Words: Justin Hulford
The Finnish masters of symphonic gothic orchestral metal announced that this end of tour show would be their only date in the UK and also said it would be fun – by stacking the deck with fellow Scandinavians Amorphis and Arch Enemy they certainly did all they could before even playing a note.
As it was a long way from home we decided to opt for an overnighter and, after finally finding the one place willing to sell us dinner at 5pm, we got into the venue in loads of time. Such was demand for the standing that our seats got moved right to the back but with front row places in that area we did have great sight lines and the sound desk was in easy earshot.
Amorphis opened up the night and I was looking forward to them having loved this year’s Under The Red Cloud even more than I had Circle in 2013. And from the outset they nailed it, delivering their superb progressive metal with its mix of growled and clean vocals with high energy.
The sound was a little down, not unusual for an opener, and unfortunately the vocal a little more so but it was an absorbing performance that had the rapidly filling hall rocking. They rattled through their forty odd minutes without a let up and left everyone looking for more, not surprising for a band with twelve albums behind them.
Next came the near unique Arch Enemy. Well, they aren’t unique but singer Alissa White-Gluz certainly is. The band play heavy, often fast, but her vocal is clearly dragged from down in the pit somewhere with growls that could rival many. She came on dressed in a tight silver outfit with big shoulders and a shock of long blue hair, reminding me of one of the frost sprites from the old Rupert the Bear annuals of the 1970s (one for older readers!) If she wasn’t growling she was leaping, if she wasn’t leaping she was prancing and posing.
I only know a few of their songs and did find their melodic death metal entertaining but by the end I’d had my fill. A few countering melodic vocals, like Amorphis had offered up, and this could have really moved up to a very high level. They were clearly good at what they were doing but my taste did need a little bit more.
And so onto the main act. Well, before that it’s a good time to comment on the sound. My memories of this venue was as a shabby arena over twenty years ago where you relied on show or atmosphere as the sound system was so awful as it echoed and disappeared into the cavernous ceiling. Not tonight. Both supports sounded intimate, volume of the openers’ vocal aside, and the riffs were clear as if they were in the studio.
That was pretty essential for Nightwish who threw everything and more into their performance. And that’s what it was, a show, a spectacular and a preposterous parade from start to finish. They bunged in tonnes of orchestration, a stunning back drop and lighting array, and pyros, pyros and more pyros! And that was just the first track.
Of course the music is the most important thing and all the rest counts for nothing if it isn’t great. But they were on fire. Singer Floor Jansen announced at the start that this show was being filmed for a DVD and they really upped their game to stratospheric levels.
The show was dominated by the newish album, and regretfully that meant no room for my personal fave from a few years ago, Amaranth, but everything they gave us was superb. Nightwish do have a special sound, a fusion of multiple genres with a strong folk underbelly with themes and lyrics often drawn from traditional music, but they do it very, very well.
A lot of their stage presence is made up by that Dutch giantess Floor Jansen who towers above her Finnish band mates and she hit every part perfectly – the ones she did in the studio, those from Anette Olzon’s time and even the couple from the real past that Tarja Turunen sang, including an excellent “Stargazers”. She’s an impressive front woman, if not dancer, and owned the stage.
They set a high bar from the start and then maintained that level through a stunning musical journey that had all the elements of this band clearly and perfectly displayed.
So fast forward over two hours and as the show was closing an extra surprise saw Richard Dawkins, narrator for much of the latest album, join them on stage to close the show. The band never let up, the crowd was wholly engaged throughout and they warranted their billing at this large venue, somewhere that has gone up in my estimations.
It was bonkers brilliant, daft, entertaining, hypnotic and (did I mention?) full of pyros. Unique.