Nightwish release Finland's costliest-ever album
Dark Passion Play is the band's first recording with new vocalist Anette Olzon
By Jussi Ahlroth
"Hang on a sec, you can ask Jukka", says Nightwish manager Ewo Pohjola over the phone. The question was one about the overall cost of the band’s new album Dark Passion Play, which will be released in stores - at least in Finland - on September 26th*.
There’s something almost sweet and cottage-industry-like about it: this is allegedly Finland’s most expensive recording of all time, and the budget-related answers are being given by the power metal band’s drummer. Jukka Nevalainen is responsible for this particular family’s financial affairs.
“Roughly half a million”, says Nevalainen. “We don’t know ther exact sum down to the euros and cents as yet.”
Half of the cost of the CD was racked up in London, at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in St. John’s Wood. Over the space of eight days, the London Session Orchestra, the Metro Voices Choir, a gospel choir, and a couple of Irish musicians were recorded in the studio.
The other half of the costs were taken up in Finland, and were spent over a considerably longer space of time.
“We were in the studio from September  to June”, says Tuomas Holopainen, Nightwish’s leader, songwriter, and keyboards player.
Holopainen is sitting on a sofa in Akun Tehdas (Aku’s Factory), a studio and general audio-visual-cluster complex in Tampere, where Nightwish have been rehearsing in advance of their upcoming world tour.
Ten whole months in the studio! But then again, practically all the numbers associated with this sixth full-length studio album are huge. Nearly 130 musicians all told. As many as 250 separate recording tracks...
Nightwish is paying the bills for the recording work through its own company Scene Nation (set up in 2003) and has sold the licence on to the US/German label Nuclear Blast. The same arrangements were used on the previous album Once (2004), which reportedly cost around EUR 240,000 to make.
The expectations for Dark Passion Play at least match the costs. Once was the biggest-selling album in Finland in the year of its release. It went on to sell triple platinum in Finland, platinum in Germany, gold in Sweden, and it made the #1 spot in the Greek, Norwegian, and Hungarian album charts.The Highest Hopes - Best of Nightwish compilation was in turn the biggest-selling Finnish CD of 2005 and went platinum here on the day of its release.
As if that were not enough pressure, of course this album is the first to feature the band’s new lead vocalist, Swede Anette Olzon.
The composition work actually began more or less immediately after Once had been released on the world, midway through 2004.
"I'm not one of those desk-drawer songwriters, who pens stuff and then forgets about it. Everything that gets written is written for a specific album, and everything gets released. This was the first time ever when we had a number that we dumped already when we started working the material through. It was crap, and it deserved to go", says Holopainen.
The musical ideas crystallised into compositions at the back end of 2005 and into early 2006.
This was the period immediately after the huge media spectacle that surrounded the very public sacking of the band’s former singer Tarja Turunen on October 21st 2005.
The scars left by the ugly divorce proceedings (see earlier articles for details) are plain to see and hear in the dark and brooding album, much of which seems to be Holopainen’s own exorcising of what happened among the band members, Turunen, and Turunen's Argentine husband Marcelo Cabuli.
When the tracks were ready to his satisfaction in the spring of 2006, Holopainen made up some demos and sent them around to the other three remaining members of the band: guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, bassist and vocalist Marco Hietala, and drummer Nevalainen.
On June 1st, the foursome came together in an old converted primary school west of Tampere, and they shut themselves off for two months, laying down arrangements for the 13 tracks to be included on the CD.
Actual recording got under way in mid-September at the Petrax studios in Hollola, where the drum tracks were laid down. Guitars, bass, and keyboards were put together at Emppu Vuorinen’s studio in Kerava.
This left the expensive orchestral and choral parts.
Holopainen explains that they were seen as a part of the mix from the very beginning. He describes the orchestral sounds as what would have come out from his keyboards and synthesizer if only he had had 20 pairs of hands to work with.
Pip Williams was brought into supervise the orchestral arrangements and oversee production at Abbey Road, just as he had done on Once.
The actual recording sessions in London were held in two parts in December 2006 and February 2007.
The orchestral line-up featured 66 members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The Metro Voices Choir, which specialises in work for movies, contributed 32 singers, and there were a further dozen gospel singers.
On top of that were a couple of boy trebles, Irish pipes, tin whistle, and fiddle, and a player on the kantele , the zither-like Finnish folk instrument.
Only when these had all been laid down was it time to add in the lead vocals.
Together with Marco Hietala, Anette Olzon was able to work on her part in Hollola, well away from Helsinki and out of sight of prying eyes or inquisitive journalists.
She started recording in March, immediately after being chosen to replace Tarja Turunen, and nearly two months before her name was given to the media and the fans.
She was only formally introduced as a Nightwish member in late May, one day before the release of a first Internet-only single from the album, entitled Eva.
The entire idea is hugely hazardous and unusual: an outfit in the forefront of its own particular genre - power metal, symphonic metal, whatever - makes an extremely expensive and risky album nine-tenths of the way to completion without reaching a decision on who exactly is going to front the band and carry the vocals.
Holopainen was unfazed by the suspense.
"We just had this kind of inexplicable sense of confidence that the right person was out there and that she would come along."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 24.9.2007
*Dark Passion Play is released in Finland on September 26th (Spinefarm Records), on 28th September elsewhere in Europe by Nuclear Blast, and on October 1st in the UK market. The first single to come out (on May 24th in Finland, somewhat ahead of schedule after it had been leaked) was Eva. This was a download-only cut, with proceeds going to various children's charities. It also received radio airplay over the summer, and - rather less flatteringly - picked up a plagiarism suit along the way. On August 22nd, a second single was released, called Amaranth. Amaranth can be viewed on video on the YouTube site (see below).
Previously in HS International Edition:
Nightwish signs Swede Anette Olzon as new vocalist (25.5.2007)
"A Hispanic in the Nightwish works" (16.5.2006)
Nightwish sack female vocalist after lengthy world tour (24.10.2005)
Dark Passion Play (Wikipedia)
Amaranth Video (YouTube)
Nightwish Official Site
JUSSI AHLROTH / Helsingin Sanomat