Nightwish

support Arch Enemy + Amorphis
author AP date 16/11/15 venue Falconer Salen, Frederiksberg, DEN

Symphonic metal and I have never been best buds — I tend to find the genre too pompous and melodramatic to take it seriously. Yet in my compatriots Nightwish, there has always been one exception to the rule, primarily because they subscribe to a heavier, more Wagner-influenced style than most of their ilk. That being said, the band’s post-operatic days without their former, iconic vocalist Tarja Turunen have not really caught onto me, and as a result, seven and a half years have passed since I last (and in fact first) watched them live at the Swedish MetalTown festival. That was with Anette Olzon, who took over from Turunen, and her attempts at reproducing the group’s classic material were not up to par, thus leading me personally to place them on standby. But with a new vocalist again in Floor Jansen, and a new album out this year (”Endless Forms Most Beautiful”), it nonetheless felt paramount that I should be in attendance at Frederiksberg venue Falconer Salen to gauge the worthiness of Nightwish anno 2015.

Photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Amorphis

Amorphis are often overlooked when discussing the who’s-whos of melodic death metal — perhaps because of the doom and gothic elements also found in their sound — but for me, this band is a bastion of consistency. Nothing they ever wrote fell beneath the solid threshold, and for a group with 12 studio albums to its name, that is something of a feat. People with insight into their discography tend to hold them in reverence, and rightly so. But sadly, few such patrons are in attendance tonight, giving Amorphis challenging circumstances to convey their worth to the audience (without exaggerating, there is actually a girl stood in front of me with no idea what the ‘horns’ sign is, and who spends the vast majority of the Finnish band’s concert practicing it — to no avail), something that reflects in their casual way of performing. Indeed, with the exception of vocalist Tomi Joutsen, much of the performance has the feel of musicians simply wanting to get this over and done with; they play with tight professionalism, but there is no emotional connection between band and crowd.

None of this is improved by the less than optimal sound conditions bestowed upon the band, with loud chatter and even clapping often much higher than the music. Still, the talent and charismatic introversion (a paradox, I realise) of Joutsen behind his customised steampunk microphone, and the magnificence of Amorphis’ music keep things sufficiently interesting for those of us acquainted with their repertoire, with “Bad Blood” and “The Four Wise Ones” especially sending a string of chills down my spine. The tragic “Silver Bride”, too, almost reduces me to tears — only a Finnish band could pen a song as beautifully gloomy and grandiose as this — but in the end no matter how sharp the execution of these tracks is, Amorphis just aren’t very present tonight. They are much too established an act to be accepting an opening slot such as this; in a headlining capacity, with all attention turned toward them, they are famously excellent. No sign of that tonight, unfortunately.

6

Arch Enemy

All the more striking is it then, that Arch Enemy proceeds to negate that stillness and gloom with their high velocity melodic death metal / thrash fusions, not to mention a fiery conduct spearheaded by vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. Opening with the punishing “Yesterday is Dead and Gone”, a wave of shock seems to sweep through the audience when she unleashes her demonic growl, gesticulating wildly and pacing the stage aggressively from side to side — reaffirming my belief that a large portion of the people here have never been subjected to the more extreme forms of metal. Scattered horns and some headbanging is visible, but overall Arch Enemy seems to be playing to fearful eyes and confused ears — and all the more ridiculous does White-Gluz look with her ultra-bellicose demeanour. All my respect to the lady’s vocal abilities, but to me she is trying too hard and thus looks out of sync with her colleagues, guitarists Michael Amott & Jeff Loomis, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson.

Unlike her, these gentlemen are experienced enough to appear engaging without any sort of effort, delivering the buzzsaw riffs of “War Eternal” and “Stolen Life” with imposing conviction. This band has written some seriously classic melodies in its time, so for someone not entirely sold by White-Gluz’ antics, it is in the songs that the greatest rewards are reaped. That is, until the power cuts out and the band walks off stage for a good ten minutes without so much as a word of explanation. They do return however, to remind me once more what an absolute masterpiece “As the Pages Burn” is, making me wish this would be a headlining set bursting with Arch Enemy diehards all eager to mosh and give it the proper reception. But alas, when “Nemesis” expectedly brings the show to a conclusion, it is not the usual acclaim I have in mind when thinking about how to grade this. On the one hand, you could not ask more of Amott, Loomis, D’Angelo & Erlandsson, but on the other, there is a pressing need for White-Gluz to align herself with a band rooted in death metal (vis-à-vis her former metalcore crew The Agonist) and carry herself with the confident but not overzealous manner of the remaining musicians.

