I consider my iPod to be fairly eclectic as it holds rock, country, reggae, pop, hiphop, rap, even some Latin and, of course, heavy metal.  However, even I was impressed by this week’s cornucopia of a song.  It’s Creek Mary’s Blood by Finland’s Nightwish.  This complex song from their 2004 album Once somehow combines classical, Native American, heavy metal and operatic elements without jumping the shark.  Now that’s a juggling act!

I think that one of the reasons  Nightwish is able to pull this off is how sublime each of these individual elements truly is.  Then taken together, the whole is something pretty special.  (If you are reading this via email, you’ll need to visit my actual site to play the video.)

Come on, give it a try, you know you want to… I double dog dare you…

Let’s look at these four elements, shall we?  (I know, Native American and opera= super fun!)  First, there is the classical element.  Tuomas Holopainen, much like one of my favorite guitarists, Richie Blackmore, is simply a man born in the wrong century.  He is Nightwish’s cofounder, keyboardist and chief composer.  In another time, he would have been akin to Wagner.  Today he takes all of that classical bombast, passion and drama then infuses it into heavy metal.  I saw an interview with him once and he explained how he approached each song as though he was writing a movie score, since theatrical music is the closest thing we have these days to classical music.

Next, we have the Native American element.  Nightwish partnered with the Oglala Lakota performer John Two-Hawks for this work.  Though the story of the piece centers around a Creek Nation woman, the prayer is a Lakota one.  I’m not going to complain or split hairs.  Plenty of white performers have sung about Native Americans, and none with the reverence and beauty that Two-Hawks brings to the performance.  In the clip above you saw him playing a Sioux flute, although he plays many instruments.  One of my favorite bits is as Tarja (the female lead) sings, he tells the story through dance.  It’s stunningly beautiful.  Best of all, Two-Hawks possesses a gorgeous voice of his own, standing up quite well to the power of the song and Nightwish’s lead singer’s range and ability.  Though I discovered him through his partnership here, Two-Hawks is usually a solo artist.  You can learn more about him on his website.

At the end of the day Nightwish is a power metal band, and so thus, enters the heavy metal element.  Soaring electric guitar and keyboards combined with relentless drums and bass guitar creates a perfect counterpoint to the Native American and opera elements.  The heavy metal portion amplifies the emotional high points of the story as various instruments bring to life the roles of the Native Americans and their oppressors.

Lastly, there is the incredibly pliant voice of Tarja Turunen, Nightwish’s cofounder and lead singer on this album.  The band let her go in 2005 and while her replacement, Anette Olzon, is a perfectly acceptable rock singer, Nightwish has been forced to abandon their opera-esque sound.  It’s just not as special as it once was.  Are they still good? Yes, but they are no longer the group that made one squawk involuntarily, “What the duck?” upon hearing a new song of theirs.  Anyhow, I digress (it happens).  We were speaking about Tarja Turunen.  She is a classically trained lyrical soprano with a three and half octave range.  She has an amazingly powerful, emotional voice, so it’s perfectly suited to the tragedy of this song.

It brings tears to my eyes in a couple of places, both for the beauty of the music and the loss the song’s story evokes.  The song is based on Dee Brown’s bestselling 1980 novel of the same name.  It is the story of Mary Musgrove, Creek widow of Indian trader John Musgrove, and over time it is told through the eyes of her children (Mary’s “blood”).  The book and song both deal with plight of the Native American nations in the late 19th century.  The Creek Nation, also known as the Muskogees, initially tried to work with the young United States but their history is dotted with broken treaties (I counted over fifteen) between the U.S. government and their nation.  The Creeks supported the Shawnee leader Tecumsah in his war on the United States though, as we know today, to no avail.  In the Indian Removal of 1830 most Creeks were forced from their homes in Georgia and Alabama to Indian Territory in Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.

This is a book I will likely never pick up simply because the shame of our country’s systematic extermination of this land’s indigenous peoples breaks my heart every time I learn more of it.  I don’t mean to be an ostrich, but I do need to be able to sleep at night in order to function each day.  The reviews of the book are very good, so if you have the emotional fortitude then I recommend you read it.  And of course, you really should download the song, better yet, get the whole album.

Tarja Turunen and John Two-Hawks performing "Creek Mary's Blood" in 2004. Nightwish never performs the song without Two-Hawks' presence.

In the midst of the music and the performers’ accents some words may get lost so I’m giving you the lyrics here, including the Lakota prayer by John Two-Hawks at the end of the piece (the translation is at the very end).

Soon I will be here no more
You’ll hear my tale
Through my blood
Through my people
And the eagle’s cry
The bear within will never lay to rest

Wandering on Horizon Road
Following the trail of tears

White man came
Saw the blessed land
We cared, you took
You fought, we lost
Not the war but an unfair fight
Sceneries painted beautiful in blood

Wandering on Horizon Road
Following the trail of tears
Once we were here
Where we have lived since the world began
Since time itself gave us this land

Our souls will join again the wild
Our home in peace ‘n war ‘n death

Wandering on Horizon Road
Following the trail of tears
Once we were here
Where we have lived since the world began
Since time itself gave us this land

Wandering on Horizon Road
Following the trail of tears
Once we were here
Where we have lived since the world began
Since time itself gave us this land

“Hanhepi iyuho mi ihanbla ohinni yelo

O sunkmanitutankapi hena,
sunkawakanpi watogha hena,

oblaye t’ankapi oihankesni hena

T’at’epi kin asni kiyasni he
akatanhanpi iwankal

Oblaye t’anka kin
osicesni mitakuyepi òn

Makoce kin wakan
WakanTanka kin òn

Miwicala ohinni – Hanhepi iyuha
kici – Anpetu iyuha kici yelo

Mi yececa hehaka kin yelo, na
ni yececa sunkmanitutankapi

kin ka mikaga wowasaka isom

Uncipi tuweni nitaku keyas ta k’u

Unwakupi e’cela e wiconi
wanji unmakainapi ta yelo

Anpetu waste e wan olowan
le talowan winyan ta yelo

Unwanagi pi lel e nita it’okab o’ta ye

Untapi it’okab o’ta

Na e kte ena òn hanska ohakap
ni itansni a’u nita ni ihanke yelo”

Translation:
“I still dream every night
Of them wolves, them mustangs, those endless prairies
The restless winds over mountaintops
The unspoilt frontier of my kith n`kin
The hallowed land of the Great Spirit
I still believe
In every night
In every day
I am like the caribou
And you like the wolves that make me stronger
We never owed you anything
Our only debt is one life for our Mother
It was a good day to chant this song
For Her

Our spirit was here long before you
Long before us
And long will it be after your pride brings you to your end”

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