Nightwish: “The whole theme of the album is time, history, humanism, mortality. It’s really optimistic”

Tuomas Holopainen gives us the lowdown on everything you need to know about the hopeful new Nightwish album, Yesterwynde…

Nightwish: “The whole theme of the album is time, history, humanism, mortality. It’s really optimistic”
Nick Ruskell
Tim Tronckoe

In the four years since their last album, Finnish symphonic metal titans Nightwish have been through much change, challenge and uncertainty. And that's without the pandemic kicking the legs out from underneath a year's worth of touring plans for 2020's HVMAN. :||: NATVRE a month after it came out.

First, in December of that year, longtime bassist and vocalist Marko Hietala announced that he was leaving the band. In October 2022, singer Floor Jansen revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and successfully underwent surgery.

Then last year, they dropped a worrying newsbomb, announcing that upon completion of their then-current touring duties – which had included a mammoth show at Wembley – they weren't going to be booking any more gigs for an unspecified period of time. Including, they confirmed, even when a new album came.

“After the planned shows for June 2023 we will be ‘hanging up our spurs’ for an indeterminate time, as far as live concert performances go, and won’t be touring the next album," they wrote in a statement. “The reasons for this decision are personal, but, we all agree, vital to the wellbeing and future of the band. Be assured that we still love working together, and this decision has nothing to do with Floor’s pregnancy or our other individual projects."

They did, however promise new music. True to their word, they've just announced that in September they'll release their 10th album, Yesterwynde. A record immediately more heavy than its predecessor, it's also one that sounds refreshed, vital, optimistic.

"Yes, that's definitely a word you could use for it," says keyboardist and composer Tuomas Holopainen when we catch up with him in Berlin to get the skinny. "The whole theme of the album is time, history, humanism, mortality. And it has a really optimistic vibe going through it all."

The first track, Perfume Of The Timeless, arrives on May 21. Ahead of all that, we sat down with Tuomas to get the first look at Nightwish's next chapter…

You’ve been working on the album for ages. When did you start, exactly?
“I started writing it in January 2021. It was the second year of pandemic. I wasn't supposed to start writing songs for this album yet, but there was nothing else to do because of COVID, so I thought I might as well use the time for it. So I used all of 2021 to do that. Then in early ’22, we did a demo with just me and the engineer, and had a listen to the demo with the whole band for the first time in May ’22, during our American tour. It’s always a really exciting moment to present the new songs to the band. And terrifying, to be honest!

“Then we started recording it last August, and it took a few months to record. And after that, four and a half months of mixing, and a few mastering sessions. And now here we are. And we're still working with the atmos mixes – there's going to be an atmospheric mix of the album and the orchestral version of the album.”

That’s not long after HVMAN. :||: NATVRE came out. Were you doing it with the hard intention of writing a full album, or were you just initially doing something just to pass time?
“For some reason, I just felt really inspired. I felt like it was the perfect time to do another Nightwish album. And, like I said, there was nothing else to do. The previous album, HVMAN. :||: NATVRE was released in April 2020, about a month after the COVID lockdowns started, so tough luck there! It was frustrating, but as always, you have to try to look at the bright side of things. I thought, ‘Okay, maybe this album, now people can listen to it in peace. They have nothing else to do, either. Maybe it brings them some hope and comfort during the dark times.’ So you always have to turn things an optimistic way.”

This is a lot more of a metal album than the last one. Was that a conscious thing?
“That just happened. We never, ever think about this stuff in advance, like, ‘Let's make a heavier album.’ It's just the stories need to be told in a certain way. And this time, they needed to be told in this way. And it's really interesting that you should say that, because there were two journalists yesterday who said, ‘I was expecting something much more metal. This is a really mellow album.’ Really? Okay, I don't hear it that way. But it's all in the listener’s ear, I guess.”

The first single, Perfume Of The Timeless, is nearly 10 minutes long. Not exactly easing people in, are you?
“No! But, when we had the first meeting with Nuclear Blast, talking about the new album and singles, I told them, the first single will be a song called Perfume Of The Timeless, and it's eight-and-a-half minutes long, and the chorus comes in at 3:30. And they were like, ‘Perfect!’ I think that has to do with the fact that we have a long legacy. You know, we can do whatever we want, and I do, but it says something that we can do that, when I heard that for Spotify it’s good to have the vocals start after 15 seconds, or people skip it, they don’t have the attention span anymore.”

What does the title, Yesterwynde, mean?
“It’s a made-up word. There's this thing called The Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows. It gave me the idea that if you don't have an English word to describe a certain emotion, you can just make your own. This particular dictionary is dedicated to that, like, the feeling of longing for a place that you have never been in. What is that feeling? And it was something weird, I can remember. And this album was born from a certain sensation that I felt really strongly, but I couldn't find a word in human language to describe it. So I started to talk with Troy [Donockley, multi-instrumentalist] and said, ‘Should we come up with a new word? Does that make any sense to you?’ And he's like, ‘Yeah, that's a brilliant idea. What did you have in mind?’ It was something like time, memories going black and white, sepia, and I said, ‘something yesterday’. Then he said, ‘How about Yesterwynde?’ That's perfect! But yeah, it's just a made up word to describe what the album is about."

