When the word "symphonic" is used to describe a metal band, it's pretty much shorthand for "sucks worse than having fire ants chew your face off." There was Metallica's regrettable pairing with the San Francisco Symphony, which rivals Taylor Dane's Greatest Hits as one of the most unnecessary albums ever. Kiss didn't fare much better in its collaboration with the Melbourne Symphony, nor did Savatage on Streets: A Rock Opera.
Finland's Nightwish, however, has made it safe to broach the subject of chamber metal without an air-sickness bag at the ready. Bona fide superstars in their homeland and throughout much of Europe, Nightwish plays seductive, black-velvet metal that's at once orchestral and heavy as a felled redwood. Fronted by opera singer Tarja Turunen, the band blends breathy vocal histrionics with fist-pumping power chords and sprawling, Wagnerian arrangements. Though Nightwish's five albums have had only sporadic U.S. distribution, its latest, Once, will be released by metal prime-mover Roadrunner Records in October. In the meantime, the band is embarking on its first comprehensive American tour. Finally, a night at the opera where they serve Budweiser.