New singer setting the tone for Nightwish

Nightwish

Nightwish

By ALAN SCULLEY

The notion that Nightwish, a band that plays large clubs and small theaters in the United States, spent $800,000 making its current CD, “Dark Passion Play,” may seem more than a little excessive.

But Tuomas Holopainen, the band’s chief songwriter and keyboardist, says the times and circumstances demanded just such an approach to the album.

“Dark Passion Play” marked the debut of the band’s new singer, Anette Olzon, and making a big statement was important for Nightwish.

“We just decided that this was the point of the band’s career that we shouldn’t make any compromises,” Holopainen said during a telephone interview last week. “We had to do everything as perfect as possible and not think about money at all. So I wanted to have a bigger orchestra, a bigger choir, more songs, longer songs, just do everything as perfect as possible … We didn’t care at the moment because it was do or die, because there were a lot of people in the world who didn’t believe in the band anymore.”

At this point, a little context will help to explain the situation Nightwish found itself in heading into the “Dark Passion Play” CD.

The Finnish group had released five al-bums before firing singer Tarja Turenen in 2005. She had become a very visible frontwoman and had been the symbol for the group as it became one of Europe’s most popular bands, a group that routinely filled 15,000-capacity arenas.

In Finland, the group’s popularity was even greater, and it’s no understatement to say the firing of Turenen sent shock waves through the country. It was the lead story on Finland’s national news and generated a firestorm of speculation.

“It was by far the hardest thing I ever had to face in my life, and still is,” Holopainen said of the uproar. “It was like a living hell for a few months. It’s something that we’re never going to get rid of, and I mean, the biggest mistake that I did and we did was that we didn’t expect anything like this. I think we were being really naïve about it.

“I couldn’t say that (we thought) nobody cares. We thought it was going to be a big thing, but nothing on this scale because it hit the national news as the primary news flash and even the prime minister of Fin-land (was) commenting on this thing. It ended up being like a national crisis or something. We ended up in the middle of the public soap opera for the next two years … Luckily this was only in Finland, not so much abroad. We became like the No. 1 celebrities in Finland for some time back then.”

So as the search for a new lead singer be-gan, Holopainen dove into writing the music and lyrics for “Dark Passion Play.”

The search lasted for 14 months, during which time the group reviewed more than 2,000 applications from singers from around the world. In the end, the band had three very strong candidates, Holopainen said, but Olzon felt like the best fit for Nightwish.

“It was just like the chemistry clicked immediately when we met,” he said. “And then when she started to sing, everybody in the band was like this is exactly the voice that we need. It’s nothing like the previous one, which is a good thing, but it’s still ex-tremely powerful, soulful and versatile. So the voice was just perfect.”

After some 18 months of touring behind “Dark Passion Play,” which was released in 2007, it seems that Olzon was the right choice.

Nightwish, which also includes guitarist Erno Vuorinen, drummer Jukka Nevalainen and bassist/singer Marco Hietala, has maintained its popularity, and Holopainen said Olzon appears to have been widely accepted.

“I think the majority has definitely approved of her, and we were positively surprised about the peoples’ open mindedness toward her,” he said.

Olzon makes a strong showing on “Dark Passion Play,” showing plenty of vocal power and a crystalline tone that works well with the band’s epic brand of orchestral metal.

The band certainly seems to have put a big chunk of its huge budget into the music on the CD. Tracks like “Bye Bye Beauti-ful,” “Sahara” and “The Poet and the Pen-dulum” — the 14-minute piece that opens the album — make full use of the orchestra and vocal layering to go with the hard-charging rock that drives the songs.

The sweep of the music means Nightwish has to make some concessions in performing its music live — namely the liberal use of backing tracks featuring the orchestral and vocal parts that the band can’t perform live.

“Thank God for modern technology because the only way I feel that we can play these songs live is to do some backing tracks when it comes to the orchestras and the choirs,” Holopainen said. “We tried to rehearse songs without them, and it’s just not the same.”

Nightwish plays Friday, May 8, at Pop’s, 401 Monsanto Ave., Sauget. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show, which also features Volbeat, cost $26.