“Nightwish can nail anything they turn their hand to”: Nightwish’s cover of Symphony Of Destruction by Megadeth may be obscure, but it’s an ingeniously out-of-character triumph

 Marko Hietala of Nightwish in 2005.
Marko Hietala of Nightwish in 2005.

Nightwish have never shied away from a good cover. Over the years, the symphonic metal maestros have been incredibly successful at putting their own stamp on the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera, Howard Blake’s already fantastical Walking In The Air and Gary Moore’s Over The Hills And Far Away. That last one appeared in their sets for more than 10 years, and fans have long accepted such reinterpretations as part of the band’s intricate canon.

As Nightwish circled the world on tour from 2003 to 2005, it got to the point when a covers set was a guaranteed nightly tradition. Halfway through the show, then-vocalist Tarja Turunen would excuse herself from the stage for a breather (and, of course, to change from one resplendent outfit to another), leaving band leader and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, bassist Marko Hietala, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and drummer Jukka Nevalainen alone onstage to put some playful, personal flair on classic metal tracks. These ranged from Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train to Dio’s Don’t Talk To Strangers and W.A.S.P.’s Wild Child. In 2004 – as their mammoth Once Upon A Tour kicked off in their hometown of Kitee, Finland, on 22 May – Nightwish added another to that list: Megadeth’s Symphony Of Destruction. 

The song that helped affirm Megadeth’s spot in the MTV-endorsed mainstream in 1992, Symphony… is a powerhouse. Built around three iconic chords and a menacing bassline, it thunders along as purposefully and urgently as a ravenous tyrannosaurus, before Dave Mustaine lays down a snarling, earworm chorus. Effective but simple by Megadeth standards, it’s the kind of track that simply doesn’t exist in Nightwish’s own lavish, sprawling back-catalogue.

Of course, covers work best when an artist breathes new life into a song and – while Nightwish play it pretty straight, staying true to the crunch and stomp of the original – they add enough tweaks to make it their own. Tuomas kicks things off with an industrial keyboard riff, not too dissimilar from Nine Inch Nails’ own “Gristle Mix” cover of the track, before he and his bandmates go full headbanger thrash on the verse, clearly relishing every moment of it.

It’s not long before the lush synths elevate matters in the chorus, while Emppu puts in a suitably melodramatic guitar solo. In truth though, it’s the vocals from bassist Marko which really make Nightwish’s version. His powerful voice has been an excellent foil for all of the band’s lead singers, past and present, and it is perfect for Symphony…. He pushes the song further too. Staying true to a Mustaine-style growl in the verse, he lets it rip during the choruses, leading the way to an explosive, histrionic “World powers faaaalllll” apex that feels quintessentially Nightwish.

The band continued to include Symphony… in their sets for several years, eventually retiring it in 2008, but they clearly recognised it as the great cover that it is. The live recording was released on the B-side of their 2005 single, The Siren. Meanwhile, those other early noughties covers sets have been immortalised via several recordings on Youtube – proof that Nightwish can flex their musical muscles and nail anything they turn their hand to.