A Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish

Reviewed by Brian Kelman
Revised 6/8/2014

A Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish: Part 1

I was blissfully unaware of the Nightwish with Tarja Era when its drama took place between 1996 and 2005. I don’t have the emotional baggage that comes with following and loving the band’s career and then living through the traumatic dismissal of Tarja after the Hartwall Concert in 2005. I like to think that that would afford me a measure of objectivity. Perhaps. Perhaps not. You can be the judge of that. Making this task difficult is that I have one main written secondary source of information for this era and it is far from objective.

The main source for propagating the myth of the Nightwish with Tarja era is the book by Mape Ollila, Once Upon a Nightwish: The Official Biography, 1996-2006, Bazillion Points, Brooklyn, New York, 2008. Whenever I see ‘Official’ in a title the proverbial Red Flag goes up: so who decides what is ‘official’? It was the culmination of an idea that was hatched in the fall of 2002. Mape Ollila had the task of writing a biography while the story continued to unfold day by day. As a result, the book has a dual personality—there are sections where the narrative is a chronology of events, more anecdotal in nature, fairly balanced and non-judgmental: clearly material collected and written from 2002 to 2004. In comparison, other sections speak to the biased and judgmental interpretive framework and underlying thesis of the book that took shape from 2005 to its completion for publication (and release on May 11, 2006). It is here we find out who determined what was ‘official’.

Despite their protests to the contrary, Mape Ollila wrote with the authorization of Tuomas Holopainen (with the other band members providing entertaining anecdotes and general support to the leader). Although the book is loaded with interesting facts and anecdotes that will be of interest to all fans of the band, it is essentially supporting and justifying Tuomas’ decision to dismiss Tarja on October 21, 2005. This fact became very clear at the beginning. The very structure of the book and organization immediately threw up another ‘Red Flag’. I read Once Upon a Nightwish with the intent to see if Ollila was able to prove his thesis that Tarja and Marcelo (for his interference in band affairs and for causing Tarja to stray from the Nightwish philosophy) forced their hand in making the decision to dismiss her. He does not prove it at all. In fact, the more he tries to convince me he is presenting the unbiased truth about the principle characters and important events, the less convincing he becomes.

Once Upon a Nightwish is like a Shakespearean Tragedy. No, Ollila doesn’t come close to The Bard in writing ability, but the play of events is not unique throughout history of humanity in general and musicians and bands in particular (The Beatles, for example). It is also not unique that some external force is scapegoated as being responsible for the end result. It is also not unique that the real culprit was internal and the band was doomed from within at the very beginning (Brian Jones ousted from the Rolling Stones, for example).

A Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 2

Setting Up The Characters

The Victim: Tuomas Holopainen

“Tuomas’ mother says he was not good at standing up for himself as a kid, as he was taught not to answer malice with malevolence. If another kid took away his toy at the sandbox, Tuomas would just look perplexed.” (pg. 22).

“….Tuomas never seems to lose his temper and tell people to just shove it–when facing unpleasant or annoying things, he quiets down and withdraws into himself. He does not like to talk about his bad feelings, rather, he discharges them along with other strong emotions into music.” (pg. 23).

Tuomas Holpaninen is presented sympathetically as naive and innocent into his mid to late teens. He is a self-professed escapist. He has low self-esteem and self-deprecating character despite having a remarkable gift of writing and composing really beautiful music. In fact, his only means of real communication is through his music.

The Diva: Tarja Turunen

Tarja makes her first appearance in the Introduction, where she is the subject of Tuomas’ letter. Tarja is set up as the ‘Drama Queen’ and ‘Diva’ from the beginning of her next appearance in the book in the last paragraph of page 39.

“Humming along with a group didn’t satisfy Tarja, however—she wanted to be the center of attention. ‘Whenever we had guests, I would take the women to see the wardrobe. I would change my clothing three times a day, maybe dress in mom’s old curtains and pile up all kinds of rags on myself. I was the only girl in the family, a true princess. At the age of three I already understood the power of drama!

I always wanted to sing….I wanted to be seen and heard….I was very temperamental. I would be angry if my friends got an opportunity to sing somewhere and I wasn’t asked. Even when I was in a children’s club at the age of four or five, I always had to get the leading role or a singing part–if I didn’t, I would get annoyed and angry. If things didn’t go my way, I would stomp my foot on the ground!’” (pg. 40)

If the reader didn’t quite understand this biased preparation, it is reinforced by Tuomas’ reinforcing this assessment of her being born a drama queen. (pg. 40)

A critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 3

Refuting The Set Up

Before I continue, I need to say that I had someone else read the book. His objectivity is assured since he likes Country Music and does not like Rock or, especially, Metal. But he reads biographies that offer a glimpse into lives totally ‘different from my own’. So he jumped at the opportunity to read it. He has no emotional attachment to Nightwish or Tarja. He does acknowledge her ability to sing. But that is about all. What were his conclusions? Tuomas’ is passionate, calculating and not as naïve as he tries to come across as. “Who is supposed to be the ‘Diva’ here?” he asked.

Let’s assume that these are accurate assessments of Tarja and Tuomas when they were children. Ollila certainly wants the reader to keep these characterizations in mind as they read through the book; to look at subsequent events through these lenses he himself has carefully constructed. It is hard not to. Since Tuomas’ letter is presented at the beginning, Ollila has the entire book to hammer into the head of the reader the victimization of poor naive Tuomas. Tarja’s letter is saved until the end where it won’t prejudice what Ollila has tried so hard the entire book to hammer into the reader: the initial character assessment of Tarja the Diva and Drama Queen. It is the same basic gambit Tuomas used when he released the letter: get one’s story out first and make sure it and its contents are the starting point of any conversation. He took the initiative and forced Tarja to react on the defensive.

However, are these characterizations valid by the time they became young adults in their twenties? How can we answer definitively this question independent of Ollila’s interpretive framework? Fortunately, we have two primary sources, one each, that we can evaluate for insights into each of their characters when Tarja is 28 and Tuomas is 29 years old. By putting the letters side by side and evaluating them relative to each other, a different pattern emerges. My analysis concludes that the respective images that Ollila (and Tuomas) carefully constructed and maintained throughout the book are nothing more than illusions and ironic. The irony is: by adulthood there has been a reversal of their respective roles. It is the attempt to hide this basic reversal explains the careful, but unsuccessful, attempt to indoctrinate the reader at the beginning.

Tuomas’ letter is important for two reasons: 1) it establishes a behaviour pattern that can be used to assess character; and 2) it was part of a cynical strategy. Despite having 9 months to plan a reasonable means of dismissal, the chosen option, on one hand, comes across as petulant, immature and petty. As I read it, I picture in my mind that a foot is stomped on the ground. “….We cannot go on with you and Marcelo any longer [Stomp!] ….Your attitude and behavior don`t go with Nightwish anymore [Stomp!] …..People who don`t talk with each other for a year do not belong in the same band [Stomp!] ….I can`t simply write any more songs for you to sing.” [Stomp!]

On the other hand, petulance, immaturity and pettiness does not mean a lack of intelligence nor logical calculation. On the contrary, the letter’s underlying, cynical purpose was a strategy designed to create controversy and therefore a lot of free publicity. Success was achieved. It was a rather cynical treatment of the fans who went to shows from February through October unaware that their favourite vocalist’s days were numbered. Hypocritically, it was Tuomas who accused Tarja of dissing the fans when he himself was doing so for months. Tarja, at least, was up front about her plans to leave after the following album and tour. The publicity generated within Finland (even the President was asked about the situation) and within the niche trade magazines abroad meant Nightwish was a hot topic among some who had never heard of them before or if they had, gave them passing consideration. With the subsequent public search for a new singer, with the controversial details of the dismissal of the last one at least recapped to bring the uninitiated up to speed, it comes as no surprise that when DPP came out, it broke their previous sales record. Mission accomplished. Imaginaerum? No controversy etc. and sales are not what they had hoped is an understatement. Where are all the new fans and those who rubber necked to look at the train wreck that ended the Tarja Era? Was the short term gain really worth it, especially since the myth has unraveled bit by bit with the passage of time and with the similar melodrama and silence surrounding the ‘mutual parting’ with Anette?

Tarja’s letter, on the other hand, is the image of the child looking bewildered when another child took their toy. “This is a moment of grief and pain and I find it very hard to speak….I didn’t know what to say and still at the moment that I am writing these lines, I don’t…..I don’t want to reply to this anger with an even greater anger. Private matters should never be taken to the public…Still everything that has happened is not enough to make them evil in my eyes….The wonderful music we created together won’t be touched by recent events.”

