Heart of Steel: Interviews

Pre-listening session at Finnvox Studio for new Nightwish album, "ONCE". 27th of March 2004

Article and all pics by by Luxi Lahtinen

In mid March I got an invitation from Tuula Salminen of Spinefarm Records to a pre-listening session of Nightwish´s forth-coming album at the famous Finnvox Studio. How could I turn down such an invitation? Of course I didn´t, and I went there by 11.45 AM on the 27th of March and soon noticed that I was the first person there - besides 3 fine ladies from Spinefarm Records who kept me company for a short moment. I asked from one of them whether Tuomas Holopainen was somewhere near by and at that very moment he stepped into the room with us and I decided to take advantage of this ´golden opportunity´. I went to Tuomas and politely asked him whether he might have a few minutes to talk with me while waiting for the others to arrive. Being a true gentleman like Tuomas is by nature, we found ourselves soon sitting around a table on the other side of the big room and I started inquiring some things from him concerning their anxiously waited new album titled ONCE.

So Tuomas, how would you say this new album ONCE differ from your previous album CENTURY CHILD as wholeness?

Well, how could I put into words? I would say that CENTURY CHILD was more or less kind of a "proto type" for this new album even if I naturally couldn´t be aware of that at all. On CENTURY CHILD we used a full orchestra for the first time just to give more depth into our songs and added a bit heavier aspects into them, too. But on this new album ONCE, overall we have doubled all these elements; brought both more heaviness and orchestrated parts into our new songs. Our new stuff on ONCE mostly is based on very riff-laden song structures as well as we have never used this many classical orchestra parts for our songs as we did with the songs for ONCE. I could also say that ONCE is kind of a sequel to CENTURY CHILD, but everything on ONCE has been done better and in a more massive scale.



How did it feel to start making songs for your follow-up album? Knowing that CENTURY CHILD was so well received in every corner of the world and it received rave reviews in almost every single magazine worldwide. I bet starting thinking and eventually writing new stuff for ONCE under those circumstances simply must have caused at least a bit pressure on you because you obviously want to top yourself as a song writer as far as follow-up albums are concerned, correct?

Yes, that is correct indeed. Of course there´s always some pressures haunting there behind your previous successful attempt to make a great record and making ONCE differs rather radically from everything what we have done earlier. Making ONCE has been really hard task to make; we have been spending time to make this album longer than with any of our other albums, but I still think that the experience we have got out of this all has also been the most rewarding to us all in all. We had absolutely enough time to make this album, so we didn´t have to rush any things for ONCE as has happened with the making of our previous albums. Right at this moment I feel very good about our new album. I have to say that I have lots of confidence toward this new album of ours and I feel very proud of being a part of making of it even if no one would buy it. It still was worth making, that´s for sure.



Excuse me, but it sounds pretty ´odd´ to me when you said you didn´t have to rush things in the studio to make the album done ´coz nearly 99% out of all bands kind of tend to rush things when a deadline for some recording in a studio is almost reached, bands simply have this strange tendency to run out of their time in a recording situation for some reason or the other...

He-he... as strange as it may sound to you, we have been 5 months in the studio, making this new album. We entered the studio in the mid October 2003 and during the X-mass time we had only one week off from the recording of ONCE. But otherwise we have been recording the album daily up to this very day; sometimes more intensely, something a bit less intensely.



When you had a clear enough picture in your head for how the songs would eventually turn out, did you ever feel, even a few times during the whole song writing process, that the musical steps you have taken might be too much for some Nightwish fans to handle? Possibly way too drastic changes musically compared to your previous stuff, maybe crossing the line a bit too much for what´s accessible Nightwish stuff and what´s not from the Nightwish fans point of view?

