Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. So sit back, relax, and grab a porter, because we're going on a journey in search of modern albums that have primed the canvas of today's metal music scene.
The contemporary albums in this series serve as tributaries that have, for better or worse, altered the course of the flowing blackness that is the metal steam of life. For this, the second edition of this series, I want to call out an album that was so anticipated, it went certified gold in Finland before it was ever even released. What metal album could create such a gigantic fuss?
NIGHTWISH'S Dark Passion Play
Release date: September 2007
Label: Road Runner/Nuclear Records
Before we even get started, let me address the Tarja Turunen fans – I can practically hear the cracking your your knuckles, preparing to rip me to shreds for not featuring a Nightwish album with her first. Here's the deal: Nightwish would not even be a blip on the radar if it wasn't for Tarja. Her over-the-top-vocals and stunning goth look unquestionably propelled the band into the spotlight. Her time on Throwback Thursday is coming! But first, I think it's important to recognize what happened to the band after she left. In a way, reflecting on her absence from the band emphasizes the impact she had on the fans and the genre (atmospheric female-fronted metal). When second singer, Anette Olzen, took take her place, many were waiting to see if she could fill the theatrical, operatic shoes Tarja left. And let's face it: it was a big fucking deal.
Not sure what I'm talking about? Let's start at square one. Nightwish formed in 1996 in Kitee, Finland. Tuomas Holopainen, Erno Vuorinen and Tarja Turunen are the 3 founding members. Together, they recorded five full-length albums including Angels Fall First (1997), Ocean Born (1998), Wishmaster (2000), Century Child (2002), and Once (2004). Over the course of a few short years, Nightwish and their signature operatic sound surged through Finland. They booked huge summer festivals and played larger and larger audiences. By the year 2000, Nightwish started to tour world-wide and headline their own tours. Having found success on the popular TV show Eurovision Song Contest, their albums continued to climb Europe's major music charts. By 2005, after a change in management and a few minor changes in lineup, Nightwish was playing to sold-out crowds and alongside the likes of Iron Maiden.
At the end of 2005, Nightwish shocked the metal world by writing an open letter to Tarja dismissing her from the band, citing that, "Turunen and her husband and manager Marcelo Cabuli have become impossible [to work with]."
Tarja's response, also in open-letter form, is heartbreaking, citing, "I didn’t know what to say and still at the moment that I am writing these lines, I don’t." She goes on to say, "I sense great anger in that letter and I continue to have very confused feelings about it, but I don’t want to reply to this anger with an even greater anger. Private matters should never be taken to the public." And yet, the breakup was highly public, as was their search for their next singer. Nightwish held auditions for the next singer, accepting over 2000 audition tapes. In late 2006 they began recording Dark Passion Play, and in 2007 Nightwish announced Anette Olzen as their new lead singer.
Considering the popularity of the band and the controversy surrounding the departure of their star, Olzen stepped into a hot spotlight. In fact, the band delayed announcing her as their new singer for as long as possible to discourage comparison (like that was really going to work).
So, how did Dark Passion Play, 6th studio album and debut for Olzen fare?
Nightwish toured over 200 world-wide gigs promoting the album. Dark Passion Play hit gold record status in Austria, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden; platinum in Germany and Austria, and 4x platinum in Finland.
There is no question that the feeling of the album differs from the previous 5 with Turunen. The band cites this album as being 'multidimensional'; with “Master Passion Greed” as, "probably the heaviest track the band had ever recorded", while “Last of the Wilds" takes the listener, "to the moors of Scottish Highland."
And I agree, the album is dimensional in a way that the previous albums shied away from. No longer accommodating the vocal drama of Turunen's soprano, Nightwish experiments with a pop element in Dark Passion Play. This playful integration of intense, chamber-filling resonance with catchier, 'hookier' song structure structure results in the star of the album, "Amaranth":
93 MILLION VIEWS, Y'ALL. For a metal band, that number is incredible. But a quick listen to the track reveals that there is no secret to this number: "Amaranth" is catchy, and my God there's a key change at the end. A KEY CHANGE. Oh, and Olzen can really sing. It's clean and refreshingly pure, and her English is charmingly tinged with what I presume is a Finish accent.
Remember that 'minor' member lineup change I mentioned earlier? Marco Hietala becomes their new bass player and co-vocalist in 2001. Here, we see and hear his prominence in another single from Dark Passion Play, "Bye, Bye Beautiful":
And this song is exactly what I feel the album fails with. I understand that the band is more than their lead singer, however, the addition of the male vocals in "Bye, Bye Beautiful" is simply not welcome (especially that yell-y part near the middle). To me, as the band progresses with Olzen, I can feel their desire to be more than 'the band with the chick singer'. This song is a clear example of this and for me it is uncomfortable. Also, the video and it's message of "what if we were ALL attractive females… JK we're mostly still dudes!" reads as underwhelming and un-creative. However, the integration of male and female vocals finds success in the most folky track from the album, "The Islander":
I really love this song. It's a great story, and a beautiful mix of folk and metal, male and female vocals that doesn't strike me as trying too hard.
I was able to see Nightwish during their world tour of their second (and last album) with Olzen Imaginaerum. I couldn't help but notice Marco Hietala's centered presence on the stage and flashy rhinestone t-shirt sauntering back-and-fourth across the PA's. My instincts about the tension of the singers for center stage became validated when their release of Imaginaerum debuted with additional non-vocal (for karaoke?) and male-only vocal versions.
2012 stunned fans again as Olzen is also dismissed from Nightwish. The circumstances surrounding this dismissal are also unclear as there are two different stories, one on behalf of Olzen and the other Nightwish. Some speculate that her new pregnancy and hospitalization during the Imaginerum tour were the reasons to blame for her departure. However, the band states that she was getting her own tour bus and was excused from events such as fan meetings. However, it was clear that the split was not amicable, and Olzen is cited as saying, "I felt really bad about the situation – it was quite a big divorce.”
Fans of Nightwish generally refer to their beloved band in terms of eras of lead singers, akin to Star Trek fans debating over which captain was the greatest (my vote is for Picard, btw). Dark Passion Play brought with it a new sound and a new singer for Nightwish. Debate all you like about who is 'the best' front-woman, but the success of the band did not dwindle from the change. One could argue that the controversy surrounding the lineup change spurred even more popularity. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as 'bad press'. However, as with all musical preferences, like what you like because you like it. Be it Tarja, Anette, or current lead singer Floor Jansen (formerly of After Forever), Nightwish has carved the way for atmospheric symphonic metal.
These days, Anette Olzen is a happy mom, avid cross fitter, fashionista and nurse. You can follow her (as I do) on Instagram @TheChosenOne665 and be shamed by her burpee game.
Thanks SO MUCH for stopping by! I loved reading your responses last week. As always, please leave me feedback on your modern classic albums.