A tale of three and a half, singers

Rock bands frequently undergo changes to lineups.  Some of them, go through so many changes that they are far recognizable from their original lineup, but they are able to continue because the one or two key members that give the band its essence are still present.

Part of that essence is the sound that defines the band. Often, if a lead singer leaves, the band can recover if they replace them with someone who sounds similar.  Usually, the new lead singer needs to have a lot of charisma to win the fans back to the band.  No matter how good they sound like the original, fans will miss the original singer.  Sometimes works better for the band.  Genesis is a prime example. Phil Collins gave the band a new lease on life after Peter Gabriel.  Journey replaced Steve Perry with a vocalist who sounds similar and are experiencing a revival of sorts. AC/DC had continued success when Johnson took the helm.

Sometimes, a band has to redefine its sound in order to try to win back the fan base.  A different sound of vocals can inspire a different creative direction. At times, a different sound in vocals can force this direction.  Van Halen is an example. When they had Sammy Hagar, they changed their style to be more in line with Hagar’s. They did win a new fan base. Some old fans were screaming for David Lee Roth, some liked both.

I love concerts. This year, all the key acts I saw had a change in lead vocals somewhere along the way. Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Journey, Kool and the Gang, Kamelot, and Nightwish.

Kamelot opened for Nightwish. They  got a much younger lead singer that sounded identical to their previous singers.  His age and strength of voice easily won over the crowds. Nightwish is another story. Not only did they change singers, they did it three times, all in the same tour!  That is unheard of.

Nightwish is a symphonic metal band. The trademark of the style is a very dark, heavy, and fast sound usually fronted by an opera singer. Their original singer, Tarja Trunen, fit the mold perfectly. A few years ago, Nightwish fired her, disclosing the reasons in an open letter published on the internet.  They hired Swedish singer Annette Olzon to replace her.  It was pretty obvious that the new singer was vocally very different, more of an Abba/pop sound. The fans must have been shocked when they heard her for the first time in concert.  You can see for yourself in the video spliced below between the two singers. The song, Nemo, is the bands most “accessible” song during the Tarja era.  Accessible, in that it can be liked by most people no matter what musical interest they have.

Singer comparison: Nemo


Depending on how you stand musically, you can make a case for both singers on this song. That said, a lot of the older Nightwish material depended on the thick operatic tones, which Annette does not deliver.  To accommodate the new vocalist, Nightwish’s next two albums had more of a pop undertone which suited the new vocalists voice better while maintaining their overall tone and feel. Generally, it worked and fans accepted it. But despite the musical strength of the albums,  they craved the old style better.

I happened to see them live September 19 in Montreal. Almost a week later the band was in Denver and Annette Olzon was hospitalized. Most bands would cancel the show when a key member is unable to perform. Not Nightwish. Enter singer number two, Elize Ryd, the backup singer for opening act Kamelot!  With lyric sheet in hand for most of the evening, she took Annette’s place. Even though Elize fronts her own band and was touring with Kamelot, I am not sure how I would have reacted seeing this last minute substitution.

Singer 2: Note lyric sheet on second song

Instead of cancelling any shows or the tour, the next night, Nightwish fires Annette.  They call in Dutch singer Floor Janson, who hopped on a flight from the Netherlands to join the band in Seattle the following night.  Floor is a return to the Tarja era, and is completing the tour with Nightwish.  Nightwish shuffled the set list a bit to include some older material that they probably could not do with Annette.

Nemo: Floor Jansen

Floor will complete the tour with them, but who knows if she will stay on with Nightwish or  the musical direction of this band, but one thing is for sure, at this stage, it does not matter who sings for them!