I guess the first time I heard Marco Hietala sing was basically the same first time as with most metal fans outside Finland: on a Nightwish single. It soon became clear that Marco’s tortured screeches interspersed with occasional half-hearted ballads were a new NW trademark. The female singer changed, but Marco stayed.
But unlike those most metal fans, I could never understand the appeal of his performance. Moreover, I kept reading testaments coming from the Finnish side of things about how Marco was a legend and an idol of the local metal scene… and I couldn’t understand why.
I mean, whatever he did with Nightwish sounded kinda… one-dimensional. Even though he definitely seemed to be a super nice dude, judging by the interviews, with the right kind of ideas and attitude; and then, his biography boasted professional vocal training, the results of which I frankly didn’t hear.
So when I finally ran into an old Tarot video on youtube, I wasn’t expecting much. I was just curious as to finally hear that legend in its natural habitat, so to speak.
What happened next is hard to describe in any other words apart from “HOLY [SEHT]” with a thousand exclamation marks.
Because, well… Nightwish is truly not where Marco’s heart lies; it’s his “day job” where he’s just going through the motions, maintaining a certain professional level and acting out a certain character. He maybe gives like 25% of what he’s truly capable of. Same with a few other better-known projects, actually.
But if you hear him doing what he is passionate about… you’ll realise the reasons for the reverence those oldschool Finnish metalheads surround him with.
And why even a “metal sexist” like me, who’s so harsh on male singers, rates him right up there with dudes like Blackie Lawless and Hansi Kürsch, let alone Lizzy Borden. Because he belongs. Not only chronologically. He has it all: emotion, resonance, range, aggression (okay, this was evident through Nightwish alone) and a trademark all of his own – those ubiquitous melody embellishments.
Oh BTW, in case you didn’t know: this January, Marco turned fifty. Believe it or not.
Here, have a taste of the vintage 80s Tarot – I’ll spare you the characteristic “glam rock” outfits, though. They don’t mesh that well with the wonderfully “dark fantasy” lyrics. This is sort of a ballad (and it tells a story, like a ballad is actually supposed to).
It’s a bit sad that Tarot – that legendary project of the Hietala brothers – is kinda taking a back seat to NW, but, well, that’s life. At least, Marco has a better excuse for “procrastination” than Lizzy does.
And yeah, I did say “brothers”. Zachary Hietala is the brother who plays the guitar (and damn beautifully). To tell the truth, you’d never think they were brothers if you just ran into them – Marco is well over six feet tall and rail-thin, while Zachary is kinda shorter and rounder =)
Here these two are in 1995, acoustic:
Actually Tarot added a second singer in the mid 2000s (their long-term pal Tommi Salmela), whom I could definitely live without in the studio, but who adds extra fun to their live performances. Yes I was one of those 200-max people who came to see Tarot live in 2010 here in Moscow, in a 3000 people club =) Here’s Tommi taking center stage and Marco doing perfectly well without a fog machine LOL The club was shut down a bit later because they failed some fire security regulations. I wonder if the Tarot guys had a hand in that… =)
Outside Tarot, Marco has done a lot of session work for various female fronted bands (including Ebony Ark, actually – not that it’s much more than backing vox, though), but it’s not what I wanted to highlight.
Sapattivuosi is a damn neat project that is dedicated to Black Sabbath covers with Finnish lyrics. They have a few albums out, and one of them features Marco. It’s just crazy good. Especially because Marco doesn’t really try to copy the late RJD, he follows in the spirit but still does his own thing.
And a gem from Marco’s lead vocals session work: an amazing song from a record put out by Sonata Arctica’s guitar player.