This is not the response of a ‘Diva’. Tarja had but 5 days to compose a response at a time when her emotions would be very close to the surface and a Diva would be expected to lash out in fury; a response that not only would be expected but hoped for in the opposite camp. Rather, Tarja’s response displays a high level of maturity. If Tarja acted like a ‘Diva’ in her youth, she had clearly matured into a responsible young woman by her late 20s. Tuomas’ gambit was not only parried but soundly defeated.

Part of the definition of ‘Diva’ and ‘Drama Queen’ is the blowing out of proportion of small problems. The problems plaguing Nightwish were not small, but misidentified. The problem is alluded to above but is completely missed and, in addition, the very nature of the letter points directly at it. I’ll elaborate on this issue in a later post. But, part of the definition of ‘Diva’ and ‘Drama Queen’ is the behaviour of petulance, immaturity and a desire to publicly humiliate one’s adversary. Mission accomplished on all counts. Tuomas had, by his late 20’s, assumed the Diva’s role. It is sad to see that Tuomas had not matured into a young man who could handle the situation in a professional manner.

A critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 4

DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE:

Out of simple curiosity, over time, when the opportunity presented itself, I’ve conducted a rather simple experiment.  I’ve asked about 25 people, representing a cross section of friends, acquaintances and even strangers, the following: “If you were the leader of a business or were a business owner and you needed to dismiss one of your employees, would you handle it in the following way? Hand them a sealed envelope with their letter of dismissal inside at the end of work on Friday and ask them to read it Saturday while publishing the contents of the letter on the company’s website on Monday? Conversely, how would feel if you were dismissed from your job in this manner?”

The answers I received were unanimous in their revulsion. Some were initially skeptical that someone would actually handle their business this way. So I gave a thumb nail sketch of the events and encouraged them to look it up themselves. I even provided key search words to get them started. The reactions of two women in particular are worth noting. Upon hearing a woman being humiliated in this fashion, she wanted to find some rope and hang Tuomas by his private parts right on the spot. Her friend diffused the situation with a pointed barb when she quipped, “Sounds to me like he doesn’t have any!”

The consensus was? The printable version was that this was the act of a gutless coward; a coward who couldn’t look someone in the eye to dismiss her; a coward who demands respect like a little child while unable to give any himself.

You can’t judge someone by their actions? Tarja (and Sami before her) were dismissed by proxy. ‘Leopards don’t change their spots’ and this is a distinct and repeatable pattern. Stay tuned, it will happen again…oh, yeah, forgot about Anette and her reckoning at Hartwall, but she was spared her dismissal by proxy by getting sick. The only question I have was whether Grand Master T would do it by letter again and go for that free publicity or enlist someone else to do his dirty work. Or did he have a new and more melodramatic means under his top hat. The Emperor has no clothes. (Sorry for putting that awful image in your mind)

Jukka’s justification of the means by which Tarja was dismissed is laughable. His explanation that it would have been impossible to get everyone to a meeting the next day because no one knew each other’s schedules etc. is so lame it makes “The dog ate my homework” look credible in comparison. Tarja’s dismissal had been planned since February 22nd 2005 (pg. 255). For something this important a meeting could have been arranged beforehand. That is if there weren’t ulterior motives behind the dismissal letter discussed above. There is one more ulterior motive behind the way it was done, too, but I’ll reveal that later.

Something had been arranged for the following day, however: a secret Nightwish Party (sans Tarja) to celebrate the end of the tour and presumably the kicking of their lead singer and her meddling manager/husband to the curb. Hence, the four remaining band members’ schedules were known and they would be in close proximity to each other before the festivities.

Hear about it starting at the 4:00 mark: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clCa_ipFhXk

Therefore, Jukka has been caught telling a lie. A bold faced lie. Can we take the rest of his statements regarding Tarja and the breakup of the band seriously?

Of course, when Nightwish poached Marco from Sinergy, the decision by Sinergy to explain the situation on their website was totally unnecessary according to Jukka. “The conflict with Sinergy was blown out of proportion. ‘The media made it out to be more than it really was’, says Jukka. ‘It was something that happened between bands, just a personal thing, and it was pointless to discuss it on Sinergy’s or our message board….’” (pg. 169)

Hypocrisy. Jukka is a dedicated ‘company man’ (and deserves a lot of credit for his handling of the band’s merchandising and the day to day financial affairs of the band on the road in the early days). As a ‘yes man’, he knows where his pay cheque comes from to support him and his family, and the truth can be malleable depending of whose ‘ox is getting gored’. But given the revelation of his willingness to lie, his statements must be taken with not ‘a grain of salt’ but with perhaps a whole shaker. Ollila’s complicity in covering up the lie is further proof of his role as propagandist.

A Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 5

Ollila claims that it was the incident on the plane in Toronto on December 19, 2004 that led directly to the February 22 decision:

“According to Tuomas, the situation flew entirely out of hand in a matter of a few hours. ‘As we boarded the plane, Tarja said we should have a discussion in a week and a half. I was like ‘Okay, let’s do that’. But she just kept going on about how she thought King Foo and Ewo handled everything badly and how evil we all were. I just couldn’t listen to it anymore.

The next straw broke the camel’s back. ‘Tarja sat two rows behind me, and I went over to her and just spit out everything on my mind,’ Tuomas continues. ‘That’s when Tarja spoke those legendary words. I knew there was no going back after that moment: ‘Remember, Tuomas, I don’t need Nightwish for my own career anymore. You remember this, Tuomas: I can leave this band on a day’s notice–anytime at all. Remember that when you think about the future. I can make it on my own perfectly well.’ Tarja’s statement was a conversation ender.

Since Ollila didn’t consider it worthwhile to determine exactly what and how Tuomas unloaded on Tarja, even to provide a disclaimer that Tuomas couldn’t remember his exact words (which is highly doubtful given the highly charged emotional atmosphere before and after the exchange), it is more proof of the collusion between them. I wonder what comments Tuomas needed to hide?

Knowing both their comments puts it all into context. That context is critical in understanding the dynamics that were in play at that moment. Without it we are left hanging at best and at worst trusting Ollila’s interpretation. One can feel Tarja’s frustration of trying to talk to a brick wall. I will hypothesize that she said it to try to get some kind of reaction out of Tuomas so that he could be angered into having a meaningful dialogue. Perhaps. Anyway, it had the opposite effect. Tuomas’ reaction was unfortunately typical for him and underlines the problem of communication for Tuomas. Instead of dealing with the issue head on, he internalized it. That accelerated the tragic chain of events that led to the decision made on February 22nd 2005 to dismiss Tarja and Tuomas’ decision to handle that dismissal with a letter.

Tuomas never forgot those words, but one more time, he tried to build a bridge over the ever-widening gap between Tarja and the others. ‘I tried talking with her, asking, ‘Do you understand how it feels when one person–who’s not even a member of the band–makes all our decisions? After all, although the band’s a democracy, it’s still my band. I put it together, I write the songs and lyrics’. but Tarja was like, ‘Tuomas’–fuck, I’m so annoyed by her way of using my first name to put weight on her words–’Tuomas, try to understand that this is not your band but all of ours, including the technicians and managers.” (pg. 243) Tuomas seemed to have forgotten that the record label and others non band members also make decisions the band had to live by…..

Real bad timing for all of this in my opinion. The tour was long with the usual hassles and it saw the band criss-cross the Atlantic Ocean in 7 months (Europe to USA to Europe to South America to Central America to Canada to play three shows postponed from September and finally for three shows in Finland and Germany before the end of the year). The plane was delayed due to it being overweight which upset Tarja most and it gave the boys extra time to drink etc. So you can imagine that cooler heads would not prevail when Tuomas decided to dump all his thoughts on Tarja all at once. If she uttered what she did, it came back to haunt her.

This argument  in Toronto initiated the final chapter in the tragic chain of events that led to the decision that was made on February 22nd 2005 to dismiss Tarja and also why we have the third and final cynical reason the letter was chosen as the means. “Here, read this tomorrow,” Tuomas apparently told her when he handed Tarja the letter. Tuomas had given Tarja one day’s notice; the exact amount of time that she threatened him 10 months earlier. Coincidence? Hardly. Cynical vindictiveness.