Actually I wanted to do an album where each single song could be like a soundtrack in miniature. When I was composing songs for our previous album CENTURY CHILD, I realized that´s the thing for Nightwish I really wanted to do ´coz overall to do something where we are good at and feel comfortable for us. And now when I listen to songs on our new album, I feel very strongly about the stuff we have done for this album. There´s a very strong ´soundtrack´ish´ feel in each song we have done for ONCE and I´m really happy how the whole album sounds like. Also, there´s lots of tiny little surprises here and there in our songs on the album. I think it´s kind of nice to wake up people every once in a while and do something different musically for each new album you do. For example one song has been sung in Finnish ("Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan" ), then we have one a real Native American Indian in one of our songs as a guest ("Creek Mary´s Blood" ) and then there´s even a song on ONCE which is almost a "danceable techno Heavy Metal song (?)" where this certain metallic beat rumbles through the whole song. With this type of ´surprises´ we have spiced some of the songs on ONCE...



Last time we talked, I recall talking a little bit about Marco´s contribution for the song writing of Nightwish in the future, too. Has he participated in the song writing of ONCE  and how much did he become involved with that?

Marco gave me a couple of ´raw sketches´ on CD-R, containing some plain riffs as well. I checked them through and ripped a few things out from it and there´s one song on the album that Marco has done almost completely from the beginning to the very end by himself and that song is the last song on ONCE called "Higher than Hope". Also Marco did one riff for one other song on the album, so I could say that Marco´s involvement with this album is more visible than on our last album CENTURY CHILD. As for me, I still have done all the lyrics for this album, though.



What about Emppu; what was his role with the song writing for this new album of yours then?

Emppu did one riff for one song too, and the rest has been done by me.



But still as I assume that even if both Marco and Emppu had come up with a respected bunch of cool and useable ideas for ONCE, you were again so-called the main ´filter´ at the end of the tunnel who selected the gold out from a less valuable metal, so to speak...

Yes, I agree... it was my duty to be this main filter again to look a little bit after what kind of stuff I wanted to get in for this album. If I remember right, Emppu introduced 3 riffs of which I wanted to use one for this album and Marco introduced a couple of song structures plus 3 riffs to me and from those I decided to use one of Marco´s song structure in whole for ONCE and one of his riffs as well.



Now when you have been playing and hearing all these songs on ONCE like a few hundred times or so, can you already tell whether one of them has grown as your own favorite song for some reason or the other?

I have to tell you that right from the very beginning, since that moment I got this certain song completely finished, "´Creek Mary´s Blood" is the one I consider as my own highlight of my whole career as a song writer. I feel like this song has got something very personal for me; there´s lots of great moods and feelings going on in that particular song and I have to say that I also feel like I´m pleased with that song most. Of course there´s always a chance that my favorite songs off the album may change daily, you just never know. For example the first single song off the album called "Nemo" felt really damn good in the beginning as a song, but nowadays I kind of want to wash my hands from it simply because I have heard it so many times. "Creek Mary´s Blood" is still my favorite off all the songs right now.

What type of song is it musically? Is it an ´epic´ song or something alike...?

Yes, it is indeed! It clocks in at the 9-minute mark and another lengthy tune on ONCE is "Ghost Love Story" is about 10-minutes or so... These two songs are the longest songs this new album and the rest of the songs are like 4-5 minutes in length.



I read from your website that you even did one song ("Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan") in Finnish for the first time in the entire history of Nightwish. What made you end up trying out one song in your native language of Finnish?

Well, it was basically just an experiment more than anything else to see how one of our songs would sound like when sung in Finnish. It wasn´t any kind of pre-planned thing to do at all; more like a spontaneous idea to find out whether it would work out for us or not. And it did work out very well in my opinion. The song sounds very good to my ears at least. It´s assumable one of the best ballad type of songs that we have ever been capable of churning out, I think. This song has been made of minor ingredients; there´s only Tarja´s voice, piano and the orchestra in this song and that´s it. The band doesn´t play in that song at all.



ONCE will be released 7th of June 2004 worldwide. What kind of expectations do you have for it and how you expect people will receive it when they get a chance to buy it from their local record stores?

Hmm... a tough question. First off, I have to say that this album may be a bit more complex and difficult album in my opinion to be absorbed by people compared to our previous album CENTURY CHILD, for example. When people listen to it for the very first time, they probably may get some confused and mixed feelings out of this album as the stream of information on this new album may be too much to handle for a listener at one listen only. So hopefully people can be patient and let the songs grow up in them a little bit ´coz I can guarantee it will rewarding for them.