A sense of longing?
"Not so much longing as realising what time is all about. Realising that there is such a thing as time and past and history. The internet and YouTube is full of these old black-and-white images, and even video clips, that you first see in black-and-white, and then they have been coloured. Have you seen those? That's the effect that I get at the moment. It's like it's coming from an other dimension, these are black-and-white images, then you colour it, and it's right there, as if it was filmed yesterday. Something happens in my mind when I see those. I thought, 'This has to be put into a song or into an album somehow.' Suddenly, you feel so connected to the past generations, and those people that you see in those images. They've all had their lives, their ups and downs, and they don't exist anymore, except as atoms scattered all over the universe. And we're going to be in that state pretty soon as well. So that should give you something to think about."

Are you just worried about getting older?
"Not at all – on the contrary (laughs). But they are the ultimate cliche of: seize the day. That's something that I think about more and more. We're all going to be dead soon. It's just a matter of what you're gonna do before that."

That's a very positive outlook. You can hear that in the record. There's an enthusiasm, rather than a sense of bleakness or defeat…
"Yes! Spot on! People often ask, 'Where do you get the inspiration?' Well, just look at this world, look at everything's that happening. Look at the sky, the scientific innovations. History is so full of stories that are just a bottomless pit of inspiration. And also, especially these days, there's a lot of fear mongering going on, like end-of-the-world scenarios, which I find, let's say 'distressing', but also a bit annoying, because humankind has ceased to see the good that we have accomplished as well. There is no denying that the world is going through a horrible stage at the moment. But it's always been like that. If you go back to the Middle Ages, things were much worse. Throughout the human history, it's always been like this. But now because of fear mongering, and the media, and the authorities, whether political or religious, telling us that it's all coming to an end, we have to repent. And a lot of people buy into it, and they live miserable lives. Because of that, they forget the beauty of existence. It's an unbelievable stroke of luck, and a privilege, that we are actually alive. So you might as well enjoy it."

There's a song called The Antikythera Mechanism, which is the name of an ancient Greek device used for astronomy. You don't get many bands writing about that…
"Yeah, it's considered today to be the first analogue computer made by mankind. So, imagine that 2,200 years ago, in ancient Greece, they were able to build a computer. It just blew my mind when I read about this machine in a science magazine, and I thought that the world needs to know about this. Well, now everybody knows because of the new Indiana Jones film, because that's also about this particular mechanism. But yeah, it had to be done into a song.

"I was just thinking that humankind was so advanced back in those days that were able to build a machine like this. What happened? What if religions hadn't happened, or the burning of The Library Of Alexandria hadn't happened, where would mankind be today? Maybe we would be living all across the solar system already. Who knows?"

Again, it feels like there's still a very positive outlook there in the music, rather than moaning that it's all gone wrong.
"I think it comes down to the word 'imagination', which is the biggest strength that we have as human species, compared to the other lower species. We like to imagine things, imagine things that might be better on the other side of the fence and things we will never have. But also imagination takes us to huge innovations. So it's a really good thing.

"The ancient Greeks did that with their computer. They started to imagine, 'Is there a way to predict those solar eclipses or star constellations moving? I bet there is, let's start building this machine.' So it all started from the imagining. It's similar with creating any art or music. Could there be a way to tell a story through music? I do that a lot. There's a song on the album called The Children Of 'Ata, which is a wonderful story of these kids on a deserted island and surviving there for 15 months. I heard the story and thought, 'There has to be a way to put this into music.'

"It's a crazy story, from not that long ago, 1965. I think some of the kids are still alive. It's important to tell these stories, because it really did happen. And maybe it can change the human perspective of the concept that if you take a bunch of people and put them into an isolated place for a certain period of time, they become savages. But this is proof that that's not the case. So they are a perfect example that humankind has hope."

This is your first album since Century Child in 2002 without Marko Hietala. Did that change your approach to writing?
“No, it doesn’t really change anything, except that now we had two voices instead of three, only Floor and Troy. But that's it – it really didn't change much at all. And Jukka [Koskinen], the new bass player, is such a grounding personality that it's so easy to work with him. And his bass playing skills are tremendous, quite different from how Marko played the bass, which also brought a new spice into the music. So nothing but positive things to say about it all.

“There are many bands in the world that don't have a single original member anymore. And I think it comes down to the fact that if the music is good, then that's all that matters, in the end. Maybe for some people, certain bands are so holy that they can stand if they don't have certain members in it, even though the music would be good, but I don't really think like that. I just listen to the music, not the personnel behind it. That's all that matters to me.”

Similarly, does it feel weird to be talking about an album that, for the first time, you won’t be going out to tour?
“No, it doesn't feel weird. It just feels right. But people shouldn't get worried. It's not the end of the band. We just signed a multi-record deal with Nuclear Blast, so there will be more music coming, definitely. But as far as shows, we're just gonna have a long breather now and see what happens. That's all I can say at the moment. We got our fair share in 2022 and 2023 when we did a lot of shows. So that helped.”

Yesterwynde will be released on September 20 via Nuclear Blast

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