Personal Anecdote: In 2004, Nightwish played in Montreal on December 15th and 16th in Montreal. They played the Opera House in Toronto on the 18th. It would be an interesting coincidence if they made the journey between the cities by plane on the 17th because I was in Pearson International Airport on that day about to embark on a vacation to Australia. I may have shared the same airport with the band and never knew it. Of course, if they took a bus, well…..Never mind…..

Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 6

Tuomas complained in his letter that Tarja’s refusal to return to America was another reason for her dismissal. Perhaps she just didn’t want to keep performing in dives. Like this one:

“Graceland is a dingy, spartan venue tucked away in a forgotten corner of Seattle that leaves you wondering “Why is Nightwish playing here?”….It’s the sort of place you would expect to see in a movie as a punk club, seats with torn upholstery, various stickers from all the different bands who had toured through littering every square inch of wall. There was the ever present stench of dried sweat and acrid smoke. It is the sort of place whose walls have many stories of drunken rock and roll debauchery, but not necessarily the sort of place you want to see a high class, high caliber band such as Nightwish.“

On Dec. 18th 2004, Nightwish played the Opera House in Toronto. It is not a place where I’d like to see Tarja. The Opera House is where she made her one and only appearance in Toronto as a soloist in May 2009. Below is a link for customer reviews. Most of the reviews are favourable because the reviewers didn’t expect much more than they got for a venue that hosts minor indie acts and metal bands. Also, too, the reviewers appear to be young and when I was younger—say around 25—I was more into a good time and could over look some flaws. To be transported back in time……

So what if the Opera House is in a sketchy part of town. The sleazy strip bar across the street would be a place for adventure and a few pints before the show starts. The Opera House is licensed with 3 bars inside, one serving each level. Since I was a binge alcoholic back then I was in heaven. The drinking age limit was/is 19 in Ontario, so minors had better have convincing fake ID ready. Concrete main floor with no seating? No problem for young feet. The acoustics aren’t great? They always got better the more I drank….etc.

Any way….you get the idea that in my youth the Opera House would have suited me fine. It reminds me of a place I spent many a night in Kitchener when my favourite bar bands would appear. Not now. I’ve quit all my bad habits and my expectations are a little higher. If Tarja ever comes back to Toronto or nearby on a tour, I hope and pray it is not to the Opera House.

A Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 7

THE CULTURE OF SILENCE:

The Tarja Turunen Era was going to fail from the beginning. It was not a question of ‘If’ but of ‘When’.

The inability to communicate; to internalize problems and let them stew is described in the book as being a Carelian cultural trait that they all shared. This is, in my estimation, the main reason why events led to the conclusion they did. There are plenty of examples of this. The way the firing of Sami Vanska was handled is one.

Sami was fired because he didn’t agree with the direction the music was going. In fact, in his mind he was being asked to play what he considered sh!t. He became apathetic and started showing up late for rehearsals etc. He expected to be replaced. Tuomas made management break the news to him that he was fired. Tuomas and Sami had been friends for at least ten years and Tuomas didn’t have the guts to man up to his friend. It wasn’t being fired that hurt Sami the most. It was that someone he believed to be his friend couldn’t come to him and tell him. Face to face. Like a man. When you are the leader, learning to communicate with those around you is vital to keeping the organization together. Tuomas’ inability to do this has plagued the band from the start and continues on into the present day. He retreats into resentful silence and escapism. It has made solvable problems fester until they are out of control. Then his only solution is to lash out with a cynical vengeance.

The prime example of cynical vengeance is Tuomas’ letter covered above. In one fell swoop, at the expense of a sheet of paper, envelope, the time to write it and the ability to act a lie, Tuomas was able to dictate his intentions to Tarja, reach millions of current and future fans without having to really communicate–person to person.

A Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 8

Patterns that have been firmly established in the past, and identified above, continue to wreak havoc in the present…or rather, the near past.

While on tour in the fall of 2012 Nightwish and Anette Olzon parted ways. Originally it was reported by the band that the split was mutual. As reported on blabbermouth.net on January 1, 2014 Anette states that she was ‘fired’ because she was pregnant. The band denied this in a contradictory statement:

“The split with Anette wasn’t because of pregnancy or illness,” they said. “We discovered her personality didn’t fit this work community, and was even detrimental to it… Anette herself offered an option of hiring a replacement vocalist if she couldn’t manage everything, which was already agreed on. Later she took back her decision, and the difficulties really started.”

The first statement belies the mutual parting story (and it took them 5 or 6 years to figure that out?!?!) and the second statement indirectly questions their sincerity over the reason. Once more Nightwish continues the patterns identified above during the Tarja era.

http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/anette-olzon-i-didnt-leave-nightwish-i-was-fired/

A Critique of Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish continued: Part 9

In the same article above, Anette levels another more serious allegation at the band. It strikes at the heart of Tarja’s firing. Anette alleges that during her tenure with Nightwish there were certain financial improprieties committed by the band. She accuses them of  “…not splitting all the revenue equally, forcing her to start her own company and take a financial loss in 2010.” The band’s response was as one would expect: they accused “….their former singer of making claims that were ‘full of twisted truths and defamation.’” A typical non-explanation explanation from those who are quite familiar with uttering ‘twisted truths’ So which part of Anette’s claims are truthful then? Hmmmm….the silence is deafening.

Is Anette’s allegation an isolated case or yet another pattern emerging? Let us examine the question.

In a 2009 interview, Tarja discussed her and Marcelo’s relationship at the start:

In 2001, “… Marcelo followed me to Finland though I told him not to. We hadn’t seen each other for a few weeks, but he could no longer take the separation. I didn’t believe it when Marcelo called me claiming he was standing 50 meters away from my door… I understood only in time that… I can trust this man. When Marcelo lived for one month at my house in Finland at the beginning of our relationship, I gave him a hard time. I tested my limits and I didn’t even agree to give him the little finger. When the guy lasted for 30 days in my 30 square meter one room apartment, I believed that he could keep up with me in long run.”

http://suomi-rocks.blogspot.pt/2009/08/interview-tarja-turunen-i-didnt-know.html

In this context, the most important part of this quote isn’t the romantic angle but rather that Tarja lived in a small one room apartment. Shoved to the fore front to be the face and voice of a successful band whose popularity and record sales were increasing every year lived in a tiny one room apartment?!?! As songwriter, Tuomas was entitled to that share, and he does deserve credit for sharing these monies with his band mates in the early years and some of Tarja’s money would be spent for supporting herself at school in Germany as a student studying abroad. But, one would have to believe that Tarja would be able to afford something a little or a lot bigger? Wouldn’t you? It begs the question: Was Tarja receiving her fair share of the proceeds of album sales? Perhaps. Perhaps not. In another interview she makes some interesting allegations. The interviews can be seen here and I’m trusting a translation below the video being accurate.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR7Bsh-Y5lQ

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HeXAATeNZY

The following translation is from Part 2:

“It’s really sad. And in a band like this, and as big as this, money is a thing that you can’t just pass by. I’ve always been a person who wants to know how the things are going. And if I see something wrong somewhere, I wanna do something about it, and even more if I see it twice. And in the third time I start to wonder. ****And when I wanted to know why this and that happens, I didn’t get any answers from the band, they just excepted it and now they’re answering me like this, and it comes as a shock.”  [****Translator’s note: I have no idea what she is saying here, she has a strange way of expressing herself]

It would seem that Tarja noticed something unusual but was stonewalled when trying to get an explanation.

Is it any wonder then that Tarja needed financial advice and Marcelo, a business man, was someone who she grew to trust to handle that aspect of her career? Especially when she seems to have been kept in the dark over the finances of the band?

Of course, Marcelo and Tarja were accused of greed as one of the reasons for firing her. But something never quite added up with the explanation that Ollila gave. For example, Nightwish management had developed a strategy for dealing with Marcelo’s demanding more than what was originally offered. According to Toni Peiju, they would simply quote Marcelo a fifth less than was offered and he would predictably demand a fifth more. (pg. 251) Band management gloats about how they were beating Marcelo at his own game.

That begs the question: given this apparent successful strategy, were the financial demands of Marcelo and Tarja as big a problem as we are led to believe?

Another allegation leveled at Marcelo was his mishandling of Nightwish record sales or rather the lack of record sales in his native Argentina. Record sales for Argentina of Angels Fall First through to Century Child under NEMS Enterprises sold significantly less than in Brazil. The reason for not looking into this allegation was the belief that legally getting financial records from Argentinian companies was next to impossible compared to European or Finnish companies. Pg. 125-126.

