The Astoria, London
26th March 2008
Live pics by Asif Salam and HannTu
Review by HannTu
It’s a pretty weird pairing – the immensely popular, symphonic goth rockers Nightwish on the same tour with oddball industrial techno metal band Pain. The man behind Pain is of course the multi-talented Peter Tagtgren; founder of Swedish melodic death band Hypocrisy, former vocalist of Bloodbath, one time drummer for Malevolent Creation, studio owner and producer extraordinaire, and a whole slew of other side projects. I was pretty damn excited to interview him, but I wasn’t going to attend the show originally, until a last minute photo pass turned up.
The commercial appeal of Nightwish is impossible to overstate. Three consecutive nights in London is extremely rare – Iron Maiden play two nights regularly, but the Unholy Alliance 2006 (Slayer, In Flames, Children of Bodom, Lamb of God) and this year’s Black Crusade Tour (Machine Head, Dragonforce, Arch Enemy) are the only two that I can think of offhand. Trivium and Annihilator might have done three London nights last year. Some people I spoke to turned up to all three nights, which is pretty impressive. The signing session in Zavvi (formerly Virgin Megastores) earlier in the day was packed with people eager to get stuff signed and close-up shots of the band. One girl even brought her guitar to be signed!
Some stupid-ass rule meant that photographers could only shoot songs 3 and 4 for both Pain and Nightwish. Fuck knows which smart-ass thought that up – not only did it mean one less song than normally allocated to photographers, it also meant we couldn’t be in the pit well before the crowd built up in front. During the 2nd songs, we had to shove our way through a packed crowd with our precious cameras, inconveniencing fans and pissing a lot of people off who had to move aside while we went into the pit. Stupid stupid stupid.
I’d never really been a fan of Pain, and I had dismissed them after hearing two or three songs. Techno is one of my most hated genres of music after rap and R’n’B, and I’m not a fan of industrial metal like Ministry or Nine Inch Nails. I’m going to make the disclaimer that I know next to nothing about the genre, and I can’t tell the difference between electro, dance, house, techno, rave etc etc. But I have to say I was really impressed by the live performance! Part of it was because the sound was magnifique – everything was clear and not too loud, the levels were just right, and Peter’s hoarse yet expressive voice came through perfectly. Even the drummer joined in with some singing!
The cover of the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” got a massive cheer – the Pain reworking reminds me so much of Sentenced in a way. The moodiness of Peter’s voice is a dead ringer for Ville Laihiala, it’s uncanny. “End of the Line” finally reminded me of the dance/techno connection. I think there’s a bit of the Pet Shop Boys and the industrial stylings of Rammstein there – anyway, the insistent pounding bassline got the crowd jumping.
“We’re going to slow it down now”, proclaimed Peter before “Just Hate Me” where the great backing vocals from the rest of the band let Peter show off the extent of his voice. Probably the best song other than “Eleanor Rigby” from Pain tonight. “On and On” was accompanied by a dazzling display of flashing lights, surely designed to induce epileptic fits and blindness. I think this is the closest I’ve been to a rave in my life.
They closed with “Shut Your Mouth” with its Game Boy intro, very catchy in spite of myself! I really enjoyed the performance. Peter is extremely animated on stage and the band just looks like they enjoy playing. Hopefully I’ll get to see Peter back here with Hypocrisy in the future, but Pain did an amazing job of opening the night.
Same Old Song
End of the Line
Nailed to the Ground
Just Hate Me
On and On
Shut Your Mouth
Black Sabbath and Dio. Pink Floyd and David Gilmour. Metallica and Jason. Iron Maiden and Blaze. Exodus and Zetro. Cryptopsy and Mike DiSalvo. Helloween and Andi Deris. Ripper Owens with Judas Priest and Iced Earth. It is the most daunting of tasks to take the place of a band member who was super-popular with fans and who brought something defining to the band. Ozzy WAS Black Sabbath, right? Bruce WAS Maiden, right? Rob Halford WAS Priest, right? How could they ever be replaced?
Some were, with great success. Their successors won over the fans, who took them to their hearts and they stamped their mark in the history of their respective bands by becoming an integral component – see David Gilmour. But others always lived in the shadows of their predecessors. Black Sabbath will, 91 times out of a 100, always be identified by the Ozzy period. Poor Ripper Owens, he was never given a chance by the fans either at Priest or Iced Earth. Blaze failed pretty spectacularly. The less said about the flak Jason took for replacing the immortal Cliff Burton (RIP) the better, even though I believe he was the only one in post-Black Metallica with any artistic integrity. All said and done, it takes balls to fill someone else’s shoes and win the hearts of the die-hards.
Tarja was the public face of Nightwish. Even though Tuomas was the real inspiration behind the band, people knew Nightwish mostly because of Tarja, whether because of her smouldering beauty or her magnificent voice. When she was fired, many people (fans and critics alike) thought that Nightwish couldn’t continue, unless they got a Tarja sound-alike. Well, they didn’t. A brave choice. And from the crowd last night, and the reactions of all who have seen the band live since the dismissal, it was the right choice.
