Review by Paul Quinton
The final dates of Nightwish’s tour around Europe in support of their ‘Decades’ compilation saw them finally return to the UK for a brief trip around three arenas, the second of which was at The Arena, Birmingham. Apart from their one off at Wembley Arena three years ago, immortalised in the ‘Vehicle of Spirit’ live album and DVD, the only appearances they’ve made in the UK since 2012 have been at festivals, so it was more than a little surprising that this gig wasn’t at all well attended: even with the arena shortened and the capacity cut, there were a lot of empty spaces both on the floor and in the seats.
So it was a comparatively sparse crowd in the Arena when the support, Finnish Power metal band BEAST IN BLACK took the stage. Using Judas Priest’s ‘Nightcrawler’ as their intro music was a fairly clear statement of intent, the influence of the Black Country Metal Gods couldn’t have been clearer when Beast In Black began their set, although their overall sound was more a type of symphonic power metal, like a cross between Kamelot and Primal Fear, even if they weren’t on the level of either of those bands. They were also heavily dependent on sampled keyboards, and even guitar backing tracks at some points, leading to one uncomfortable moment when all the band members but the singer and drummer left the stage, but the music continued regardless, which normally would raise a few eyebrows, although this approach did pay off for a song like ‘Crazy Not Insane’, which had an insistent, pulsing, electronic backing, which was genuinely different and inventive. I should imagine at one the big European Metal festivals, with plenty of beer and a blazing sun, they’d go down a treat, but, on the whole, tonight it was a bit too formulaic to properly enjoy.
One thing you can say about NIGHTWISH playing the arenas is that at least Birmingham had the chance to see their full stage show, which really was something special. The band have only played the O2 Academy in Birmingham on previous tours, where, as we saw on the Within Temptation tour last month, the limited confines of the stage mean that we often get a reduced stage show compared to other venues in the UK. No such worries tonight, as the band gave us some sumptuous visuals, including a huge High Definition back projection screen, with images and animation of a quality I can’t remember any other band equalling, and they also used video screens to cover the risers, which sometimes made it look as if the drums and keyboards were floating in the landscape on the screen. That, plus Rammstein-like levels of pyrotechnics, and a terrific and imaginative light show made for a tremendous visual spectacle.
Musically though, it was a bit more of a mixed bag. Opening with a solo Troy Donockley, playing ‘Swanheart’ on the pipes, with the rest of the band coming on for a strident ‘Dark Chest of Wonders’, the band had put together a set covering all their career, including tracks like ‘10th Man Down’ and ‘Gethsemane’, which hadn’t been played live since the early 2000s. Perhaps the comparative unfamiliarity of these tracks didn’t help the atmosphere, even among more well known songs like ‘Wish I Had An Angel’ and ‘Sacrament of Wilderness’ not to mention a mesmerising ‘Come Cover Me’, which was a real pleasure to hear live again, but somehow, the band seemed a little laboured in the early part of their set, although if you were in the seats, you also felt a little distant from what was happening onstage. It also felt a little ‘stop-start’ as members of the band left the stage several times, not least when Troy Donockley’s pipes and whistles came to the fore, with him even taking the lead vocal on ‘The Carpenter’.
However, things got considerably more intense for ‘Dead Boy’s Poem’, and by the time ‘I Want My Tears Back’ came around, midway through the set, the band had found a sense of urgency and really began to show their power. ‘Nemo’, as usual, brought the house down, with Floor Jansen’s voice filling the spaces of the NIA, before another welcome return to the set list for ‘Slaying the Dreamer’. The main set ended with the opening sections of the epic from the band’s last album, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’, which genuinely came into its own in this form, before the encores of ‘Ghost Love Score’ and the concluding parts of ‘Greatest Show…’, and this and the last half hour of the main set really brought the whole gig into life. However, there was still to be an awkward moment at the end of the show, when the last notes of the music had faded, and there was a short but significant interval, while a lot of the crowd began leaving, until the band came to take a bow and wave in front of a much reduced audience.
It was a real pleasure to see the band back in the UK, with their full stage show, and a set that focused on all the parts of their career. You can’t argue with a show that lasted over two hours but there was always the sense, at least in the early part of the set, that the band weren’t operating at full power, which left you with a distinct sense of ‘what might have been’.