I expect this difficulty of accessing financial records to be true. But there may be another explanation given the above concerns expressed by Tarja:

If Nightwish launched a legal action against NEMS Enterprises would a countersuit by NEMS Enterprises reveal financial improprieties on the part of Nightwish that they would rather be kept hidden?

Critique of Once Upon a Nightwish, Part 10

The villain in Ollila’s melodrama is Marcelo Cabuli. The blame for breaking up the band is placed squarely on his shoulders. For their 2000 tour of South America, the band met Tarja’s soon to be manager and later husband, for the first time as he accompanied the band as tour manager. At first the band liked and got along well with Marcelo. In Mexico, he reinforced this faith with an act of heroism and in doing so highlighted the essential cause of the eventual breakup.

At the Guadalajara concert, Marcelo ran on stage to rescue Tarja from being sexually assaulted and groped by a fan while the band played on either oblivious (unlikely on a small stage) or uncaring (pg. 123-124). Ollila plants the implication that Marcelo used this heroic act to infiltrate Tarja’s defenses and separate her from the band. The beginning of the end of the band was upon them.

A reader with half a brain would have observed that by this point in their careers the only thing keeping Tarja going was her love of singing and performing. Unintentionally, Ollila documented Tarja’s increasing isolation and loneliness while on tour; apathy and neglect was the rule governing the boy’s behaviour toward the person Tuomas thrust to the forefront to be the face and voice of the band. The aftermath of the Guadalajara assault provides sufficient proof of this.

After an understandable delay, the final three songs were performed with Tarja alternating between singing and crying. The humiliation was such that she couldn’t look any one in the eye. As the boys filed off stage after the finale, Sami asked Marcelo to ‘look after her’. Tarja was essentially discarded upon the mercies of a relative stranger to make sure she made it back to her hotel room safely! A stranger who they had known for a mere 10 days! This was nothing less than juvenile, callous and unconscionable. When it was time for men, or a ‘leader’ (Tuomas) to step up and take charge to do the right thing, all Tarja had in the band and crew were immature boys who could think of nothing better than to return to their bottles.

The boys and their crew consistently seemed to forget that Tarja was a woman. Believe it or not people, men and women are different and have different requirements per the individual. No, the band and crew virtually ignored her specific needs when touring before this. No wonder her health suffered from such emotional distress and the fact that, for example, she had to endure second-hand smoke in the confined tour bus and the inability of the band or crew to consistently basic essentials like water for the concert. No wonder she started to hate the process of touring. Well, perhaps the process of touring with children.

Guadalajara started the process that resulted in Tarja having a reliable man to take care of the little things on tour and in her career as well. As the book continues Ollila tries to paint Tarja in the role of ‘Diva’ (ie. the negative connotation of the word). Tarja and Marcelo started spending their free time together away from the band (and given that the band left her alone in her room can you blame her for this?), traveling separately to and from gigs (Ollila conveniently ignores to point out that it was to avoid that second hand smoke in the tour bus and no doubt to avoid putting up with the Nightwish ‘children’ when traveling in general) as well as in her other needs on tour. If she was demanding champagne and caviar each concert, then he’d have a point. No, Tarja only ‘demanded’ that she had water to drink and a simple diet that accounted for her digestive problems. And a separate dressing room would be nice, too.

Despite finally having her simple needs taken care of Tarja’s health would still suffer on future tours. Tuomas’ growing resentment, a kind of petulance associated with that of an immature child, that Tarja was no longer on her shelf to be pulled down at his convenience, poisoned the atmosphere.

Up next? The charge of unethical business behaviour on the part of Marcelo.

Critique of Once Upon a Nightwish, Part 11

This might take a bit so go grab a tea, coffee or something a little stronger….Back? Good. Let’s get started.

Unethical business practices, according to Ollila, drove the band to conclude in February of 2005 that to get rid of Marcelo they had to get rid of Tarja. Ollila concludes his portrait of the villain with the following general statement and applied it to a particular individual, Marcelo:

“Cavalier business tactics are not completely unusual among South American record labels. The continent is one of the strongholds of piracy, and suspicious releases are unfortunately quite common….South American corporate culture also differs from its European counterpart in many ways. According to Brazilian researchers, decades of economic recession and government corruption in Brazil and Argentina have implanted a deep distrust toward the system. When legislation has repeatedly been used only for the benefit of those in power, its obvious people do not have the same kind of respect for laws as in Europe. The Argentinean concept of viveza criolla—‘Creole resourcefulness’ or simply ‘native cunning’—points to an attitude characterized by avoidance of exertion, disregard for law, an affinity for individualism, distrust of others, reluctance toward teamwork, and acting in one’s own interest at the cost of everything else. So says a working paper by Spanish business professor Domenec Melé titled Corporate Ethical Policies in Large Corporations in Argentina, Brazil, and Spain.” (pg. 126)

Who is the author Domenec Melé? Click the link below for a brief biography:

http://www.iese.edu/en/faculty-research/professors/faculty-directory/domenec-mele/

Click the link below for the full article that Ollila references: The section on Argentina is worth quoting but I invite you to read it from the article in order to save space.

http://www.anpad.org.br/admin/pdf/enanpad2004-gsa-trabalhoconvidado.pdf

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Marcelo has both a Spanish and Argentinian passport. That’s right. He’s a citizen of both countries. That kind of upsets Ollila’s point doesn’t it?

‘Cavalier business tactics are not unusual’ anywhere in the world, including Europe. After Spinefarm was bought by Universal, Century Child was to be distributed by Universal in France instead of their previous distributor XIII Bis Records. XIII Bis Records had an existing contract with Spinefarm and despite being told that they were not contractually allowed to release that album, they pressed copies from a promo copy of Century Child picked up in Finland by one of ‘the guys’ from XII Bis Records and released it prematurely. How stupid can you be by letting out promo discs to those who aren’t contracted to have them? Threats of law suits etc. got XIII Bis Records to pay double the usual fees for their transgression and after Universal ‘lost interest’ in releasing the album in France Spineform got XIII Bis Records to release it for them anyway. Spinefarm figured since previous Nightwish album sales were low in France anyway some distribution was better than none!!!!! No wonder Spinefarm claims that they have recouped only half of the advance and absolutely no royalties from XIII Bis Records for Century Child. With incompetents like that managing your business….who needs enemies? (pgs. 167-168)

Without having access to a person’s business records etc. it is impossible to gauge the ethical behaviour of an individual or company. What I hope to do here is shine a light upon the context within which Marcelo grew up in and was fundamentally shaped in ways that affected all Argentinians. In general, there is a symbiotic relationship between individuals and their society: individuals are shaped by the culture within which they grow up while at the same time they are not mere prisoners of that culture such that individuals can have a role in shaping their society, too.

The crux of the problem, identified by Dr. Melé and parroted by Ollila, is viveza criolla in a practical sense. In addition to the negative meanings given to the word above viveza criolla has been called “the principal cause of a moral, cultural, economic, social and political crisis”. I have little doubt of the veracity of the indictment today. But was this always the case? Where did this mode of behaviour come from? To learn this we must account for the appearance of the concept in its historical context. That means we’ll be delving into a little Argentine history.

Argentina has its roots in the Spanish colonization of the region during the 16th century. Argentina arose as the successor state of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, a Spanish overseas colony founded in 1776. The declaration and fight for independence (1810–1818) was followed by an extended civil war that lasted until 1861. The country thereafter enjoyed relative peace and stability, with massive waves of European immigration radically reshaping its cultural and demographic outlook. In fact, about 90% of all immigrants came from Italy and Spain combined in the formative years of Argentina from 1870-1910 (Spain 980,686 [31%] and Italy 1,889192 [59%]). The main reason at the beginning was wage gaps compared to their native countries. In other words, Argentina was a land of opportunity to work for higher wages. The result was the almost-unparalleled increase in prosperity that led Argentina to become the seventh wealthiest developed nation in the world by the early 20th century. Because of this, by 1900-1910, immigrants showed the usual tendency to follow earlier migrants to take advantage of the prosperity that they found and to have an easier time integrating by joining established communities. Here’s a link to the article, written from credible sources, I cited the above from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Argentina

Given that Argentina was originally Spanish and given that Dr. Melé in his report (and Ollila) considers the European Spanish to be more ethical than their South American counterparts, the concept of viveza criolla by extension would not have been part of the nation’s and, more importantly, the colony’s initial ethos.

Therefore, I contend that the principal cause of viveza criolla was A RESPONSE TO a moral, cultural, economic, social and/or political crisis at some point in the country’s history.