Annette Olzon is nothing like Tarja, but I do believe she will be (and probably already has been) accepted by most Nightwish fans as Tarja’s able replacement. Their new album DARK PASSION PLAY was a move away from the more Tarja-centric songs that previous albums had, and to move towards a more rounded record. The focus is on the song as a whole now, where previously one tended to listen to Tarja only. We also hear more of backing vocalist and bassist Marco Hietala. I still dig the old Tarja-era songs, purely to let her wonderfully pure soprano overpower and awe the heck out of me. But Annette’s more poppy vocals make the song the focus now, as opposed to just the vocals.
The intro went on and on and on, making the crowd more impatient. They started off with “Bye Bye Beautiful”, one of six DARK PASSION PLAY songs tonight. Annette has a more squeaky and cutesy voice onstage, but she’s got a winning smile and goofy stage persona. “Whoever Brings the Night” got the crowd moving and singing to its catchy chorus, while “The Siren” gave us a listen of Marco’s gruff voice. “Amaranth” was a little flat; on the CD, the chorus had twin harmonised vocals which really worked, it gave it dimension. Live, with Annette singing alone, it felt slightly empty. This would recur in the next song, the most eagerly anticipated song of the night.
“The Poet and the Pendulum” is undeniably the most ambitious song Nightwish have attempted so far; at 14 minutes long, it spans several mood changes and is pretty much an epic in most senses of the word. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to pull off live. We didn’t see Annette sing the opening minute or so (“The songwriter’s dead” part that was sung by Guy Elliott, a boy soprano, on the CD) as the stage was empty. She reappeared for the “The dreamer and the wine” verse, and the chorus was truly rousing – chorus sung by Annette, doubled up by Marco and echoed by the crowd, “Get away, run away, fly away, lead me astray!” was earth-shaking.
The most disappointing part was Part 3, the emotional slow break beginning with the anguished cello and Guy Elliot’s solo. What made this part of the song on the CD magical was the ethereal, almost angelic lone voice that breaks hearts and moistens eyes. Live, Annette sings it at a much lower register that sort of detracts from the mood of the song. Nitpicking? I don’t know.
Marco again shows off the power of his rough shout/scream, and the headbanging mood overtakes everyone again. Finally Annette shows off what she can do. On the final part, she hits the notes in the right register perfectly. With the accompanying expressions and gestures, when she sings “In the end, I will always love you”, we are entranced, we are hypnotised, we really do believe her. This is a supremely difficult song to do live, and respect to them for doing it.
“Dead to the World” was a bit staid after the highs and lows of the song before, but hot on its heels were the two songs of the night: “The Islander” and “Last of the Wilds”. Sounds of wind, rain, sea and seagulls, Marco and Emppu reappeared with acoustic guitars. They introduced Troy Donockley, who played pipes on DARK PASSION PLAY. He carried with him a flute and a set of Uilleann pipes (which sounds like a cross between a fiddle and a set of bagpipes), and they sat him down centre stage. “The Islander” featured some great powerful singing, courtesy of who else but Marco, who has been excellent all night, and backed up by Annette.
But it was “Last of the Wilds” that really defined this show for me. Starting off with the merry Uilleann pipes and getting progressively wilder and heavier, towards a climax where pipes, electric guitar and violin are locked in some life-and-death tripartite duel to the death. Celtic music just stirs something primitive within – alternately melancholy, hopeful, morose, resigned, joyful.
“Sahara” wasn’t the greatest of songs on DARK PASSION PLAY, and live, it’s a bit flat. Annette then introduces “the last song of the night” which would be “Nemo”. Aha! he said with a knowing smile. Up till now, relatively, the Tarja songs haven’t been that taxing. They’ve all been chosen to be within Annette’s range, and she’s pulled them off with no problems. However, “Nemo” is a very Tarja song. It’s slow, it’s sung quite high and it was pretty much HER song. Well, Annette took the song by the scruff of its neck and made it fit her voice! It worked! It’s not Tarja, it’s Annette – and I think it was here that I finally thought to myself that Annette would be a great replacement for their former vocalist – adios Tarja, bienvenue Annette!
Two old favourites closed the night: “Wishmaster” and “I Wish I Had An Angel”. It was a great performance by both bands tonight, different but good in their own ways. The new Nightwish is a well seasoned touring and recording band, with great back material and a wacky new singer. They’re obviously going from strength to strength, judging from the sold out three nights here in London. My only regret is that such magnificent songs like “Sleeping Sun”, “Walking in the Air”, and “The Pharao Sails To Orion” will probably never be played again.
Bye Bye Beautiful
Dark Chest of Wonders
Whoever Brings the Night
The Poet and the Pendulum
Dead to the World
Last of the Wilds
I Wish I Had An Angel
Thanks to Dante at Spinefarm UK for the last minute photo pass!