Nightwish are a band that I used to be non-plussed about. First impressions were underwhelming, the lead singer's voice seeming not to fit with the music, which appeared to me to be standard power metal at best. Then Century Child came out in 2002 and my opinion wavered slightly. One song off that album stood out for me moreso than the others: Bless the child, its sublime combination of operatic vocals and a heavier-than-the-hammer-of-Thor-itself riff made me sit up and take notice a bit more. I wasn't too crazy about the Phantom of the opera cover though.
Once arrived in 2004 and this is when Nightwish arrived as well. I can go through the album with ease, each song having its own individual feel yet still having the now trademark NW sheen. I looked forward to this concert with great relish. My girlfriend, a big hip-hop fan was too, to see one of the few bands that we both like within the hallowed genre of metal.
Tristania were a disappointment after hoping for a more imaginative band as a support act, secretly pining for Kamelot. But that would have to be a double bill that one. Tristania are meant to be a seven piece but I couldn't see their seventh "programmer" for salt. They have three vocalists: One who wouldn't look out of place in Linkin Park but a growler; One trying to rip off Tarja from Nightwish but ending up as a pale comparison; and the other a male singer without much of a range to speak of. They all revelled in their own mediocrity. Vibeke, the female vocalist constantly, slowly, raising her arms up to the darkness 'cause she couldn't think of anything better to do. Any singing from her was barely audible and unintelligible. Kjetil, the growler stood still but growled like a rabid bulldog that had just been shown a pretty lady's hand. He could do with some lessons from Dani Filth to learn some dynamic growling. Osten the guy who tried to sing, was so impressive that he couldn't even be on time for his own gig, coming in halfway through the first song what turned out to be very boring and called "nondescript, influenced by bands like Type O Negative, "Gothic"-era Paradise Lost and Nightwish, of course." They did not deviate from this formula. I took pleasure in kissing my girlfriend to take the pain away of listening to their derivative dirge.
Negative comments also need to be reserved for the light guy of Tristania. Talk about overuse of the big white lights. Man, did he love them. I could see him maliciously turning them up at every random opportunity. If I were Larry David, I'd have torn him a new one. I'm amazed I still have sight to gaze upon this world of ours.
Apart from the over-zealous roadie, the crew must be commended for keeping to schedule for a change. Everything started on time. No delays. This is rare for a gig in the UK and needs to be given due credit.
Hence Nightwish arrived and played the song that I predicted they would play: first track off Once, Dark Chest of Wonders. Refraining from any sexual innuendo (whoops), it's a great track. Tarja's vocal are the outstanding focus point of this band from the start. I have to admit that when she does those high chants before each verse line, I nearly started crying. That's the first time it's ever happened in a concert. I've been in a wreck watching Passion of the Christ and The Green Mile but not at a Dream Theater or Metallica gig. There I was standing at the very back of the venue and I'm still unavoidably moved by her powerful yet dulcet tones. Her voice comes across a lot better live than on a studio release. From that moment I knew this was going to be a special gig.
They even played the Phantom of the Opera cover, again metamorphosing into a "stand-up" song as a Mafioso would say. Sophie, my girlfriend, brought to my attention the challenge at the end of the song for Tarja - a very high C note. When she reached it, that emotionally overwhelmed feeling returned, coupled with complete awe. Awe, I say.
After that song, Tarja left (everyone go "AAAAAH") the stage and what felt like a big hole. They tried to fill this sizeable void with a cover of High Hopes by Pink Floyd. They just about succeeded purely by the fact that it was very bold of them to try such a song and not the most predictable of Pink Floyd's catalogue to cover. Now the problems, Marco has a very powerful voice, a voice that can flick between a growl and a tuneful melodicity at will, but he sung this song way too strong. He needed to play this one a lot more softer, to fit the reflective tone of the song. To be nitpicky, one could also say he didn't sing it correctly or in time, suggesting that its inclusion was last minute and poorly rehearsed.
Apart from the haphazardness of the singing of aforementioned song, Nightwish were a ridiculously tight unit. No-one made a single mistake with Emppu, the guitarist, exemplifying this cohesiveness through his willingness to throw in some fancy dive-bombs and harmonics to add even more texture to a decoratively resplendent wall of sound.
I don't know the material well but all the songs played stood up fairly well compared to the new material, although the "once" songs indicate a pronounced progression and enhancement in their sound.
Tarja also did what most vocalists would shy away from - a solo. Much better than your archetypal drum so, she sang Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan to a backing tape note-perfect as she was the whole set. Most definitely the best vocal performance I have ever seen by anyone, man or woman.
At the encore, Nightwish then ensured, beyond all reasonable doubt that this was going to be a memorable gig when they played Ghost Love Score. This song should not be able to be played live with just a 5-piece, it should be vacuous without the orchestra. But God dammit, they pulled it off. It's amazing that this band are making songs as progressive as this and still getting the publicity they deserve. OK, they had to have backing tapes for the choir in the chorus - "My fall will be for you" - and Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboard player couldn't play the whole orchestra on his keyboard (he certainly has a go) but that chorus was still immensely powerful with the chugging guitars and beautiful melody of Tarja's voice.
One criticism I could level at Nightwish live, which isn't really at them personally, is that the guitars were not loud enough for my liking. Admittedly, I was not at the front, but I've been at plenty of gigs were the guitars have still cut me in half even at the back of a venue. The only mitigating factor I can put forward for this occurrence is if during sound-check, they found that when the guitars were higher it ruined the equilibrium between vocals and keys.
Inevitably, it did become clear that Nightwish needed a bigger venue to allow their sound to fully breathe and the rate at which they're creatively and in popularity, I forsee an upgrade to the Manchester Apollo (a rise in capacity from around 400 to 2693) for when they come over to the north of England next time.
This gig made me want to listen to every Nightwish album over and over again to learn all the songs off by heart so I could sing along to every single one or at least to be able to appreciate it properly. As Yoda would say, "A very special band Nightwish is."