What crisis could have been so profound to create such a change? The Stock Market Crash of October 1929 and the Great Depression that followed is the crisis that precipitated Argentina’s moral, cultural, economic, social and political decline up to the present day. Make no mistake: Argentina is still a vast country in resources and wealth. But since the 1930s, the social distribution of that wealth has been severely limited through corruption, cronyism, and corporate nationalism. In order to get a share of that wealth the practice of viveza criolla was the means to that end. In other words, for most, viveza criolla was the means to survival.

Argentine political history is a sordid affair since The Crash of 1929. From 1930 to 1946 Argentina has witnessed military coups, fraudulent elections and other general chaos. In 1946 saw the election of Juan Domingo Perón to lead the country. Perónism became a dominant political force in Argentina for the next 30 years despite its founder leaving for a 16 year exile after his overthrow in 1955 by the Liberating Revolution, a military and civilian uprising. A tug of war between political factions for power ensued. Perónism routinely resorted to organized violence and dictatorial rule. Perón showed contempt for any opponents, and regularly characterized them as traitors and agents of foreign powers. Perón maintained the institutions of democratic rule, but subverted freedoms through such actions as nationalizing the broadcasting system, centralizing the unions under his control, and monopolizing the supply of newspaper print. At times, Perón also resorted to tactics such as illegally imprisoning opposition politicians and journalists. It would be difficult to separate Perónism from corporate nationalism, for Perón nationalized Argentina’s large corporations, blurring distinctions between corporations and government. When Perónists were ousted from power during this time their enemies resorted to similar repressive tactics, even going so far as to outlaw the party. Another military coup occurred in the mid-70s and they enacted further revenge upon the followers of Perónism for their deeds of the past. Depending on the source, from 9,000 to 30,000 people simply vanished. The Junta was only overthrown when they lost the Falklands War with the UK in 1983.

Argentina has scuffled along from one crisis to the other up to the present, including the economic crisis of 2001-2002. In 2001, Argentina was in the midst of a crisis: heavily indebted, with an economy in complete stagnation (an almost three-year-long recession), and the exchange rate was fixed at one U.S. dollar per Argentine peso by law, which made exports uncompetitive and effectively deprived the state of having an independent monetary policy. Many Argentinians, but most especially companies, fearing an economic crash and possibly devaluation, were transforming pesos to dollars and withdrawing them from the banks in large amounts, usually transferring them to foreign accounts (capital flight). This run on the banks would collapse the economy completely unless the government froze banks accounts (ie. account holders could not withdraw their money). That only created more unrest.

No wonder Dr. Melé was so critical of Argentine business ethics. The large corporations took their cue from a corrupt government perpetually in chaos and its tyrannical bureaucracy. Government should strive to provide a favourable landscape for business to thrive; not to become a mill stone around its neck. Dr. Melé analysis barely scratches the surface on the corrupt corporate/government/bureaucratic connection, neglects the historical processes in play throughout the 20th Century, fails to account for the arise of viveza criolla in the first place and fails to account for the demographic influence of non-Iberian immigrants. This renders Dr. Melé’s comparative analysis incomplete and oversimplified at best and virtually meaningless at worst. Blaming the Italian immigrants at the beginning for the rise of viveza criolla is also too simplistic. Ultimately, Argentina’s demographic and historical development apart from any Spanish influence (beyond retaining the language) rendered the ethical comparison to one of apples compared to oranges.

There are more examples of such crises but the important point to note is this is the society in almost constant flux and turmoil that Marcelo, his parents and his grandparents grew up in. A society that in 1900 equaled the USA in GDP per person ($4,000, in 1990 dollars) and has now has only risen to $11,000 in 2010 compared to $31,000 in the USA. This is a society that gave the practice of viveza criolla a viable means of survival. Argentines had to play by different rules to navigate the minefield that made up their society; a minefield laid by the corporate/government/bureaucratic overlords. Argentina is a rich nation and if you have the political connections you have access to this wealth. Without connections, you did what you had to do to survive in these shark infested waters. As such, you either ate or were eaten. This is a set up that favours the individual despite the rhetoric focusing on the collective ideal.

I’m sure for some it is a disappointing that I didn’t come up with anything definitive beyond providing context. I don’t have access to the proper records to do that. Ollila cited a study that I’ve shown to be incomplete and flawed. The bottom line is that you must understand the market within which you plan to do business. That is a given for any business. What I tried to show was that the historical development of Argentina gave rise to the practice of viveza criolla which in turn was reinforced and perpetuated in the face of the corruption that lies at the heart of the corporate/government/bureaucratic triumvirate. On the outside this solution taken out of context appears unethical. By the standards of Argentine society these are the accepted rules. Any outside business interest, like Nightwish, either needs to understand them and adapt or don’t do business there. It’s that simple.

None of this should have been unknown to the managers of bands in Europe in general. In fact, it should have been common knowledge by the late 90’s that the rules in South America were different. When Nightwish saw Brazilians at their first show there wearing Nightwish t-shirts (when no licensing agreement existed that made them legal at the time) it should have been a wake up call. More managing and less partying would have been helpful. Nightwish and their handlers did not do their due diligence and learn what it was they were getting into. They only have themselves to blame that their mismanagement resulted in one of their members retaining a manager of her own who could only play by the only rule book he ever knew and who just happened to eventually become her husband.

Critique of Once Upon a Nightwish, Part 12

The Final Cut

Every time I posted a new Part of this long critique of Once Upon A Nightwish I always had the next topic in mind. All I needed to do was organized my thoughts, do some research as I needed to do in regard to Part 11, and write it down in a coherent manner. Sometimes that process took longer than I intended but I had to do it right. For quite some time, before Parts 10 and 11 were posted in truth, I haven’t been able to see any further avenues to expound upon. If something else does come to mind, I’ll be sure to add it. In June of 2016 I scribbled out what follows and sat on it for a bit just in case I had one more moment of inspiration. Alas, my ideas are still tapped out. So now I reckon it is time to wrap up the topic with some final thoughts and conclusions.

Was Tuomas H within his rights as founder of Nightwish to fire Tarja? As just a member of two metal bands TH had no outlet for the songs and music that he himself wrote and composed. He started his solo project that turned into Nightwish to be such an outlet and started recruiting friends and acquaintances that included Tarja to help him achieve his dreams of writing and recording his own music. As we know she changed the focus from quiet mood music to the creation of a new sub-genre of metal. But it was still his band and so, and this may surprise some, he had every right to make lineup changes that includes firing Tarja. Now don’t mistake his ‘right’ to fire her with the real or imagined provocations that lead to that decision, the method by which it was done nor with whether it was the ‘right’ (ie. correct) decision.

What I’ve tried to show in my critique, and I believe I have done so successfully, is that I have taken issue with the process TH went through when he exercised his ‘right’ to fire her. Firing by letter and through the band’s official website was cowardly and unprofessional. Later, Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish was a clumsy attempt to inflate Tarja and Marcelo’s role and minimized or ignored the bigger problem that was centered with TH and the poor performance of the band’s management team. Once Upon A Nightwish is, in the final analysis, nothing less than propaganda. To a discerning reader it is an extremely clumsy, if not, laughable attempt.

Did Tuomas H make the right or correct decision? I’ve found the two subsequent eras, defined by their lead singers, to be disappointing. Anette’s era represented Nightwish following the trend that started taking over the sub-genre at the time, as opposed to setting it for others to catch up during Tarja’s era, for a more commercialized sound in terms of vocals. Floor promised the potential of a return to the original roots but I found her (and other members, too) to be underutilized on the last album. I thought she and others had not contributed all they could have. Only TH fulfilled his potential but the keyboard centric album came at the expense of the others. So the answer is ‘No’.

However, Tarja apparently had decided that she wanted to do what TH had done ten years earlier: branch off into a solo career following the next album after ‘Once’ and its subsequent tour. TH was faced with having to find a new singer in any case but he would have had more time to do so. Tarja’s decision to strike off on her own, although prematurely it turned out, has, in time, proven to be a great success. Her blend of rock, metal and classical plus her pure classical projects has her in ascendance in terms of her ability and scope. Successful albums both as performer, writer (mostly in collaboration), producer; successful tours; prominent festival times (including headlining the MFVF); being sought out by other artists for collaborations (Within Temptation, Mike Oldfield, Scorpions, Doro, Schiller, Schandmaul plus with Raimo Sirkia and José Cura at the Savonlinna Opera Festival etc.); recruiting a loyal and talented core of musicians who love performing with her; garnering a loyal legion of fans worldwide and being granted complete creative freedom by her label is solid proof of her consistent and continual rise.

