Pop quiz: three weeks ago, what was the best-selling record (album or single) in the whole of Europe? Norah Jones? Cold, you’re very cold. Avril Lavigne? A bit warmer but nah, thankfully not. The Beastie Boys? Erm, no. The fifth album by a quintet from Finland who play heavy metal with a female operatic singer, accompanied by a symphony orchestra? Shurely, shome mishtake? Welcome to Nightwish…
Nightwish are the band to destroy practically every musical prejudice you ever had. Still think Euro-music is dodgy? Okay, why the Germans bought David Hasselhoff records is a question that will doubtless haunt psychologists to their grave, but the non-English speaking ones have got it right on this one, make no mistake. Besides. Bucks Fizz vs ABBA. ‘Nuff said.
Still think heavy metal is emotionally retarded men hammering out loudness for loudness’s sake while shouting about what the world has done to them? Think again, as you listen to Nemo, a single that was huge almost everywhere in Europe except backward-looking Blighty, and one that features walls of guitars, a consistent piano motif, strings, gothic harmonies and a chorus made all the more sizeable by Tarja Turunen’s classically-trained, neo-operatic vocal. Or how about the eight and a half minute epic of Creek Mary’s Blood, which adds Native American Indian chanting, flutes, horns and other orchestral effects into the mix as the lyrics discuss the West’s continued colonisation of ancient lands? Gareth Gates this ain’t.
And perhaps you think that in order for a band to be “gothic”, all they need to do is wear black and put some silly crows’ feathers in their hair, regardless of the fact that they’re actually playing straightforward pop music? No, no, no, no, no, no. Instead, listen to Planet Hell with its searing choral intro and full-on, cinematic orchestral score that leads into a scorching piece of heads-down power metal and you’ll never mistake The Rasmus for anything other than a bunch of pop boys in disguise again.
In short, it’s hard to fault Once. Nightwish can rock with the best of them when they want to, as the old skool, breakneck metal riffs of Dark Chest Of Wonders, the semi-industrial stomp of Wish I Had An Angel and the wondrous Pantera-sized pummelling finale to Romanticide all demonstrate.
However, as should be apparent by now, this bunch of classically-trained musicians have ambitions that stretch far beyond spandex trousers and groupies, and if and when the Nightwish phenomenon ever comes to an end, careers in film scoring and classical music surely await, judging by the soaring, ten-minute Ghost Love Score and the mournful Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan, where the guitars are banished completely, to be replaced by strings and a lead cello.
At times Nightwish make our very own Muse sound like paragons of basic, non-risk taking music, such is the broad remit they seem to have given themselves. Some may accuse them of being overblown and ridiculous, but as with Muse, this misses this point. Nightwish are real musicians making real music for real music lovers, whilst not being so up themselves that they forget how to write real songs. And that should be enough for anyone – even you, Britain.