Sunday, 20 December 2015

Nightwish - London Review

Nightwish were the band that introduced me to power and symphonic metal way back when, and seeing them live for the first time in 2009 was one of those defining moments in my life. At the time they were touring Dark Passion Play, which is still probably my favourite Nightwish album, and the setlist was almost perfect, full of many of my favourite songs. 2011's Imaginaerum came out at a strange time for me. While I enjoyed it at the time (it was my Album of the Year for 2011 after all!), I do not think that I really appreciated that album until much more recently. I also saw the band live in 2012, not long after former frontwoman Anette Olzon's hasty departure and the drafting in of Floor Jansen. The Birmingham show that I saw on that tour was not a good one for me. I felt ill for most of the show, and some inconsiderate fans near me helped to ruin my enjoyment of the show more. It was nothing the band did, as their performance was strong despite the recent upheaval, but it did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Nightwish left my musical mind for a while, but the release of Endless Forms Most Beautiful earlier this year changed that. While, like Imaginaerum, it took me a while to fully appreciate the album, I knew that it was a masterpiece. That album is sure to feature in a high position on my Album of the Year list for this year too. With a one-off UK show announced at London's famous Wembley Arena instead of a string of UK dates, I knew I just had to be there - I was ready to become a Nightwish fanboy once again! Wembley Arena is a great place to see live music, and the fact that a band like Nightwish can sell out a venue like that is a good sign that rock and metal is in a good place at the moment. The addition of two great supports in the shape of Arch Enemy and Amorphis only improved things. I have seen both bands before, and am huge fans of both. It was also announced during the show that Nightwish's set was being filmed, so I hope that will get released on a DVD sometime soon!

Despite being around for 25 years, Amorphis really are on top of their game at the moment. They followed up 2013's excellent Circle with Under the Red Cloud earlier this year, and have been touring in support of the album since. Their eight song set was the perfect start to the evening, and new material featured heavily. Frontman Tomi Joutsen was in fine voice, effortlessly switching between deep harsh vocals and soaring cleans as and when required. Death of a King and Sacrifice, two of the best songs from the new album, got the evening off to a good start as Esa Holopainen (guitar) used each song to show what a great guitarist he is with plenty of fluid leads and solos. The arena was filling up while Amorphis played, but there were clearly quite a few fans present, as their reception from the crowd was very warm throughout. The melodic The Smoke was another highlight, but the best moment was the closing number House of Sleep. This song probably has the biggest chorus in the band's whole discography, and there were plenty in the crowd that seemed to be getting into it. A great set, despite the short time the band had on stage. The setlist was:

Death of a King
Sacrifice
Hopeless Days
Bad Blood
The Smoke
Silver Bride
The Four Wise Ones
House of Sleep

Being the heaviest band on the bill, Arch Enemy did stick out a little. That being said I, and quite a few others present it seems, am a big fan of the Swedish melodic death metal band and they pulled out all the stops to deliver a memorable performance. The addition of Jeff Loomis (guitar/vocals) has really made the band stronger musically, and his soloing throughout was of the highest order. Five songs from the band's latest album War Eternal were present in the set, including the blistering title track and personal favourite Stolen Life, which has a bit of a punky vibe. Alissa White-Gluz (vocals) is the perfect person to front the band. Her excellent harsh vocals and prowling stage presence make her the focal point of the band live and, despite her relatively short time with Arch Enemy, she has made the position her own. Classics like Ravenous sat well alongside newer material like Under Black Flags We March. Loomis and Michael Amott (guitar/vocals) traded riffs and solos all night, and the two are a formidable guitar team - easily the best pairing the band have ever had. The live sound mix for the band was also great, and it is clear that, like Amorphis, Arch Enemy are soaring at the moment with the new line-up. White-Gluz managed to get the majority of the near capacity crowd jumping up and down during the anarchistic No Gods, No Masters, before the anthemic and super-heavy Nemesis brought the set to a stunning close. A triumphant set. The setlist was:

Khaos Overture
Yesterday is Dead and Gone
War Eternal
Ravenous
Stolen Life
You Will Know My Name
As the Pages Burn
Under Black Flags We March
Avalanche
No Gods, No Masters
Nemesis
Enter the Machine

Speaking about bands on top of their game, Nightwish are easily the best they have ever been at the moment. Jansen and Troy Donockley (vocals/guitar/bouzouki/whistles/uilleann pipes) have really boosted the band's musical capability and current touring drummer Kai Hahto has given the band a real kick (no disrespect meant to Jukka Nevalainen, but Hahto is by far the better player). Wanting to showcase this line-up at it's best, plenty of songs from Endless Forms Most Beautiful were featured in the set, along with some golden oldies and general favourites. Shudder Before the Beautiful and Yours is an Empty Hope got the show off to a fine start. Both songs are heavy rockers, and the former's flashy duel between Emppu Vuorinen (guitar) and Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards) worked really well live. Marco Heitala (vocals/guitar/bass guitar) showcased his trademark howl in the latter, but Jansen stole the show with some seriously low growls during the song's chorus. Old favourite Ever Dream went down well as predicted, before Storytime's circus-style theme wowed the audience. Despite being a full-time band member now, Donockley does not feature on every song, and he made his first appearance on the new ballad My Walden with his delicate vocal intro. His skills have been expanded upon though, and he adds something new to a few of the old songs: bouzouki chords in 7 Days to the Wolves and a delightful ebow solo in Nemo to name a couple. He also added ebow to the non-album song While Your Lips are Still Red, and his whistle melodies in √Član make the song what it is. One of my favourite new numbers, Weak Fantasy, was as powerful as expected live and was one of my personal highlights of the night. Heitala's vocals are powerful as anything here, and the chorus with Jansen is intense. I was so pleased to hear The Poet and the Pendulum live again. That was my favourite song of all time for quite a while, and it still holds a special place in my heart. It was the centrepiece of that show back in 2009, and it almost did the same job here too. Fans of the band's old power metal sound, including myself, loved the inclusion of Stargazers and showed off Jansen's operatic side to her voice, as well as some tasty lead guitar from Vuorinen who does not get many opportunities to show off. Ghost Love Score was the only number in the set that I thought felt a little tired, It has been played to death now and, while still being an impressive spectacle live, it could do with a well-earned rest. It blew my mind at that 2009 show, as no-one was expecting it as no-one thought Nightwish would do the song with Olzon, but this time it was overshadowed by The Poet and the Pendulum and The Greatest Show on Earth which was the set's closing number. It was epic, with everything from gorgeous piano, wordless vocals, and crushingly heavy sections that showcased the whole band's talents. Scientist Richard Dawkins even took to the stage at the very end to do his spoken word ending to the album live, which was the icing on the cake. The setlist was:

Shudder Before the Beautiful
Yours is an Empty Hope
Ever Dream
Storytime
My Walden
While Your Lips are Still Red
√Član
Weak Fantasy
7 Days to the Wolves
Alpenglow
The Poet and the Pendulum
Nemo
I Want My Tears Back 
Stargazers
Ghost Love Score
Last Ride of the Day
The Greatest Show on Earth [w/ Richard Dawkins]

Overall, this was easily the best of the three shows I have now seen Nightwish perform, and the selection of material played was excellent. I hope the performance does get released as a DVD one day, especially as the atmosphere throughout from the sold out crowd was electric!

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