HUMAN. :II: NATURE.
No strangers to concept albums, elaborate arrangements or lush orchestral accompaniment, Finnish symphonic metal magicians Nightwish bolster their ever-expanding ambitions with the double album HUMAN. :II: NATURE. The band’s ninth studio record sees bandleader and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen’s dizzying compositions realised by virtuosic performances from guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, bassist Marco Hietala, Uilleann pipes wizard Troy Donockley, new drummer Kai Hahto and operatic vocalist Floor Jansen—not to mention the London Session Orchestra. “The complexity of this album is quite something,” the Dutch-born Jansen tells Apple Music. “Rehearsing for it was intense, because some of the vocal melodies are really complicated. They’re quite a mouthful. So I was properly challenged, which I enjoy.” Below, Jansen takes us through each track—including the 30-minute, eight-part classical suite that makes up HUMAN. :II: NATURE.’s second half. Music “This song is a love letter to music, and charts its history. So it starts with quite a bit of an intro from the most rudimentary sounds that maybe men and women in caves [would have] made—very tribal music, as we know it today. But it has a lovely build-up and it’s a very dynamic song. Musically, this was pretty challenging. The verses were really, really hard to sing. And we played a lot with the harmonies in the chorus. Quite a beginner to the album, I would say.” Noise “For us, the message of this song was not really about smartphones or the internet, but really about the human behaviour behind it. We are so dependent on it, and it seems we need to hide into a world that doesn’t even really exist. But the real world is still out there. So if you look at the video for this song, the very last shot is an image of the real world—a beautiful sunrise going over a woods. All you need to do is look up from your phone and see it.” Shoemaker “The title might suggest that it’s about a person making shoes, but it’s not. It’s about a person called Eugene Shoemaker, and I would invite everybody to Google him. He had the dream to become an astronaut—he never did, but in the end he still went up in the sky. His story is beautiful and romantic, but musically it’s a bit of a weird song. It doesn’t have a verse/chorus/verse structure. And again, the verses were a huge challenge to sing. Not to mention the last part, which is sung in opera, and maybe the most challenging thing to sing on the record. It’s also nice to know that Tuomas’ wife, Johanna [Kurkela], is doing the spoken word just before this operatic part.” Harvest “Troy is doing the lead vocal on this one—the first time for him—and it’s a real feel-good song. But if you really read the lyrics, it isn’t. It’s a complete cheating-death run throughout the whole song, which is really funny because it gives you the ‘Yeah, life is good and you can drink a beer in the sun’ vibe. But the actual message behind it is so much darker. Musically, we played around with the harmonies quite a lot, and obviously this one needed a bit more of the Celtic or folky style. And both Troy and Marco were really great with getting different kind of atmospheres in the harmonic voices here.” Pan “This is a really complex song. It tickles your imagination. It’s almost a love letter to fantasy, where you can just dive into your imagination. It’s very challenging to play, especially for Emppu. He called it ‘the torture song for old men’, even though later he called it ‘Pancake’. That’s one of the songs I would just love to play live and see how far we get.” How’s the Heart? “There have been quite a few people that said for some reason that ‘this song really touched me and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but it made me stop everything I was doing and I just really felt it.’ And I can imagine that, because I had the same feeling. In general the lyrics are about the power of empathy. In these times, it’s valuable beyond anything else to care for other people and actually show interest. ‘How are you doing?’ That simple question can save lives, and it reconnects you with people. It’s a huge gesture that’s so easy to do and so easily forgotten as well.” Procession “This is an extremely repetitive song, which I at first did not understand personally: ‘What are we doing here?’ But the repetition with the melodies is intentional and the emotion is vital. We’re telling the story of ourselves. This is a species that evolved after us that does not live on Earth anymore and they’ve left a message back in time for us, for humankind, to tell our story. And if you know that and you start at the beginning, you will come towards the end where you realise that we actually went extinct. With Tuomas’ poetic style of writing, I couldn’t keep my eyes dry. In a way it became one of the most loved songs for me. It’s not a song that you can play on the highway, in your car. It’s a song you play at home with your eyes shut.” Tribal “This is the heaviest track on the album, and the heavy song on our previous album also kind of went into our not-so-big love for organised religion—and this song is also a shout-out to all the cruelty there. It kicks the sore leg of organised religion a bit—very, very pointy lyrics. But the music itself is very danceable. It just makes you work out. It was a huge challenge for our drummer, but I can’t wait to do this one live.” Endlessness “This song was written for Marco to sing, and his vocals just fit so beautifully. And I sing the harmonies in the chorus. They’re so weird that I remember them instantly—and I’m not great with harmonies that are weird, usually. It takes me a while to actually feel them. But it’s a super sad song—very doomy. It’s about the endlessness of time, and Marco is singing as if he’s time. It’s super dramatic and heavy. One of my favourite tracks on the album.” All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World “This is Tuomas’ love letter to nature. If somebody had told me 10 years ago that I’m going to be in a band where somebody that does all the songwriting decides to write a classical suite of eight parts that lasts for 30 minutes and you’re not going to be on it, I would say [sarcastically], ‘Well, that’s cool. Thank you.’ But when it happened in Nightwish, everybody was just like, ‘I can’t wait to hear this, because we know it’ll be amazing.’ And this piece really takes you through different scenery—you might feel like you’re out on the ocean or in the middle of the woods or out in the fields. Then in the end it gets a little more dramatic, where you see the Earth while we’re leaving it. It’s very beautiful and apocalyptic. We even connected the song to a video we made together with the World Land Trust, which is a big organisation that helps to preserve our planet. So at least it feels like we’re making a small effort to help protect the dot we’re on.”