A semiotic analysis of Nightwish’s Dark Passion Play (2007) and Imaginaerum (2011)
Despite the ever-increasing interest in scholarly research on metal, the sonic investigation of metal songs remains essentially neglected. My study aims to contribute to the musicological investigation of metal. In this regard, my study is an analysis of four of Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish’s songs from two of their most recent studio albums, Dark Passion Play (2007) and Imaginaerum (2011). These four songs are “Scaretale” (Imaginaerum); “Turn Loose the Mermaids” (Imaginaerum); “The Poet and the Pendulum” (Dark Passion Play); and “Meadows of Heaven” (Dark Passion Play). I show how Philip Tagg’s commutative analytical model – specifically designed for the analysis of popular music – aids in the contextual reading of the selected Nightwish songs. In addition to Tagg’s model, I employ Allan Moore’s idea of the soundbox in two of the analyses, in order to uncover how in-studio sound effects influence the aesthetics of a song. Tagg’s model encompasses a mode of analysis where musemes or museme stacks and their connotations of the analysis object (AO) is compared to that of other material (interobjective comparison material or IOCM), in order to establish shared paramusical fields of connotation (PMFCs). Tagg’s model relies on a high degree of intertextuality and genre is a deciding factor in selecting IOCMs. I expand both Tagg’s model and Moore’s visual representation of the soundbox. In terms of Tagg’s model, I contextualise each analysis within a broader range of theoretical/philosophical discourses. Intertextuality plays an integral role in my analyses. It is an essential and inherent part of Tagg’s model, but I extend the role of intertextuality in my thesis as it serves an additional role as an overarching theoretical frame of reference. Furthermore, I expand the role of genre à la Umberto Eco, so that genre serves as a “road map” that informs and governs Nightwish’s construction (and communication) of meaning in their songs. In terms of Moore’s soundbox I add a second perspective of the textual space: a view from above. This tilted view gives a better idea of where the emitters and sound effects are placed within the textural space. I identify six main themes in the selected songs by means of Tagg’s model, namely: fantasy, horror, violence, escapism, children and childhood, and nature. I show how these six themes are intertextually connoted and how they complement and influence one another to communicate meaning to the receivers (audience). Fantasy is an especially central theme and features in all four of the selected songs. Escapism has links with fantasy, fiction and nostalgia. Childhood and nature are associated with escapism and fantasy, while horror is linked to Gothic horror and fantasy in the songs. Violence has a connection with fantasy and the band communicates violence differently from the violence associated with extreme metal subgenres. Thus, fantasy, escapism, nature and childhood act as “counterbalances” to horror and violence. These themes interact lyrically and sonically to create a unique listening experience for Nightwish fans and other receivers across the globe. The themes are recurring and in this way, the band creates a narrative link between songs. Thus, they actively establish, maintain and explore the band’s self-created Nightwish mythology. The Nightwish ‘world’ creates a space where fans, based anywhere in the world, can share in the experience of the band’s songs, while forming part of a subculture community. My study is an example of a musicological investigation into the sonic features of metal songs. It demonstrates the types of insights that Tagg’s model yields and shows how Tagg’s model sheds light on the way in which intertextuality establishes meaning in popular culture in general, and Nightwish’s selected songs in particular. It also reveals how Allan Moore’s soundbox can be utilised to demonstrate how in-studio sound effects affect the aesthetics of metal songs.