Last week you had a bunch media people from different countries here at Finnvox in the same situation as a similar pre-listening session was arranged to them as well. What kind of feedback have you got from them concerning ONCE?

Most of the feedback that I got from them, was very positive indeed, I can tell. I was very flattered by some of their comments. On the other hand, many also told me afterwards that as the sound on ONCE is so massive and monumental, they need to give a few extra spins to it in order to get it better absorbed into their minds and enjoy the album at fullest. But overall people got pretty excited about it all in all as wholeness.



Obviously after the album is out, you start a massive tour to promote it and I can even bet many of your concerts have already been sold-out in advance. Is that correct?

Yes, you are right. Many of them are sold-out already. During this summer we´ll play at many festivals, then we´ll do our first ever US/Canada tour as a headlining band and it will last 3 weeks. Right after that we will come back to Central Europe again, then continue from there via Scandinavia to South America. We will have a break from touring from the beginning of X-mas 2004 to January 2005 and continue touring right after January. Our purpose is to be on road a year or a year and half to promote our new album, but I guess it´s a bit too early to say more about our plans for the next year.


That was it Tuomas. Thanks a lot for sharing your time. Now we´d better run to this pre-listening session with others that's been arranged by your record company Spinefarm Records.

Thank you, too. Yeah, we´d better to do just that.

And finally the main thing... my short analysis on each track on ONCE. But please do keep in your minds that all of my comments for each track on ONCE are based on only one spinning of the album and even most of the songs were either raw mixes or un-mastered versions (or both), so my comments about each song do not offer that much in-depth insight into them by any means. My comments were basically just meant to scratch the surface of the songs on this new album a little bit and that´s basically all.

Let my notes guide me and may God forgive me if my notes weren´t precise and accurate enough...

"Dark Chest of Wonders" (final mix, un-mastered)

Wow... absolutely one of the heaviest Nightwish songs ever penned down!! The shredding guitar riffs simply rule in this song; Emppu´s guitar riffs are some of the heaviest he has ever conjured up for a Nightwish song. Quite a straight-forward song all in all if referred to the whole back catalogue of Nightwish songs and kind of a well-chosen starter for the whole album in general.


"Wish I had an Angel" (final mix, un-mastered)

Again, Emppu´s heavy and even murderous riffage took me by surprise. Another surprisingly heavy song on ONCE. The first verse is sung both by Tarja and Marco together, followed by a chorus which Marco sings alone, soon followed a duet with Tarja again. The song reminds me of "Slaying the Dreamer" off Nightwish´s previous album CENTURY CHILD due to its immense heavy moments. I don´t hesitate a bit by saying that "Wish I had an Angel" must be one of Nightwish´s heaviest songs without doubts. I just loved each second of it.

"Nemo" (final mix, mastered)

The song reminded me of a more like traditional Nightwish stuff that all of us have heard from them with some well thought-out harmonies and stuff. Having a very catchy and somewhat pompous chorus part which sticks to your mind like a gum in your fingers, it´s no wonder why they ended up choosing this particular song for their first single off the album. Tarja really shines with her magnificent vocal parts in this tune as she always tends to do.


"Planet Hell" (final mix, mastered)

A very soundtrack´ish beginning which sounded very epic thoroughly, with lots of strings and horns (and possibly some other classical instruments as well... I cannot remember any longer, sorry!) are being played in this tune by courtesy of The Academy of St. Martins in the Field that was e.g. used by Howard Shore while recording the music for the "Lord of the Rings" -trilogy. Marco´s opening up of the song with his no less than powerful and incredible vocal parts, soon being followed Tarja´s absolutely tantalizing vocalism, though. It sounds like the chorus part has been thought out for the song really carefully again as it´s as memorable and all the way catchy as something can be in the first place. As a song, it´s overall a relatively fast tempo song and became one of my instant favorite tracks on the album. This song really made me hungry for more...


