I first heard Nightwish in 2004 when I was 13. It was a weird and difficult time – puberty hit me like a tonne of bricks, secondary school triggered something in me that led to prescriptions and trips to see a psychologist, and I felt a major disconnect from everything around me.
When you are 13 in a town and a school without many opportunities or much hope, your world is very small. All the boys around me were the rough and tumble sort, and their favourite class was P.E., I just wanted to hang out in the music department and be left alone to practice Metallica riffs.
This masculinity was never something I identified with, in my classmates or in the growls of Metallica. So when I was browsing the music channels one day and came across ‘Nemo’, a whole world opened in front of me.
I still remember, much to my adult embarrassment, asking if it was okay for boys to like bands with female singers. That is a rather damning indictment of how the society we live in shapes innocence, but moving on…
I knew there was something about metal music that attracted me. It does attract a certain type of person, and certainly at school those types of kids feel like outsiders. There is something about this expressive, exuberant, and excellent genre that comforts those who lack that sense of belonging in their physical world. And after hearing one song, Nightwish were at the centre of it.
Then-lead singer Tarja Turunen was the height of both femininity and metal. A classically trained soprano over the pound of metal music mixed in with the grandeur of what sounds like a Hans Zimmer soundtrack navigates shores between genius and the absolute bonkers. This was something for me to sink my teeth into and also enjoy. When something is this over the top then you know your tongue has to be in your cheek, because it is so bombastic, but that does not take away the heart of the art.
Nightwish’s heart is bigger than most. It would not be overly metaphorical to say they saved my life. Without hearing this band that went against everything I had established in my naïve worldview, I would never have embraced art, expression, questioning, feeling, emotion, storytelling; and without those things, who am I? So many doors opened to create new worlds at the exact time I felt the world was closing in around me.
And all that from one song!
So the next time my best friend and I took a trip up to Braehead to HMV, I picked up Once which has ‘Nemo’ on it. Back then, I was happy to have an album just for one or two songs. I went between ‘Dark Chest of Wonders’ and ‘Nemo’ on repeat. It was quite a shock to discover ‘Ghost Love Score’ months later.
So Nightwish deconstructed my ideas on gender, gave me a sense of belonging, made me realise art can change the world (since it changed mine), and opened my eyes to storytelling. I do not believe I would have read books or immersed myself in cinema the way I do without Nightwish. ‘Ever Dream’ – my favourite song of all time – encapsulates all of this. In a matter of minutes it is an epic romance tale that sounds like a night spent below the stars in the wilderness, while it sounds massive. It has an innocence and purity to it without reverting to tropes or stereotypes – it is a love song that feels like love expressed through music and lyrics. It is cinematic in scale, and as satisfying as reaching the last page.
Master songwriter Tuomas Holopainen has been behind all of this since the band’s inception. They have gone through three lead vocalists, but he is the soul of the band, so the band’s essence has never been lost. I am not alone in stating the importance of Nightwish – many will have similar personal experiences – but being able to thank Holopainen in person for everything he has done for me was one of the highlights of my life. I will never stop writing my own love letters like this one to them.
They have been by my side for almost half of my life now, and I will take them with me until the end. They saved and changed me, and while I no longer require a sea-change, they continue to be that most reliable friend who is always there for me and always knows what to say. Last year’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful is an extraordinary piece of work, and ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ could be Holopainen’s best composition yet. What a pleasure it is to know that they will keep saving lives, and that they will forever have my heart.
[Scott Wilson – @HeartofFire]