When you think Nightwish, terms like bombastic, grandiose and larger than life come to mind. With nine albums covering three eras and several live releases including a movie they have to be considered one of the most successful symphonic metal bands to grace any stage.
They’re known for robust stage presentation, intricate video visuals and eye popping artwork. However, this time around the new record Human :II: Nature sports a much simpler theme with the cover art. “I was pleased when I saw it,” says bassist Marko Hietala. “It would be nice if there was something simple for a change.”
Noise, the first official video is a multi-layered, multi-character story of humor and satirical visuals requiring multiple viewings to see everything happening. “There’s a lot of musical information in there.” The band is shown surrounded by people playing different roles, sometimes simultaneously, as vocalist Floor Jansen takes selfies with a young girl and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen hugs a tree in a leafy costume.
Hietala’s character embodies the charm and sly eye of a snake oil salesman while advertising different bottles of self-improvement pills to the camera. “I think it’s perfectly done.” He’s happy with the final product, explaining “I felt it was good. I love Stobe Harju’s work as a director. He did the video for The Islander and I know some of the work he’s done with other groups also. I trust this guy with the vision.”
There’s a moment when he dumps a bottle of tablets over his face. “Yeah, well, eating chocolate is pretty good.” With so much going on he wasn’t sure how many players were on screen. “Not sure, to be honest. The band shoots were spread over two days.”
Initially perceived as the band taking shots at social media, the band has described it as a universal reliance on technology. “Not necessarily addiction to technology and social media, it’s more showing that if you go far enough, what it can be. I mean, we’re talking on Skype. When we’re touring, we use music videos a lot and when people wanna be connected to friends they start Skype, or whatever. They have purposes in good ways too.”
As a joke, they should tell crowds to silence and put phones away during the song with Hietala saying it might need a very unique introduction. Then again, “When you put on the cell phones lights it looks great.”
Besides Noise, lyric videos were released on YouTube with different visuals and styles for each song on the record. While Music got a simple background, the flying chess pieces and dominos of Pan and the dancing skeletons of Tribal had the most going on. How’s the Heart has a motherly vibe while Shoemaker, Procession, the space-aged Endlessness and nature hike of Harvest have the most scenery.
Hietala admits he hasn’t seen them yet. “That’s out of my expertise and responsibilities. I’m a guy that’s more into the sound of the whole thing. I tend to like it more.”
He also sang lead on Endlessness. “We did some nice work on that. The harmonies were really great to do, Tuamos had written the song for me. It was pretty good. There was a lot of old school groove in the writing. I like that kind of stuff. It was nice to build vocal harmonies just right for the people in the band. You get the personalized sound of all the vocal stuff. That was one of the things we did more than ever before.” They did a lot of three part harmonies with Hietala, Jansen and Troy [Donockley].
When they resume touring, the setlist will be decided. “We have a set list we go through when we rehearse. We have some preliminary setlists, a nice mix of new ones than a bunch of old ones. They determine, of the new material, what works best live and what they want to play. “A lot of the vocal harmonies were written in the studio. Now we have to play and sing them together. That settles what songs and what will work best.”
They rehearsal extras chiseling the setlist down to what doesn’t work live. “You change one or two just because you’re bored. It doesn’t follow any kind of set rule.”The stage has been set, we were ready to start rehearsals then things started happening which made it redundant,” he explains. “It doesn’t really make sense to rehearse if you don’t get to play. It’s gone so far now we’d have to arrange a new rehearsal anyway. It’s gonna be months of break.”A future fan chosen setlist is a possibility. “As a matter of fact I was thinking of it. With Nightwish there would be a lot of back catalogue. I imagine Tuomas doesn’t want to touch some stuff anymore. If we let people choose there would be some stuff that would have to be thrown out.”They’ve entertained streaming an empty venue show and other ideas in the meantime. “Of course, we have to plan this out in order, it’s not like we just show up,” he admits. Different members live in different places. “We have to book flights and stuff to arrange but it’s possible it will happen.”
With the planet going through live music withdrawal he’s unsure when another Vehicle of Spirit experience will happen, though he’s seriously itching to get back on the road promising a hell-raising good time when they get in front of people. Though he admits human life is more important than entertainment, music provides a much needed release. “At this time of the world, what can you do? I do this because of the shows. Put on a great show for yourself, your band-mates and all the people there. We all support it. It’s a great thing to live for.” They have a mutual trust to make a great show happen each night.
The extended down time has provided inspiration for lyrical and musical ideas, “I own a studio with some new equipment. After the wiring is done, we’ll work on new material.”
In January he released his new solo album, Pyre of the Black Heart describing the sound and style as hard prog rock. “It’s got metal and atmospheric pieces, with machinery and acoustics, all kinds of things because of the variety.” The live videos for the solo material were filmed in Prague and Switzerland. There’s a spot in the beginning of For You with Hietala standing on stage bassless, a rare sight for fans. “It was weird. I don’t have to play in the beginning so it feels free. It’s kind of nice to do that. Then when the time comes to create some rumble there’s the bass.”
He likes playing clubs the best for intimacy, though he’ll play anywhere and everywhere. They managed to play a few shows on the solo tour before everything happened. “It was really nice to be in the clubs, being close to people, seeing the grins on their faces. See the eyeballs wide in hypnosis. That was good. I love playing anywhere, big festivals or wherever.” He’s the ultimate road dog. “Pretty much, I have to admit.” Dedicated YouTubers can also find a Black Sabbath cover among the solo performances.
Fans come for the solo material at his shows. “In interviews they ask if I’ll do covers. I was like ‘no, not from Nightwish or Tarot.’ These are things that don’t really serve anyone.”
The record was released in two languages. “I translated English songs into Finnish and Finnish songs into English to release both albums. Of course people will compare which one they like more. I figured I’d do it so there’s something for everyone.”
Whenever normal touring resumes, Nightwish will spread new sounds of humanity and nature across the globe. “I guess it’s all a matter of luck. So far it’s all good. We’re having fun and into it. We really enjoy it. I won’t say we’re gonna be here forever. Let’s concentrate on keeping the vibe and personal chemistry and go forward. It would be nice to keep finding new inspirations and updating your music.”
He shares a funny stage incident that became a performing standard causing him to go barefoot. “I was on stage at Wacken, the heel flies off my boot. It’s stuck to something on stage. I was totally unbalanced.” He ran to the bass tech saying the heel flew off and couldn’t walk. “Then I went barefoot. I found out its better that way.”
While national and international shows and tours have been postponed or cancelled, they hope to bring the greatest symphonic show on earth back in late this year or 2021.Hietala says of current and potential events, “There’s a universal lottery. Let’s see how this thing ends up. I seriously want to be on the road as soon as possible.”
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