Metal behemoths Nightwish: “David Attenborough wrote to personally decline appearing on our album”

The arena-filling group's golden-lunged singer Floor Jansen talks album nine, Swedish lockdown and why the world's greatest conservationist turned them down

With the exception of maybe Rammstein – and we’re only quantifying this statement because they own flamethrowers and we do not – no band in European metal can rival Nightwish for their popularity in mainland Europe.

Formed in Kitee, Finland in 1996 by top hat-wearing keyboard player Tuomas Holopainen, the band welcomed Dutch-born singer Floor Jansen in 2012, by which point they were seven records into their career. The addition has seen the symphonic metal band become bigger, grander, more expressive and increasingly ambitious. She’s such a force that she’s become a Dutch TV personality, appearing on the musical talent showcase Best Zangers.

Their recent ninth record, the infuriatingly stylised ‘Human. :II: Nature.’, is their first double-release, the second half featuring lush orchestral music over the band’s core metal. Listen to album highlights ‘Harvest’, ‘How’s The Heart?’ and ‘Noises’ – rarely has a modern metal band’s music been infused with such power and glory. Tellingly, despite being released within the very centre of storm COVID-19, the record entered the charts of Finland, Spain, Switzerland and Germany at Number One.

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With that in mind, we decided to check in with one of Europe’s favourite heavy metal bands. Your guide for the duration will be Floor Jansen and her massive lungs. She will roar and you will quiver…

Hello Floor. Can I tell you what I really like about the new Nightwish album? There’s so much misery and ugliness everywhere right now, and yet your record is so ornate, grandiose and – dare I say it – hopeful…

“We were definitely going for that. There are so many different instruments on the record and so many different parts. Nightwish is quite complex music, really, and so it was important for us to have real emotion in the songs; something that cut through everything. The dynamics were really important to us. The songs needed space. Sometimes what you don’t put into a song is as important as what you do. There are nine songs on this record and eight orchestral suites. Without dynamics it would have been a very relentless listen.”

Can we go way back? I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that your voice is properly, brilliantly amazing. When did you realise you could sing like that?

“I guess when I was a teenager. There was a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and I auditioned. I didn’t get a very important part in it. You know how it is – the popular kids get all the best parts and that wasn’t me. But even just being stuck in the background, I absolutely loved it. I didn’t know I was any good, though. I was pretty badly teased at school, so my confidence was quite low.”

Do you want us to fuck someone up? Why were you teased?

“I was taller than everyone else and my dialect was different. I was just… different.”

Do you think that experience has had any lasting impact on you?

“I do… but, to be honest, only really positively. I can’t say I look back fondly at those years and certainly not at the people who were doing that, but I do think I stand on more stable legs in adulthood because of it. I don’t want my daughter [three-year-old Freja] to have to go through that, though.”

Do you ever have the classic revenge scenario where you’re standing onstage in front of thousands and thousands of people screaming your name and think, ‘Well, I won, didn’t I?’

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“All the time. Especially now I’m on this Dutch TV show that has really increased my popularity in the Netherlands. I sometimes wonder if those people would even remember me and I don’t spend that much time thinking about them. You have to live for yourself – I’m almost 40, y’know!”

Tell me more about the TV show. I love the name! Beste Zangers!

“It translates as Best Singers! It’s not a contest or anything like that. It’s a collection of singers of different styles and backgrounds who sing each other’s music to one another, or collaborate on cover versions of songs that have inspired us. It’s a really nice show, and all about a love of music. It’s prime-time Saturday night television and it’s completely changed my life! It’s really benefited Nightwish too. We were already doing well in Holland and playing arenas, butt it’s definitely increased our profile, which is brilliant for me after 24 of nobody in my home country paying me any attention!”

The new Nightwish record was released on April 10, making you one of a tiny number of bands who can attest to the realities of releasing an album at the epicentre of a global pandemic. How has that been?

“We were one of the very first bands who had to cancel a tour. We were actually supposed to start in China. I should be there right now. Very early on we realised that the tour wasn’t going to happen, even though the illness was at that point contained in one continent. Then the global fuck-up that resulted in an illness becoming a pandemic happened. I still can’t believe that it has happened, really. It feels so incredibly unnecessary…”

I’m detecting you have an opinion about how this has all played out? You live in Sweden, right?

“I do. I emigrated five years ago, from Holland.”

Sweden’s approach to handling the virus has been very liberal – there’s been no mass lockdown, as there has been in elsewhere in the world. Do you think they took the right approach?

“Partly. At the same time, I’m not a scientist, so what do I know? It’s all about following the science.”

Floor Jansen. Credit: Tina Korhonen

I’d like to remind you that there’s a species of beetle named after you. Last year scientist Andreas Weigel named the newly discovered insect Tmesisternus floorjansenae. It’s fair to say you have more scientific credibility than almost any other heavy metal singer…

“Okay – well, in lots of ways the Swedish approach makes sense to me. Sweden is a big country with not that many people. It makes sense to me that the approach would be different to in the UK or back in Holland. Then again, a big city is a big city, whether it’s in Sweden or anywhere, and if people from the cities start moving away then I think we have to be careful. During Easter there were people everywhere near where I live, on the Gothenburg side of the country, next to the sea. Sweden is a big enough country that there’s enough space for people not to be locked down – but you head to a touristy place anyway? That I don’t get. It’s stupid.”

Speaking of space – you’re married to Hannes Van Dahl, the drummer in military history obsessed, Swedish metal titans Sabaton. Onstage he plays his drums sat inside the cockpit of a tank. I presume you have badass military stuff lying all around your house?

“Oh, everywhere. All over the house.”

Really?

“No!”

I heard that you have horses, though. It doesn’t seem fair to me that you’re allowed to have horses, but your husband can’t have a battleship in the garden…

“Oh, he doesn’t mind. Horses are nicer than war. I have two – Lily, named so after my mum, and Auri, named after my bandmates’ Tuomas [Holopainen] and Troy [Donockley]’s side project – and also a character from The Kingkiller Chronicle series of fantasy novels by Patrick Rothfuss.”

I think it’s fair to say that you’re not the only member of Nightwish that bloody loves nature. The band just teamed up with the conservation charity the World Land Trust. Tell me about that…

“They’re a great organisation. The video for the last song on the album, ‘Ad Astra’, was filmed in conjunction with them. They work to preserve our planet by buying up areas of land and preserving them. I think it’s hypocritical that we’re telling Brazil that they need to save their rainforest when European’s have absolutely decimated their own. But at the same time, we really do need to save the rainforest or we’re facing a climate crisis. The World Land Trust works with governments to find alternative financial outlets for local people to stop logging and deforestation. You can’t just say to people, ‘Stop doing this’. You need to consider the human impact, then the environmental one. We found out about them via David Attenborough being a patron…”

Credit: Tina Korhonen

Please tell me he’s a fan…

“We tried to get him to speak on the album. We wrote him a letter and he wrote one back, declining, but it was very impressive that a man of his stature would write personally to us and explain that he just didn’t have the time right now.”

You can’t like all animals, Floor. There must be one you’d like to see eradicated from the face of the earth…

“No! I love all of them. I love cats. I love dogs. I love birds in all their splendour!”

C’mon…

“Okay, okay… I don’t really like snails. We grow vegetables and they eat my crops. They’re disgusting. I don’t wish them death, though! I just wish they’d go somewhere else!”

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