"Creek Mary´s Blood" (raw mix)

Tuomas´ own favorite track on ONCE. The song itself honestly did remind me of some sort of a soundtrack for a Wild West movie with some massive scenes, presenting life of the Indians culture (... or whatever!). However, on this, Nightwish performs together with a real Native American/American Indian and a multi-instrumentalist called Mr. John "Two-Hawks" who is originally from the Lakota tribe. John plays flute, sings and reads a poem in Lakota language which Tuomas has made the original text for. The song has a great epic and beautiful feeling and it´s one of the two so-called ´epic´ songs on the album, lasting more than 9 minutes. I happened to like the song very much myself, too. It sounded quite different what we all have used to hear from Nightwish before. But as whole, "Creek Mary´s Blood" is a very interesting piece of work from Nightwish, definitely something totally new and refreshing compared to some of their familiar concepts as far as Tuomas´ song writing elements overall are concerned.


"The Siren" (final mix, un-mastered)

This song has a very cool instrumental beginning, supported by a set of string instruments. Somehow it brought some certain Eastern sounds/vibes to my mind and the song had quite a varied amount of tempos in itself and I couldn´t help it a bit, but admire Tarja´s breath-taking, nearly a siren-like vocalism in this track in question. No wonder why people generally consider her voice one of the best amongst other female singers...


"Dead Gardens" (raw mix)

The song represents once again one of the heaviest tunes in the Nightwish roster. A heavily riff-based song where Emppu doesn´t show any mercy for his 6-string and the song turns out to be quite a somewhat straight-forward as a song to be a Nightwish song. Uh... I´m afraid that´s all I can remember about the song in question...


"Romanticide" (final mix, un-mastered)

First off, don´t let the title of this song fool you. Namely in this tune Nightwish keep on pushing themselves toward heavier corners of Heavy Metal music... "Romanticide" is nothing but a cavalcade of strongly crunching riffs being churned out from Emppu´s own ´riff factory´; varying from mid tempos to some unexpected, faster tempos and Marco´s vocalism reaches a very intensive and even an amazingly aggressive level. As a song it´s a very heavy and angry Nightwish song indeed, strongly riff-based and undoubtedly one of the most metallic songs not only this album, but also compared to everything they have done in the past. Again, there´s a tiny chance that many Nightwish fans may get a bit surprised due to some really hectic intensity levels of "Romanticide".


"Ghost Love Story" (final mix, unmastered)

One of the tracks on ONCE that has a really strong soundtrack´ish feeling of a movie, starting straight from the very beginning of the song which in fact contains lots of heaviness (Emppu´s guitar work definitely rules overall in this tune!). The song basically develops like this way: From some less smooth waters of the beginning of the song, is followed a short part full of calmness and magical beauty from where the song starts developing again toward some heavier moments that are soon followed some more peaceful waters structure-wise once again. What also needs to be mentioned, the song has its orchestrated moments being played by a bunch of classical string instruments that provide more colorful nuances and harmonies for the song. A very cool song this one in my opinion as well...


"Kuolema Tekee Taitelijan" (raw mix)

This song is both melancholic and sorrowful sounding "ballad" type of Nightwish song, being sung in Nightwish´s native Finnish language for first time in the band´s history. Sounded rather strange to my ears at first because of the used language in the song, but I got used to it relatively soon anyway. Lots of classical instruments can be tracked down from this tune, too: cello, harp, some horns, different strings (I guess!).


"Higher than Hope" (raw mix)

This is one of the two songs that Marco has done from start to finish for ONCE. The song starts off a simple acoustic part, Tarja joining in soon with her captivating vocal parts that are followed next by a duet together with Marco. As the song keeps on developing, it finally ends up having quite an epic, heavy, and melancholic atmosphere with all these ingredients in the very same soup. Also, a varied amount of classical string instruments can be spotted as well. I have to say as whole, it´s a well-executed song and works out a very good closer for the album. One of the two lengthy tunes on ONCE.


Official Nightwish Site

Spinefarm Records (Finland)
Homepage: www.spinefarm.fi

Century Media Records (USA, Canada)
Homepage: www.centurymedia.com

NIGHTWISH Reviews in Metal-Rules.com