In conclusion, TH was within his ‘rights’ to make lineup changes; Once Upon a Nightwish as a piece of propaganda justifying that ‘right’ cannot be taken seriously; Nightwish has since been a disappointment to me despite having a strong committed legion of fans worldwide that continue to give them success; and Tarja was right in her instinct to desire a solo career to give outlet to her creative energies and at the moment she has yet to reach her full potential. Tarja Turunen has been at the center of musical innovation for 20 years and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

It is now over ten years since the split and my critique and time have exposed the lies, misinformation and propaganda that make up Mape Ollila’s Once Upon A Nightwish. Can we now get over it already? Alas, probably not for many.

I thank you, dear reader, for making this topic the most viewed on Ethereal Metal Webzine; at least for now.

Review: Leaves’ Eyes: The Catalogue

Review by Brian Kelman
© Ethereal Metal Webzine
10/12/2015

On a miserable rainy Saturday morning in August of 2012 I
typed in my search bar ‘symphonic metal bands’. One click later I started a list
of what ended up being about two dozen of them. I bookmarked their official web
sites and Wikipedia articles (especially for the discography section) and
copied out an album list for each to Notepad. After a little reading I chose
Leaves’ Eyes to start with and sampled their songs online. Liking what I heard
I bought an album (Njord) from Amazon.ca and it arrived the following week. As
it turned out, they have become my most listened to artists after Tarja.

Leaves’ Eyes is a Norwegian-German Metal Band formed in 2003
by Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull (from Stavanger, Norway and former singer of
Theatre of Tragedy), and the entire line-up of Atrocity, led by Liv’s husband
Alexander Krull (from Ludwigsburg, Germany). In time, Liv and Alexander have
been able to create a band that evolved beyond anything either had done before.
They have transitioned to Symphonic Metal from their original Gothic roots.
This was done by moving into a more melodic sound; a sound that has given the
songs of Leaves’ Eyes an ‘epic’ quality right from the beginning of their
formation. The guitar parts and riffs in particular provide a solid foundation
to build upon because they flow from one melody to the next (thanks in large
part to the talent of one of the main songwriters for the band Thorsten Bauer
on guitar and bass). Building upon brutal heavy metal deeply tuned guitars,
bass and drums are the contrasts and complimentary features of choirs and
classical, folk and acoustic instruments Leaves’ Eyes is a band that has, by
their third album, produced a fuller symphonic and folk sound into their metal
repertoire that compliments the rest of the instruments instead of overwhelming
them.

Liv does not possess the vocal power to blow the roof off a
building like Tarja and others in this sub-genre. Although her vocal ability
has increased in strength, power and range with each release Liv’s vocals are
still delivered in a beautiful yet more delicate manner. This is an observation
rather than a criticism per se. What Liv possesses in abundance is the ability
to create an atmosphere that is thoroughly enchanting. The angelic vocals of
Liv are backed up by the ‘beastly’ growls from Alexander, identified under the
vocal style as “beauty and the beast”; a style she helped pioneer with
Theatre of Tragedy who first released an album where every song featured this
approach (their self-titled 1995 album). Alexander’s harsh vocals are a
poignant counterpoint and contrast to Liv’s. As a whole, Leaves’ Eyes has
developed the ability to create a larger than life epic ambiance that is second
to none in the sub-genre.

The lyrics of Leaves’ Eyes, written by Liv, have many
inspirations: her personality, birthplace (especially Norwegian nature and the
sea), as well as literary and historical influences (in particular Nordic
mythology, the Viking Sagas and Liv’s degree in English and German). Taken
together she writes concept albums revolving around particular themes concerned
with the Viking Age: the Sagas and legends of Norse history/mythology as well
as punctuated by the love of the rugged beauty of nature found in Liv’s native
land. Most impressive is Liv’s ability to lyrically make larger than life
mythic and historical characters step out of her imagination and make them
real.

All the albums and EP’s are primarily produced, mixed, and
mastered in their own studio Mastersound Studio by Alexander Krull (with
support credits to Liv and Thorsten). Alexander is a master of arrangements
(ie. he arranges the drum tracks for the album, and those of the Nordic and
symphonic elements). He is also a master of production. The production work on
each and every album is exceptional despite an increase in the level of
complexity for each album. For example, on King of Kings the song Blazing
Waters contained 350 separate tracks to coordinate. Find out how he did in my
review of the album below.

Although only Liv, Alexander and Thorsten remain as the
original members, Leaves’ Eyes have never had any problem filling out the
lineup (for studio and live performances) with high quality musicians. The
result has been that they have never released a bad or subpar album.

To date, Leaves’ Eyes has released six studio concept
albums, one single, five EPs, and one live 2CD/2DVD set.

Albums List

Lovelorn (2004) 3.8/5

“I grew up by the sea…..” So begins Norwegian Love Song as
chapter I on Leaves’ Eyes first saga Lovelorn; a tale of a Sea Maid with a
sometimes haunting and melancholic atmosphere but always a melodic one.
Conceptually, Lovelorn celebrates the reawakening of nature in the Norwegian
spring, the sea and, by contrast, unfulfilled love of the sea maid. Did Liv
write Lovelorn because she was homesick for Norway? Perhaps; she had been
living in Germany with Alexander since 1996. Also, in the previous year she
learned she was fired from her ‘hometown’ band, Theatre of Tragedy, via email
and they posted the firing notice on the band’s website, too. Sound familiar?
Using music as a personal catharsis often turns into self-indulgent tripe, but
Lovelorn doesn’t come across as such.
Whatever the deep seated motives beyond those identified above, Lovelorn
is a very good debut album despite having more than the usual number of ballads
for a metal release. For a newly formed band’s whose relative ‘newness’ to
playing a style that was different from the usual of Atrocity and Theatre of
Tragedy, while keeping the Gothic feel of the latter, says a lot about the
experience and competent professionalism that all the musicians brought to the
creative process. The building blocks for the band’s evolution into what they
are today were skillfully laid down here. Song wise Norwegian Love Song, Tale
of the Sea Maid, For Amelie, Into Your Light (that included Liv’s sister Carmen
as a guest vocalist), Ocean’s Way, Temptation and the title track are notable
standouts.

Vinland Saga (2005) 4.0/5

“1000 years ago a Viking ship left Norway in the spring…..”
and so begins Leaves’ Eyes second saga Vinland Saga, released in 2005, and
inspired by the voyage of the Norse explorer Leif Erikson and his discovery of
Vinland (a.k.a. Newfoundland/America). Along with the historical fact of Leif
being blown off course for Greenland to eventually find Vinland, Liv was
inspired by her own experience of leaving her homeland. She has also mixed in
an element of romantic fiction. One of Leif’s crewmen was Tyrkir the German
(and with Liv’s husband being German) she created a romantic love story of him
leaving his wife behind. Liv displays superb skill in weaving this additional
thread within the greater context and the risk of coming across as sappy was
avoided. It really added a greater depth of atmosphere to the album as a whole.
The introductory title track Vinland Saga and Farewell Proud Men create an epic
atmosphere of optimistic hope, wonder and adventure. However, once the euphoria
of the great adventure wears off in time, much of the remainder of the album is
not presented in the chest thumping glory seeking death be damned perspective
one would expect from say Amon Amarth (which is a band that is a personal
favourite of mine so this is an observation not a criticism). Rather, it provides
plenty of room to weave within the historical context a thread to explore the
fear and longing of the explorers and the women they left behind; of Tyrkir’s
feeling of being lost in a small ship in a very large ocean and the worry of
his wife that her man won’t return home someday. Some notable favourite songs
are their first anthem Elegy, Leaves’ Eyes, New Found Land, Solemn Sea, The
Thorn and Twilight Sun. All things considered, Vinland Saga is a very tasty
slice of Viking melodic metal. Some fans and critics consider this album as
their favourite from the band.

We Came With the Northern Winds: En Saga I Belgia [Live-2CD
& 2DVD] (2009) 4.0/5

The first DVD features almost two hours of documentary about
the history of the band with in-depth interviews of the band members at home,
in studio and on tour. It is very informative and allows the viewer to see the
members of the band as real people. The second DVD contains live footage of a
Leaves’ Eyesconcert at Metal Female Voices Fest in Wieze, Belgium, on 20
October 2007. It shows Leaves’ Eyes as very dynamic and entertaining live act.
The two CDs replicate the concert soundtrack. The play list includes a fine
selection from their first two albums. One of the props on stage at the
Festival show included a Viking long ship. A very cool DVD/CD set.

