to stop doing the rest.’ That’s nice,” she laughs. “It’s nice to prove them wrong.”