Jukka Nevalainen is the force behind Nightwish, the last of the great Metal bands capable of selling millions of records and selling-out great venues. A brief listening to their most famous songs may suggest that Nevalainen’s drumming lines are nothing more than a proper rhythmic support in a soft-Metal band. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jukka Nevalainen has spent many years tailoring the songs of Nightwish with a bunch of discreet but very effective drumming details.
Nightwish is a great Metal band. They have been labeled several times into different styles, but when a band has been increasing its success and its musical quality for several years, we can start talking about a style of their own and a unique identity. Nightwish is the band that released the colossal “Once”, one of the best albums of the last decade, and that includes non-Metal bands or solo singers. And they have other great records that allow them to receive the only label they really deserve: they are a world-class band. Indeed, they have that “something”, this magic that distinguishes the true great Rock bands, a combination of music, looks, attitude, aura, musical genius and tons of epic intensity and drama.
However, the only members of the band that stand out are keyboard player Tuomas Holopainen, who is the brilliant song-writter and leader, and the female singers, whose exceptionallly gifted voices are one of the band’s trademarks. Every fan knows the operatic, orchestral facet of Nightwish songs, which come with chorus and musical sections that are usually unforgettable. All of these aspects make the role of drummer Jukka Nevalainen a little bit more difficult as a rhythmic support to keep the foundations of the musical building strong.
Jukka Nevalainen’s drum parts have been getting better and better with every record. One can notice some influence from Mike Portnoy in many of his licks and patterns, Nevalainen is one of Portnoy’s heirs. Nightwish music is very different from Dream Theater, but sometimes you can “sense” some DT flavour in some musical passages. Not a bad thing at all. It’s just that you can hear that Portnoy-ish thing along the records. Taking a walk through the live record “End of an era” we discover that Jukka Nevalainen has a good bag of tricks. A few seconds after the start of the tremendous “Dark chest of wonders” we find a little “drumming stop and go” that few people would think to play. And the song goes on with many accents and some different rhythmic change-of-gears that have some great snare drum displacements. Everything that Nevalainen plays keeps the music flowing within the right mood. The unisons between drums and keyboards from the hypnotic and mesmerizing “The siren” take us to the climax of the song. The little licks in “The phantom of the opera” or the heavy riding in “The kinslayer” prove that Jukka has the abbility of playing the right thing at any time. The progressive “Bless the child” is a lesson on how to keep the musical pulse while flying over the bars. In the explosive “Wishmaster”, he plays that fast shuffle keeping it tight and solid. The ending of “Slayin’ the dreamer” is simply astonishing as a band’s performance, but the couple of double bassdrum runs are really intense. For “Ghost love score” (one of the best songs you’ll hear in your life), drums have to deal with all the orchestration and the many vocal and choir tracks, and cope with the song’s dramatic intensity. And he deals with it and even pushes the song in a grand finale where the audience gets in ecstasy. The recent DVD “Showtime, storytime” features several songs from their last two albums and some others, and Jukka Nevalainen proves once again his consistency in tunes like “Romanticide” or “Ghost river”.
The list of songs containing little drumming gems is much longer: the little stops following the orchestra in “Storytime”, the bassdrum in “Planet hell” or the intense ending on “Ever dream”, the discrete brushes in “Slow, love slow”, the rhythmic changes and syncopations in the amazing “I want my tears back”, the speed on “Scaretale”… Nightwish have been always offering more and more in each of their records, but the diversity in their last and cinematographic “Imaginaerum” is rather surprising.
Jukka Nevalainen will never complicate things too much, but is a reliable, accurate drummer that always has little unexpected things to offer if you listen carefully. Any kid willing to play some of the great epic Nightwish songs on his drumkit may not have it easy to nail them as it may seem when listening to the hit “Nemo”. Honestly, I would like Nightwish to record some really “difficult” or “complex” album, with some trips into a less orchestral and more progressive avenues. Just for one album, just to see what they are capable of, their potential as musicians. Then we could see the true skills that Jukka Nevalainen can have as a rhythmic creator.
In the last few years, music has given us many jugglers but a few drumming heroes. Jukka Nevalainen is no speed speciallist, he doesn’t need four bassdrums and a gong to shine. He works for the songs as if he was a craftsman. He is like one of those tailors that give some little details in their creations that make the difference. He dresses up the songs with discretion, the same that you would find in the shape of a shirt collar or the buttons of a sleeve. These details may be hard to notice, but here’s why some tailors have more success than others: they have their own personality and that’s what counts when many people are doing the same thing.
There are dozens of good bands that are tied to one style or another. But Nightwish have already become a “big band” with a set-list that everybody can enjoy. Jukka Nevalainen’s history has some similarities with another famous nordic drummer, Lars Ulrich. They both grew up in the same band from a young age trying to emulate their heroes, but there is also a big difference between them: Lars plays worse every day and is simply a shadow of himself. Jukka Nevalainen has still a lot to do and seems to be someone that will keep up the good work, knowing his own limitations as a drummer. He is no genius, but many years ago he joined in a serious project that demanded him to become a better and better musician. Sooner or later, the drumming community will realize that this finnish man has already played in several great albums and songs, and deserves some attention that others get with a lot less than that.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.