Njord (2009) 4.8/5

“The God of Storms will you hear me…..” Complete with the
sound of water washing the shore, thundering drums and Nordic chanting so
begins Njord, the third saga by Leaves’ Eyes. Njörðr (Njord), a God among the
Vanir clan in Norse mythology and father of the deities Freyr and Freyja (or
Fröya), is associated with the sea, wind, storms at sea, and seafaring. Njord
has a much broader concept than its predecessors. Yet be prepared for another
journey through Nordic history and myth.

The lyrics are written in 8 languages (English, Middle-high
German, Middle English, Gaelic, Norwegian, Icelandic, French and one
“self-made” linguistic fictional phonetic sequence). The lyrics
mainly deal with characters from northern mythology (e.g. Njord, Fröya’s Theme,
and Ragnarok), or with places and historical events (e.g. Scarborough Fair,
Emerald Island, Irish Rain, Northbound and Les Champs de Lavande). Last, but
not least, My Destiny follows up anthem Elegyfrom Vinland Saga, plus Take the
Devil in Me and Through Our Veins are excellent metal staples. For the first
time the heavy metal guitar riffing foundation was enhanced by a full orchestra
(the Lingua Mortis Orchestra, Minsk, Belarus, directed by Vitor Smolski, the
now ex-Rage guitarist) and a choir (Al Dente Choir, Kleinbotwar, Germany,
directed by Veronika Messner). Also new are uilleann pipes and Irish whistles
(on the Scarborough Fair cover and Irish Rain). Leaves’ Eyes realized the
musical promise foretold in their first two albums: the integration of all the
musical elements that I detailed in the lead above has created the masterpiece
that is Njord. This has been my favourite album since I first listened to it.
Would their latest release surpass it?

Meredead (2011) 4.6/5

“I close my eyes forever/Forever and evermore/One lonesome
sigh a time between/Let the spirits in/Let my spirit sing…..” And so begins
Leaves’ Eyes fourth saga Meredead (‘dead by the sea’ or ‘sea death’) their most
ambitious production yet; an epic that expands the bands musical inspiration
into a more pronounced Celtic/Nordic folk influence. I have to admit that I did
not like the album at first because of the greater emphasis on the folk vibe.
But in time it grew on me and I have to say that if I’m in my favourite coffee
shop with my Walkman and my Kindle, it is my go to album to read by because of
the atmosphere that I originally had my doubts about. The uilleann pipes and
Irish whistles are back on select songs, but what threw me off at first was the
prominence of some other new instruments, a number of guest vocalists that
shared lead and backup vocals, and a lot of songs sung in Norwegian that
augmented the ubiquitous heavy metal guitar riffing foundation. Liv’s sister
Carmen guested on the epic Sigrlinn. Anette Guldbrandsen is a guest vocalist
for two traditional Norwegian folk songs, Kråkevisa (Crow’s Ballad) and Nystev
(New Stave) as well as for Veritas and Mine Taror e rei Grimme. Maite Itoiz
(Elfenthal) was a guest vocalist on Etain and Meredead and baroque guitar on
Tell-Tale Eyes (that also included John Kelly from Elfenthal providing vocals).
In addition, the music is seasoned with the nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle), a
Scandinavian folk instrument, a fiddle, and a flute for some songs. The
orchestra and choir remain the same from Njord, but Alexander’s vocals are used
rarely (Sigrlinn and clean vocals on Empty Horizon). Also included are more
straight-forward numbers like the cover of Mike Oldfield’s To France and Velvet
Heart. In time, I grew to appreciate how melodic the Norwegian language sounded
when sung despite having no clue as to what they were actually singing about.
Meredead is as intricate as it is varied but Leaves’ Eyes has hit upon the
right mix of classical, folk and metal.

Symphonies of the Night (2013) 4.2/5

Leaves’ Eyes fifth saga combines all the brilliance of their
previous releases and turns up the Gothic influences to tell the stories of
eleven heroines from the past, both historical (ie. Joan of Arc in Maid of
Lorraine, the murderess Visagoth Galswintha, Eleanor of Provance the Queen
consort of Henry III, and Saint Cecilia the patroness of musicians), and
fictional (Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the unnamed witch symbolizing persecution
through the ages in Hell To The Heavensand the adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le
Fanu’s Gothic novella ‘The Dark Blue’ with Laura’s seduction by the female
vampire Camilla in Symphonies Of The Night).

The album features the same orchestra, choir, uilleann
pipes, Irish whistles, fiddle and dulcimer. Like previous albums, Symphonies of
the Night features songs sung in different languages, including English, Middle
English, Norwegian, French and Irish. This album is heavier (ie. in terms of
sound, atmosphere and lyrical content) than Meredead and the beauty and the
beast vocal style are back in full force (ie. Maid of Lorraine is their best
song to date featuring this vocal trade off). Liv’s vocals have never been
stronger than on this CD. A few pointers from Elfenthal’s Maite Itoiz has
allowed Liv to access more power from within herself allowing her vocal reach
to evolve for the better. Because there are a couple of songs I’ve never been
able to get into (and I won’t name them here so as not to unduly influence you)
I’ve rated this a little lower than their previous two albums.

King of Kings (2015) 4.9/5

Leaves’ Eyes sixth epic saga King of Kings is historically
based and has a personal connection for Liv. Her birthplace, Hafrsfjord, was
the location of the final battle in the 9th Century (around 872) when Norway
was unified under one Viking King by Harald ‘Fairhair’ (b. 850 – d. 932). The
album is tightly focused on this historical figure’s life and lead up to the
epic battle and beyond. King of Kings is an album that does what Leaves’ Eyes
does best: paint pictures with an epic sound track that includes Nordic folk
instruments (ie. the nyckelharpa, uilleann pipes, flutes and whistles), big
choirs (the London Voices Ensemblewhose credits include: Star Wars, Lord of The
Rings, The Hobbit and Harry Potter etc.), big drums, a Viking choir, a big
orchestra recorded and directed by Victor Smolski (the Lingua Mortis Orchestra,
Minsk, Belarus, and also referred to as the White Russian Symphony Orchestra)
all built on the solid foundation of heavy metal guitar riffing. Liv’s vocals
are superb. She has given herself plenty of room to put her greater range and
power on full display. Two guest singers compliment Liv’s vocals perfectly:
Simone Simons (Epica) and Lindy Fay Hella (Wardruna-who collaborated with
Trevor Morris composing the music score for Season 2 of the Vikings series). As
one would expect for Leaves’ Eyes, the elements of Nordic music and the epic
power of metal and classical music come out very naturally on King of Kings.

Sweven leads off the album where the enchanting violin, pounding
drum beats, the Viking chant and the sung and spoken vocals creates an
atmosphere that takes us back in time to ‘witness’ the monumental event of the
birth of Harald Halvdansson. The Gods whisper that a great future king has been
born. The spoken part of Sweven is by Leon Krull. This leads to the title
track, King of Kings that gives voice to the prophecy about Harald. Orchestra,
choir, and heavy metal guitars crash the shore of our senses but leave room for
Liv’s soaring ‘beauty’ and Alexander’s guttural ‘beast’ vocals. The London
Voices combined with Liv provide the first spine tingling moment of King of
Kings. Expect more throughout. Halvdan the Black begins with a similar audio
sortie. Halvdan (known to ‘bring good seasons’) was Harald’s father who
belonged to the House of Yngling (Odin’s son’s line). It tells the story of his
untimely death the age of 40 when he and a mounted party attempted to cross a
lake they believed was frozen. It wasn’t. Legend has it that Halvdan’s body was
divided into four parts and buried in what are known as ‘Halvdan Mounds’. This
event thrust 10 year old Harald to the throne of Vestfold. The Waking Eye
returns to the prophetic atmosphere of envisioning his triumph of uniting
Norway in the only way he could: in battle. Check out the excellent videos on
YouTube for all three songs. Noteworthy is that Leon Krull stars as young
Harald and his father Alexander as the older Harald. The Viking ‘horde’s’ are
played by the 40 man Viking re-enactment group Vaerjaborg.