6

Nightwish

It is a special thing to walk into a concert not knowing what to expect — and all the more gratifying when the band in residence takes your skepticism, bundles it into a tiny sphere, and shoves it where the sun don’t shine. In a flurry of fireworks and awesome whirlwinds of dry ice, Nightwish blasts off with a tectonic rendition of “Shudder Before the Beautiful”, humbling the audience with a sound mix that wins not just in terms of clarity, but also bombast. It is no exaggeration to claim that few bands sound heavier or more dramatic than the Finnish (and partially Dutch) ensemble when experienced in concert, or appear more full fledged in their performance. Nothing whatsoever is left to chance here: the stunning visuals have been coordinated to cinematic perfection to bring to life the rich and storied songs of writing mastermind, keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, the different instrumental elements combined to form a perfect symbiosis; and the entire band performs with a degree of zest that suggests they are just now reaching their pinnacle as musicians.

Through “Yours is an Empty Hope”, “Ever Dream” and the classic “Wishmaster”, one cannot but stand and watch in awe the majesty unfolding before our eyes, the inspired fusions of moody lighting, modern LED animations with well-timed pyrotechnics and plumes of dry ice that look like rolling gust fronts, and the chastening weight of the compositions ensuring that no one speaks, and no one dares look elsewhere. Watching Nightwish tonight should make anyone appreciate the heavy metal genre’s rooting in classical music — not only because it is comparably gargantuan in shape and sound, but also because of the compositional depth, including the fantastic deployment of Uillean pipes, tin whistle and mandolin by sixth member Troy Donockley in the likes of “My Walden” and “Weak Fantasy”. With such instrumental and songwriting prowess at hand, not even bassist Marco Hietala’s introduction of a single-bodied, double-necked instrument that is both an electric guitar and a bass during “The Islander” feels too pompous. C’est magnifique!

If, like me, you have trouble penetrating the more recent works of Nightwish on record, then take my advice and seize the opportunity to behold them live; the music is far too complex and enormous to come across unimpeded through a stereo. No, it is in the live setting that a song such as “Alpenglow” reveals its merit, those words ”We were here!” suddenly afforded the post-apocalyptic, emotional weight that they deserve. This is because Floor Jansen is actually a terrific vocalist, her range almost up there with that of Turunen though without that last operatic edge, and as a front woman, her picturesquely flowing hair (by virtue of a fan shrewdly positioned in front of her) and visible cherishing of every moment leave little to be desired as well. And it is not just her — the entire band, including the not-yet-mentioned guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and drummer Kai Hahto, is playing and performing to its utmost capabilities, and with authentic smiles on their faces suggesting they are having as much a blast as the rest of us.

The only point of critique is the structuring of the setlist near the end: the balladic “Sleeping Sun” first reduces the tempo, and the trio “Ghost Love Score”, “Last Ride of the Day” and selected chapters from the monolithic “Greatest Show on Earth” then sends the show into a long-winding, psychedelic and progressive conclusion which, while ambitious, forces the foot off the pedal too much and thus fails to deliver as triumphant an ending as the beginning had been. Nonetheless, there is an element of truth to the ultimate track: this really does resemble the greatest show on Earth, and it would be glorious to present these masters of symphonic metal as a nine o’clock subliner at next summer’s Copenhell. Fingers crossed.

9

Setlist:

  • 01. Shudder Before the Beautiful
  • 02. Yours is an Empty Hope
  • 03. Ever Dream
  • 04. Wishmaster
  • 05. My Walden
  • 06. The Islander
  • 07. Élan
  • 08. Weak Fantasy
  • 09. 7 Days to the Wolves
  • 10. Alpenglow
  • 11. Storytime
  • 12. Nemo
  • 13. Stargazers
  • 14. Sleeping Sun
  • 15. Ghost Love Score
  • 16. Last Ride of the Day
  • 17. The Greatest Show on Earth (Chapter I: Four Point Six; Chapter II: Life, Chapter III: The Toolmaker)

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