Tuomas Holopainen, keyboardist and songwriter for Finnish symphonic metal outfit Nightwish, has a long list at hand when asked to describe his band's music.
'I've heard some interesting definitions,' he says. 'Landscape metal, fantasy metal, neoclassical alternative female-fronted gothic metal. But I see symphonic metal as something with great variety in music, from hard-punch metal songs to ballads, and everything in between. Keyboards and orchestrations play a big role in symphonic music.
'It's a Hans Zimmer soundtrack with distortion and double bass drums.'
Holopainen was one of the founding members of Nightwish in 1996 in the eastern Finnish town of Kitee. 'Nightwish started out as a project band - it was never supposed to be anything serious. There were never any expectations or big plans for the future. I wanted to try out my songwriting abilities and realised that this was definitely what I wanted to do more. After that, things started to roll at a fast pace.'
When they recorded last year's Dark Passion Play - the most expensive album in Finnish history - more than 175 musicians were involved. The number of people involved gave Holopainen and his cohorts a rare musical freedom, involving complex orchestration, choirs, gospel singers and native Americans.
'It's a liberating feeling to be a songwriter in a band like Nightwish as you can do almost anything,' he says. 'We are not prisoners of a format. Our variety is absurd, though that's also the trademark of the band. I'm proud of the fact that we've been able to somehow keep the image of the songs the same.
'Writing songs is like writing the diary of my own life,' says Holopainen. 'It's pretty much the only way I can cope with these big emotions in life. On a more concrete level, I draw inspiration from people around me - books, soundtracks, all kinds of music and nature.'
Nightwish features guitarist Erno Vuorinen, bassist Marco Hietala, drummer Jukka Nevalinen and the newest addition, Anette Olzon (below) on lead vocals. Olzon replaced Tarja Rurunen, whose dismissal in 2005 via an online statement posted on their website caused a major stir among fans and the media.
Olzon was picked from more than 2,000 hopefuls. 'She has the personality and the voice,' says Holopainen. 'She has brought more storytelling and warmth to the female vocals, and more of a band feeling to the group. There were lots of good candidates, though it was a matter of listening to the heart, and the heart told us very clearly that Anette was the one. We haven't regretted that decision once.'
Tonight Nightwish play their first Hong Kong gig at Hitec in Kowloon Bay and the band have been looking forward to performing here for many years. 'There's always something very special about playing in a new city for the first time, so we are all naturally extremely excited,' he says. 'We don't have a clue what the scene is like there, so all our expectations are open. Hopefully, we will have some time to check out the legendary city as well.'
The show is one stop on a world tour that is scheduled to last for at least two years, but Holopainen enjoys this lifestyle. 'If I hadn't had the chance to make music and tour, I would definitely lose my sanity,' he says. 'We feel very blessed to be able to do this for a living, and the tour is scheduled so that everybody has the chance to visit their families every now and then.
'It may get hard at times and that's when you need to support your mates and be there for them. It's one big family on the road, with all the happiness, conflicts, longing for home and love for each other.'
While Nightwish are famed for their live shows, Holopainen doesn't give away too much about what people can expect tonight. 'You have to show up to find out,' he says. 'Due to the size of the venue we can't bring our whole production with all the lights, pyrotechnics and special effects this time. But it will be a hell of a rock show anyway.'
Nightwish Live In HK, tonight, 8pm, Hitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$480, HK$580 (Tom Lee, HMV). Inquiries: 2783 0135