Feast of The Year and Vengeance Venom are superb
Nordic/Celtic numbers with pipes and whistles but also includes some really
excellent drumming and enthusiastic vocals. Within the context of the tale,
Harald’s defiant release of the Finn is worth remembering for later. Symphonic
metal returns with Sacred Vow. Harald fell in love with Gyda, the daughter of
King Eirik of Hordaland but she would only accept his marriage proposal if he
did one little thing: unite the kingdom under his rule. She doesn’t ask for
much does she? He took a ‘sacred vow’ not to cut his hair until he succeeded;
hence, the ‘hair’ moniker although it was more ‘Tanglehair’ than ‘Fairhair’ by
the Battle of Hafrsfjord. Edge of Steel, another heavy symphonic metal anthem
and features guest vocalist Simone Simons of Epica. It gets us girded for
battle along with a little help from the Finn. After the haunting lament of
Haraldskvaedi, named after a 9th century poem penned by Þorbjörn Hornklofi,
comes the album’s real gem: Blazing Waters. It is a seven minute epic that
takes you on a roller coaster ride of soft acoustics and gentle vocals to super
heavy guitars that turn it into a riffing juggernaut, death metal growls and
soaring vocals. The atmospheric beginning and ending to the song features guest
vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella from the Norwegian dark folk band Wardruna. Blazing
Waters steps out of imagination and becomes a vivid and real battle in the
mind’s eye. Closing out the album is a return to the Nordic vibe with Swords in
Rock. Inspired by a monument constructed long after the battle feature three
massive swords thrust into the bedrock at the site. Swords in Rock commemorate
Harald as a folk legend long after his reign. The acoustic version on Disc 2 of
the Deluxe Edition would not be out of place as a sing-along in any pub that
boasted Celtic/Nordic roots. Look for this song to be a sing along staple of
future Leaves’ Eyes live shows.

Two bonus tracks, one a ballad (Spellbound) and the other a
symphonic metal head banger (Trail of Blood), are nice bonuses to conclude the
album.

Last year when I reviewed Xandria Sacrificium I noted that
they had scaled the symphonic metal mountain all the way to the top.
Well…..Leaves’ Eyes has supplanted them at the summit with King of Kings. It
will take a mighty effort from the bands in the sub-genre to top this album!
Who’s up to the challenge? We shall see.

Single

Into Your Light (2004)

Released three months after Lovelorn, this EP includes three
versions of Into Your Light (album, radio edit and acoustic remix version) plus
the non-album song Leaves Whisper. Also included is a multimedia section
including screen saver.

EP’s

Elegy (2005)

Released a few weeks in advance of Vinland Saga, it includes
the single and album versions of Elegy. Nom-album tracks include: Senses
Capture, Winter’s Poem, and Mot Fjerne Land. Lastly, a demo version of Solemn
Sea is included.

Legend Land (2006)

Released a year after Vinland Saga, it includes the album
and extended versions of Legend Land. Non-album songs are: Skraelings, Viking’s
Word, The Crossing and Lyset. I consider this the best of the EP’s.

My Destiny (2009)

Released a month before Njord, it includes the album and
remix versions of My Destiny and the album version of Northbound. Non-album
tracks include The Battle of Maldon, Nine Wave Maidens and an acoustic version
of Scarborough Fair.

At Heaven’s End (2009)

This EP is a bonus CD included with the Njord Special Fan
Edition. All tracks are non-album and include some, but not all, of the tracks
on the My Destiny EP. The common non-album songs included are The Battle of
Maldon, the acoustic Scarborough Fair, Nine Wave Maidens and the My Destiny
remix. Additional non-album songs not on the My Destiny EP are: At Heaven’s
End, Angus and the Swan, and an acoustic Irish Rain. Also, there is a My
Destiny videoclip.

Melusine (2011)

Released a few days before Meredead, it includes non-album alternative
tracks previously released. Included are: a remastered The Battle of Maldon, a
sonic mix of To France, an acoustic Legend Land and an alternate version of
Tell-Tale Eyes. Melusine is a previously unreleased song in any version and was
also released as a video (but the video clip is not included on the EP).

Review of Amon Amarth’s “Jomsviking”

image

Reviewed by Brian Kelman
© Ethereal Metal Webzine

I’ve listened to Jomsviking 
every day in my car (and some at home) since it arrived in my
mailbox  March 29th. The guitar riffs
reverberate in my head the whole time I’m 
working. I like it more and more each time I hear it.

Amon Amarth’s tenth album is a concept album. Lead vocalist
Johan Hegg:

“It’s  a pretty simple
story where a young man is in love with a girl but  unfortunately she’s being married off,” Hegg
explains. “He accidentally  kills a man
when this happens and he has to flee. But he swears to have  revenge and win her back. He can’t let go of
the past. He feels that  he’s been
wronged and his life has been destroyed.” Hegg continues: “The  story of the Jomsvikings is the background —
it’s the way he finds to  go back and
claim his revenge. The way the story evolves is not a happy  story….it’s a tragedy, I guess! But I like
sad endings, because they are  ones that
affect you the most.”

Hold on! Are we talking romance from Amon Amarth? Am I
reviewing the right band and album? Fear not friends and fans. The first stanza
from the opening track, First Kill, will put your fears to rest:

“The first man I killed
Was the earl’s right-hand man
When he came to take her away
I ran a sword straight through his throat
And I stood there, watching him fall”

Phew! Lyrically, the band wastes no time reminding everyone
who we are listening to. Nothing like a little familiar brutality to help us
sleep at night knowing that Amon Amarth is….well Amon Amarth! What about sound?
Are  Johan Hegg’s matchless growls in
peak form? Yep! Melodic twin leads  from
Johan Söderberg and Olavi Mikkonen? Yep! Brutally Heavy Crunching  Metal riffs from the duo? Yep! Steady precise
drumming from Tobias  Gustafsson
(ex-Vomitory) after the departure of 
Fredrik Andersson last year? Yep! Precision thumping bass from Ted  Lundström? Yep! Finally, and most important,
are the songs of quality?  Yes! Yes! Yes!
Not a weak one among the 10 songs that comprise the  album.

This is the familiar melodic death metal sound Amon
Amarth  has relied upon since the
beginning. Some might criticize the band for 
not innovating or changing or pushing boundaries but I’m not one of  them. Some bands need to stay the course in
terms of their sound and  style and in my
opinion Amon Amarth is in that  category.
Kudos for not changing to suit the conceptual thread woven  throughout the album but rather for crafting
a detailed story within the  context of
their distinctive style. High marks for this accomplishment!  Bravo! Just like for Deceiver of The Gods and
integral to keeping Amon Amarth  on
course, Andy Sneap again recorded, produced and mixed an extremely  slick album. Bravo Andy! Finally, kudos to
the cover art by Todd Thiel;  totally
epic!

After the murder our outcast hero flees and experiences
great loneliness (Wanderer)  until he
joins the Jomsvikings. The Jomsvikings are an elite mercenary  group for hire to the highest bidder. After
many adventures, battles and  perils (On
A Sea of Blood, One Against All, Raise Your Horns, The Way of Vikings, At
Dawn’s First Light, One Thousand Burning Arrows), he returns to seek his
revenge and reclaim his lover (A Dream That Cannot Be).  Only one problem: she (the part sung by Metal
Queen Doro Pesch) wants  nothing to do
with him and, in typical shield maiden bravado, threatens  to kill him if he doesn’t get lost! The album
ends with him returning to  the only thing
worth fighting for: the Jomsvikings (Back On Northern Shores).

All tracks display that mix of heavy ruthlessness and
melodic splendor. Two of my favourites on the album are Wanderer and On A Sea
of Blood. They exhibit the reason I liked Amon Amarth  from the first time I heard them: the melodic
rhythms and riffs. Not  surprising coming
from Olavi in particular. A carpenter by trade, that  skill with his hands translates into the
melodic and epic quality of his  playing.
Never more true than one these two tracks. Raise Your Horns  is a great drinking song of camaraderie that
comes from the life and  death situations
of the profession of the Jomsvikings. Should make for a  great song for the audience to show their
voice at a live show. The  somber One
Thousand Burning Arrows captures musically the emotive  power of the Viking royal funeral for a much
beloved king. Don’t worry  about shedding
a tear or three…the vocals and guitars are that 
sorrowful. Finally, A Dream That Cannot Be has a true sense of  character with the guest appearance by the
great Doro Pesch. The sad  tragedy of
this young man’s life is complete.

Jomsviking from Amon Amarth is familiar, reliable and
melodic death metal. Just the way we need it!

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

“Raise your horns,
raise them up to the sky!
We will drink to
glory tonight!
Raise your horns,
for brave fallen friends!
We will meet where
the beer never ends!
  — Raise Your Horns